This is a tall task for first-year coach Dave Clawson, who inherits a team without a winning season since 2008 and, on top of that, not many proven parts on the roster.
The Demon Deacons entered preseason camp without an established quarterback and countless other questions.
"We don't have a starting tailback right now," Clawson said, amid a long list. "We have competition at tight end. ..."
The question at quarterback was answered with the announcement that John Wolford, who arrived in late spring, will be the starting quarterback. That's a pretty good indicator that the returning candidates were up to par in Clawson's view.
Yet across the board, there's ample openings for players to step to the forefront.
"We have a lot of guys who have a lot of talent, but just aren't proven," senior cornerback Kevin Johnson said.
Clawson takes over after Jim Grobe's 13-year coaching rein. Wake Forest peaked in 2006, then it was mostly a steady decline since then.
There's no sugarcoating the fact that this could be a frustrating season ahead.
"We were a 4-8 team with 10 starters back," Clawson said. "Our job is to maximize what we have every year with the team we have. ... There's not a huge margin for error this year. I get it."
The Demon Deacons are determined to turn things around. The players have noted changes in the program's operations and they're hoping that signals an uptick in success.
"We use last year's season as motivation and we want to prevent that kind of season from happening again," Johnson said. "I think we're going to look a lot different."
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Demon Deacons begin with two road trips in the opening month and yet they'd be wise to make the most of the beginning portion of the schedule before the glutton of Florida State, Clemson and Louisville hit, not to mention a trip to reigning Coastal Division champion Duke. There are bound to be growing pains at the beginning for the Demon Deacons, but a road victory at Louisiana-Monroe or Utah State would offer a signal of something positive before the brutal stretch.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Demon Deacons need to identify play makers on offense if they're going to complete with most of the teams on their schedule. From a year ago, they've lost the most productive players at most positions, so replenishing those is vital. They'll be counting on the defense to keep them in games, but in order for that to happen there will need to be evidence of upgrades there as well. The defensive front could be soft, so finding ways to contain opponents' rushing attacks will be one of the first orders of business.
AREAS OF CONCERN: There's just not much experience on this team and that can lead to problems. The learn-on-the-job approach is often filled with pitfalls. The Demon Deacons can't even boast of solid special teams, so finding strengths for this team is a priority. Wake Forest is extremely thin at the running back position, so that could be worrisome as it breaks in a new quarterback.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have great respect with who I'm replacing. I'm the new head coach and I'm going to put my stamp on the program." -- Coach Dave Clawson, who took over after 13-year coach Jim Grobe stepped down by matching the school record with 77 all-time coaching victories.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
HEAD COACH: Dave Clawson, first season at Wake Forest; combined 90-80 across 14 seasons at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green.
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
CB Kevin Johnson (No.11 cornerback, 93rd overall) -- A fifth-year senior, he has speed that's often unmatched and he has steadily improved on coverage situations. He's often challenged by opponents and that tends to make him even better.
CB Merrill Noel (No. 32 cornerback, 259th overall) -- A fifth-year senior, he has revived his status after some rough games as a sophomore. He was steady and sometimes dynamic as a freshman and he plays with an attitude that tends to help his cause.
C Cory Helms -- A sophomore who made his way into a starting role in his first season. He's an anchor of the offensive line and probably overlooked because of the team's struggles in general.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB Brandon Chubb -- He could fall into this category for a team that doesn't have much of an established veteran presence. The top players from a year ago at most every position (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, nose tackle, linebacker) were seniors. Chubb will be in the middle of the defense and it's that unit that will have to be sturdy and productive in order for the Demon Deacons to attain much success this season. He started every game in 2013, finishing with the second-most tackles on the team with 88.
BREAKOUT STAR: S Ryan Javion -- He started 12 games as a redshirt freshman last season and he could be in position for a rise in prominence. He plays between a pair of veteran cornerbacks, so that should help his cause. As the Demon Deacons look to nurture leadership, Javion appears to be a logical candidate.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: QB John Wolford -- He has emerged as the first-string quarterback despite first joining the team for the first summer session. He takes over for four-year starter Tanner Price, who directed the Demon Deacons to only one bowl game. Wolford, a 205-pound freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., will be the first true freshman to start a season opener for the Demon Deacons since 1974. Wake Forest fans might be encouraged that the last freshman from Jacksonville to start at quarterback led the Demon Deacons to an ACC championship. That was Riley Skinner as a redshirt freshman in 2006.
--RB Dominique Gibson was dismissed from the team prior to the start of preseason practice. With 138 rushing yards last year, that made him the top returning rusher on the team until he was removed from the roster.
--NG Johnny Garcia suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the first week of practice. That puts him out for the season after playing in every Wake Forest game in 2012 and 2013.
--DE Phil Haynes joined the program during the summer after reclassifying and graduating from high school a year early. This is a small boost for a Wake Forest team that can use depth along the front.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Dave Clawson