No. 69 Wake Forest
A young Wake Forest team exceeded expectations in 2016, winning seven games and returning to the postseason. All 10 players who scored a touchdown return and though they lost revered coordinator Mike Elko to Notre Dame and All-ACC linebacker Marquel Lee to the NFL, the Duke Ejiofor-led defense should be stout once again
2016 Record: 7-6 (3-5, ACC)
Wake Forest rode a strong defense to their first seven-win season since 2008. They held eight of 13 opponents to 21 points or fewer, including 17 in a midseason loss (17-6) at Florida State.
Though it was a breakthrough campaign for third-year coach Dave Clawson, it could've been much more with a reliable offense. His team dropped three games in which their defense allowed a total of 55 points, including a 21-13 home loss to Army.
Head Coach: Dave Clawson (4th year, 13-24 overall)
Dave Clawson did a lot of winning at his three previous stops, registering six eight-win seasons at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green. But all that winning came after at least one or two rebuilding seasons, including transforming Fordham from a winless team in 1999 to a team that won 19 games over his final two years, 2002-03.
And that appears to be continuing at Wake Forest, where he trudged through two three-win seasons before delivering seven wins in 2016. Their Military Bowl victory over Temple was the program's first bowl win since 2008.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB John Wolford, QB Kendall Hinton, RB Cade Carney, RB Matt Colburn, WR Tabari Hines, WR Cortez Lewis, WR Alex Backman, TE Cam Serigne, OT Justin Herron, G Phil Haynes, C Ryan Anderson
Kendall Hinton was named starting quarterback at the start of spring practice and, despite an up-and-down spring that included an inconsistent performance in the spring game, he still sits above senior John Wolford on the depth chart. The Durham, N.C., native started two games as true freshman in 2015 before missing all but three games last year with a knee injury.
“Part of his quarterbacking skill set is the ability to make people miss, the ability to create plays and our ability to run the quarterback with him in there,” Clawson said of Hinton in the spring game. “In a scrimmage when he’s wearing a green shirt and he’s not live and he’s got a little bit of a hip flexor; that always impacts his play.”
Averaging 3.6 yards per carry is terrible, except if you're Wake Forest and you barely averaged three yards the year prior. The improved ground game was led by Cade Carney and Matt Colburn. The pair combined for 1,215 yards and eight touchdowns, and Carney topped 100 yards twice in his first three games as a true freshman.
Kendall Hinton will have their top eight pass-catchers back, including senior tight end Cam Serigne. He has 130 career catches for 1,519 yards and 12 scores, recording at least 30 catches and 400 yards each season. Junior receivers Cortez Lewis and Alex Bachman will be Hinton's top options on the edge, while Tabari Hines will hold down the slot.
The offensive line improved and though the departures of Josh Harris and Tyler Hayworth will sting in September, they still return three starters. Justin Herron, Ryan Anderson and Phil Haynes have 62 combined career starts.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Duke Ejiofor, DE Wendell Dunn, LB Jaboree Williams, LB Grant Dawson, LB Demetrius Kemp, CB Amari Henderson, S Jessie Bates,
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko bolted for the same position at Notre Dame after transforming the Wake defense into an outstanding group. He's replaced by Jay Sawvel, a former secondary coach and defensive coordinator at Minnesota and longtime Jerry Kill assistant.
Sawvel, who worked wonders with the Gophers' defense and groomed several NFL defensive backs, has two rising stars in his secondary in sophomores Jessie Bates (safety) and Amari Henderson (corner). Bates had 100 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, four passes defended and a team-high five interceptions in 2016. Henderson led the team with nine passes defended.
The pair will be given plenty of chances for big plays with the help of senior defensive ends Wendell Dunn and Duke Ejiofor. Ejiofor, a 6-foot-4, 270-pounder had 17 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He had four tackles for loss and three sacks in their win over Duke.
Linebacker is the wild card for Sawvel. Wake lost Marquel Lee to the NFL after a superb four-year career and will rely on senior Jaboree Williams, who has just 56 career tackles, to stabilize a thin unit. Junior Demetrius Kemp should hold down the outside while senior Grant Dawson gets his first starting shot inside.
Notable Player Losses
OL Josh Harris, G Tyler Hayworth, LB Marquel Lee, CB Brad Watson
Wake's biggest loss is Marquel Lee, a fifth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders. The All-ACC linebacker left with 291 career tackles, 41 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. Versatile defensive back Brad Watson — 135 tackles and four interceptions the last two years — is the other notable departure on that side of the ball.
Offensively, Josh Harris and Tyler Hayworth, both longtime starters, leave huge holes on the offensive line. They spearheaded the unit's big improvements from 2015.
Notable Player Additions
QB Jamie Newman, LB Jeff Burley, LB Chase Monroe, LB Ja'Cquez Williams, S Luke Masterson
Per usual, Wake Forest will not rely on any JUCO transfers, instead opting to groom true and redshirt freshmen.
Jamie Newman, a three-star recruit and the nation's 16th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class, is still buried on the depth chart after a redshirt year. He could, however, get an opportunity in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness. Clawson has not shied away from using young quarterbacks.
Jay Sawvel will enlist the help of three freshmen at linebacker, including two first-year players in Chase Monroe and Jeff Burley. They were both three-star prospects who picked Wake over many other Power Five offers. Redshirt freshman Ja'Cquez Williams will also see snaps on the outside.
Another redshirt freshman, safety Luke Masterson is fighting for time behind Jessie Bates.
Wake Forest opens the ACC season early with a Week 2 visit to Boston College before finishing non-conference with by hosting Utah State and visiting Appalachian State, both of which be trendy Group of Five upset picks.
Then begins the annual ACC Atlantic gauntlet. They do get Florida State and Louisville at home but visit Clemson and Notre Dame. The Deacons play four of five games on the road between Oct. 7 and Nov. 11.
|Thursday, Aug. 31
|Saturday, Sept. 9
|at Boston College
|Saturday, Sept. 16
|vs. Utah State
|Saturday, Sept. 23
|at Appalachian State
|Saturday, Sept. 30
|vs. Florida State
|Saturday, Oct. 7
|Saturday, Oct. 21
|at Georgia Tech
|Saturday, Oct. 28
|Saturday, Nov. 4
|at Notre Dame
|Saturday, Nov. 11
|Saturday, Nov. 18
|vs. North Carolina State
|Saturday, Nov. 25