Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Head Coach: Dave Clawson
2018 Record: 7-6, 3-5 Conference
Bowl: 37-34 win over Memphis at Birmingham Bowl
O/U 6 wins (O -120, U -110)
Make 4 Team Playoff: +90000
Don’t look now, but the Wake Forest Demon Deacons have made it to three-straight Bowl games. Credit super rebuilder Dave Clawson and his efforts, and tip a hat to turn freshman quarterback Sam Hartman and backup Jamie Newman (also cue a QB controversy this year!).
The Demon Deacons won two of its final three games, including a comeback from down 18 and game-winning field goal in the Bowl appearance. Losing big-time receiver Greg Dortch to the NFL and most of the offensive line will set this team back some, but it had a huge recruiting class that featured three of the top five Wake recruits in school history.
Between Sam Hartman and Jamie Newman, it does not seem like the Demon Deacons can really go wrong at QB, but Newman has the edge. He completed nearly 60 percent of his looks last season, and he has a strong arm. He is more mobile than Hartman, too, and he has the frame at 6’4” 235-pounds to take a beating when he does run. However, Hartman did rank No. 4 in the ACC in total offense when he went down, so Newman really picked up what was already a successful offense.
The loss of Dortch is substantial, but the team does return its top running back in Cade Carney. Carney and Sage Surratt should keep the backfield relevant in the ACC. Surratt caught 41 passes as a redshirt freshman, giving the Demon Deacons a nice dual-threat out of the backfield. Christian Beal-Smith and Scottie Washington will round out the group. Washington caught 45 passes last year as a sophomore.
Kendall Hinton, a former QB, is the top slot receiver. He only caught six passes last year, but he will be aided by four-star recruit and early enrollee Nolan Groulx. The OL is where the turnover happened. It loses three starters who started a combined 112 games, and the only position of great strength is tackle where the Demon Deacons start two-year starter Jake Benzinger. Three-year starter Justin Herron will attempt to come back from knee surgery. Jack Freudenthal is a good blocking tight end, but he is not a great receiver.
The defense has struggled at Wake since the departure of former coordinator Mike Elko in 2016. Clawson fired his DC four-games into the season last year, and it did not spark much of a turnaround. The Demon Deacons gave up over 33 points per game, ranking No. 116 among FBS schools. The team will still use a 4-2-5 approach, but it will use three safeties or cornerbacks and not the rover linebacker position this year.
The DL loses its entire core, and it will rely on junior Sulaiman Kamara to lead this youthful unit. Carlos Basham Jr. had 11 tackles last year and is strong on the end, but the other end spot is wide open. Shamar McCollum may start there as a true freshman. The LB position was weak last year, as well, and DJ Taylor is already out for the season, which hardly helps. Justin Strnad led the team in tackles last year, and he is hoping that recruits Chris Monroe and Jeff Burley are ready finally. Both of them are third-year sophomores who have mostly sat due to injuries.
Cornerback play should be better. Essang Bassey is one of the best in the ACC, and the list of things to improve includes stopping the run a lot better. The safety position has some talent but is very inexperienced. Coby Davis could start along with Luke Masterson, but talent waits in the wings in the form of true freshman Nasir Greer and Traveon Reed. Both could greatly improve the unit if they make quick strides.
Dortch was also the team’s return specialist, so his departure is felt here as well. Christian Beal-Smith will handle kick returns while Kendall Hinton will handle the punt returns. The kicking game is strong with Nick Sciba back. He hit 19 of 22 last year as a true freshman, and punter Dom Maggio is steady.
Clawson is aware of the challenges his team faces this year. The loss of Dortch is massive, and the offensive line was instrumental in the turnaround but is largely gone. For Wake to compete this year it will require a lot of younger players stepping into roles, probably before they are ready. The schedule is tough, too. It does not bode that well for the Demon Deacons, but in a couple season’s time the youth will turn to experience and Clawson’s recruiting efforts will hopefully have paid off.
Prediction: 6 wins