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NCAA Football Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacons

2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: In Jim Grobe's last season in Winston-Salem, the Demon Deacons were a little snake-bitten, dropping two decisions by two points and one by three points. The overall result was a dismal 4-8 overall record that included a mere 2-6 league mark.

Wake Forest opened the season with a resounding win over FCS foe Presbyterian (31-7), but lost three of its four games in the month of September, with the lone win coming at Army (25-11). Heading into October, the team was already in an 0-2 hole in conference play, but immediately evened things up with home wins over NC State (28-13) and Maryland (34-10).

Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons and Grobe, the squad failed to register another victory, losing five in a row down the stretch, despite playing competitively against strong teams like Miami-Florida (24-21), Duke (28-21) and Vanderbilt (23-21). At the end of the season, Grobe resigned and the team tabbed former Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson to lead Wake into a new era.

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Only five starters return on the offensive side of the football for Wake, but averaged under 300 yards of offense per game and just 18.3 points, so that may not be a bad thing.

First and foremost, Clawson needs to settle on a quarterback. No one secured the position in the spring, although sophomore Tyler Cameron (6-3, 220) may have a slight edge after playing sparingly in 2013. Junior Kevin Sousa (6-3, 230) will also get a shot, as will a couple of other youngsters if need be.

To make matters worse, the team is without its top two rushers and receivers from a year ago, including tailback Josh Harris and star wideout Michael Campanaro (67 rec, 870 yds, six TDs). The receiving corps is young, with both sophomores Jared Crump (6-3, 190) and Tyree Harris (6-3, 180) taking on bigger roles in 2013.

Senior Orville Reynolds (5-9, 185), who played wideout last season, will move back to running back to help fill the void in the backfield. A jack-of-all trades kind of player, Reynolds need to step up for Wake to have offensive success in 2014.

"Orville certainly has a unique skill set," said Clawson. "He can catch the ball. He can make people miss in space.

"It's difficult for me to imagine us having a really good season if Orville Reynolds doesn't have a great year for us. He needs to be a key guy and be a major contributor."

The one area of stability is along the offensive line, where three starters return in sophomores Cory Helms (6-4, 290) and Tyler Hawthorn (6-4, 310) and junior Dylan Intemann (6-5, 310).

DEFENSE: Like the offense, Wake's defense also returns just five starters. The one glaring loss is up front, where tackle Nikita Whitlock (82 tackles, 10 TFL, nine sacks) used to create mayhem with an explosive first step.

The strength of the unit may be in the linebacking unit, with juniors Brandon Chubbs (88 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT) and Hunter Williams (39 tackles) leading the charge.

The secondary returns three starters, including sophomore safety Ryan Janvion, who picked up All-ACC honorable mention after leading Wake Forest in tackles as a freshman (95).

SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game is the only area that returns intact, as junior PK Chad Hedlund and P Alex Kinal are back. Hedlund didn't get a ton of opportunities, but was 26-of-26 in PATs and 8-of-12 in field-goal tries, with a long of 51 yards. Kinal on the other hand was very busy, racking up 86 punts and averaging 40 yards per attempt.

OUTLOOK: Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will the Wake Forest football program. Clawson could be the right man for the job though, as he was won a conference crown at his other three stops as a head coach (Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green).

The team gets its non-league schedule out of the way right away, with matchups against ULM, Gardner-Webb, Utah State and Army all before the end of September.

Winnable games early on could help the Demon Deacons later in the year.

"I would always love to have our non-conference schedule before our conference schedule, and it's very unique how our schedule breaks this year," said Clawson. "It's four non-conference games, our six Atlantic Division games, and then our two crossovers, so it's a very clean schedule break.

"You know, I always feel if you have confidence as a football staff that your team is going to get better as the year goes on. I've always preferred to have the more important games and the bigger games later in the year, so I like the fact that we get to play four football games with our team and learn a little bit more about them before we head into ACC play."

However, wins will be hard to come by in ACC play as the Demon Deacons. who avoid no one this season, including road trips to Louisville and Florida State to open league play and home dates with Clemson and Virginia Tech towards the end of the season. Matchups with Syracuse, Boston College, NC State and Duke won't be easy either and could leave Clawson still seeking his first ACC win come next season.