The least you should know about the 2011 Demon Deacons. Part of ACC Week.
• First, something nice. By far, the most successful aspect of Wake Forest's season in 2010 was the running game, owing largely to the midseason discovery of redshirt freshman Josh Harris. In his first start, Harris shredded conference overlord Virginia Tech for 247 yards, the only 200-yard effort by an ACC back during the regular season and the most ever yielded to a single back by a Bud Foster-coached defense:
Harris struggled for touches in an offense often forced to begin playing catchup in the second or third quarter, but closed the year with 138 yards on 18 carries in a win over Vanderbilt and is clearly the most viable threat behind four returning starters on the offensive line.
• Now, the reality. For a brief window there, Wake looked like it had clawed its way out of its traditional home in the ACC cellar and into the lap of consisted respectability. From 2006 to 2008, the Demon Deacons won 70 percent of their games, spent 14 weeks in the Associated Press poll, beat Florida State three years in a row, won two bowl games, fielded eleven future NFL draft picks and earned the most improbable conference championship of the last decade. After a minor regression in 2009, last year was a sobering slap in the face: The Deacons won their first two games and their last game — over teams that combined to go 7-25 against everyone else — and in between made a strong run at the title of Worst Team in America.
Beginning with a 68-24 trouncing at the hands of Stanford on Sept. 18, Wake dropped nine straight games over the next two months, six of them by at least 20 points. It was outgained by at least 200 yards in all six, and by an average of 129 yards for the season, the steepest deficit of any team in a "Big Six" BCS conference except Kansas. If not for a win over lame-duck Vanderbilt in the season finale — in which Wake was still outgained by 144 yards — the Deacons would open 2011 tied with San Jose State for the longest ongoing losing streak in the country.
• When can we cash in on those growing pains? At least the quarterback(s) should be better. After some initial uncertainty, Wake settled on true freshman Tanner Price during a shootout win over Duke in the second week of the season and more or less stuck with him through thick and thin. Well, mostly thin: After a three-touchdown effort against the Blue Devils, Price connected on just four touchdown passes in the last ten games — two of them in garbage time of blowout losses to Virginia Tech and Maryland — and finished as the lowest-rated passer in the ACC among regular starters.
But Price did, you know, play, which puts him well ahead of the competition. If he can hold off incoming freshman Kevin Sousa, he should begin to show some modest return on that investment as a sophomore.
• I used to be a terror, but now I am a tired man. As recently as two years ago, Jim Grobe was still a mainstay on lists of the nation's "Most Underrated Coaches," and in rumors about more attractive openings. Now, approaching 60 years old with 16 seasons invested in two of the most thankless jobs in the sport, Grobe finds his program back in the same dire straits he inherited from predecessor Jim Caldwell a decade ago, with no quick fix in sight. (Caldwell, fired in 2000 after his seventh losing season in eight years, has done pretty well for himself in the meantime.)
The fact that Grobe has managed a winning career record (95-93-1) at Ohio U. and Wake Forest is a minor miracle, and his current contract runs through 2016. Still, at this stage of his career, it's hard to see him mustering the patience to endure another five-year rebuilding project from the ground up. After tasting a little success, Wake might not have the patience, either. If the record declines this fall for the third season in a row — a distinct possibility with losable non-conference dates against Syracuse, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt — it shouldn't come as any surprise if the university and its first winning coach in more than 50 years agree to a mutual split.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.