NEW ... 2012 Wake Forest Preview
Wake Forest QB Tanner Price
Wake Forest QB Tanner Price
Posted Jul 5, 2012 2012 Preview - Wake Forest

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2012

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Jim Grobe
12th year: 68-67
Returning Lettermen
Off. 22, Def. 30, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Wake Players
1. NG Nikita Whitlock, Jr.
2. QB Tanner Price, Jr.
3. WR Michael Campanaro, Jr.
4. CB Merrill Noel, Soph.
5. RB Joshua Harris, Jr.
6. PK Jimmy Newman, Sr.
7. LB Joey Ehrmann, Sr.
8. CB Kenny Okoro, Sr.
9. LB Justin Jackson, Jr.
10. C Garrick Williams, Sr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 Liberty
Sep. 8 North Carolina
Sep. 15 at Florida State
Sep. 22 Army
Sep. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 20 at Virginia
Oct. 25 Clemson
Nov. 3 Boston College
Nov. 10 at NC State
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame
Nov. 24 Vanderbilt
Now that the Demon Deacons have found their footing—sort of—they're hoping to maintain and build upon it in 2012.

The program snapped its two-year bowl drought, meeting Mississippi State in last December's Music City Bowl, yet still wound up a game below the .500 mark. Wake Forest got out of the chute very quickly with a 5-2 start, including wins over NC State, Boston College and Florida State, but won just two of its final eight games. If the school is going to participate in the postseason once again this winter, it'll need dramatically improved play from both lines.

On offense, just one starter, Garrick Williams, remained in Winston-Salem. Defensively, the Deacons are coming off a feeble, 11-sack season, and must do a better job of generating pressure from someone other than disruptive NG Nikita Whitlock.

The strength of the current edition at Wake Forest can be located in the backs—quarterback, running back and cornerback. QB Tanner Price is the prototype at quarterback for the Deacons. While not physically overwhelming, he's smart, and will distribute the ball without making too many mistakes. RB Josh Harris may be coming off a trying sophomore year, but now that he's healthy again, fingers are crossed that he can recapture his freshman form. And the corner trio of Merrill Noel, Kenny Okoro and Kevin Johnson is about to cause all kinds of problems for opposing passers.

The concern around campus is that Jim Grobe may have peaked as the head coach of Wake Forest, a small, private school with a limited history of winning. From 2006-2008, the Demon Deacons went 28-12, captured an improbable ACC title and bowl in three consecutive years.

Since then, however, the school is just 14-23, raising concerns about its long-term trajectory. Grobe sorely needs one of his patented surprising seasons, replete with a few of upsets, because Wake Forest can ill afford the loss of any more momentum.

What to look for on offense: Michael Campanaro to introduce himself to a much larger audience. The junior is about to become more than just the successor to Chris Givens as the Deacons' go-to receiver; he's ready to begin amassing a following outside of ACC country. Undersized, yet tough and fundamentally-sound, the 5-10, 190-pound has the skill set and desire to rank among the league's most productive pass-catchers in 2012. NFL scouts have already started showing some early interest, an indication that he looks a lot better on film than he does on paper.

What to look for on defense: The no-name linebackers to post some solid overall numbers in the fall. Yeah, Wake is going to be small and thin on the second level, but it'll also be very athletic, experienced and good for about 300 tackles among the four starters. There's going to be a nice blend of returning starters, such as Joey Ehrmann and Riley Haynes, and emerging stoppers, like Justin Jackson and Mike Olson, to believe that the unit might soar beyond its preseason expectations once the campaign hits its stride.

The team will be far better if … it finds a way to get to the quarterback. It's difficult to win football games—at any level—when you produce only 11 sacks over the course of a 13-game schedule. Opposing quarterbacks had all afternoon to locate open receivers in 2011, which effectively neutralized some of the Deacons' talent in the secondary. With a little more help up front, the cornerback trio of Merrill Noel, Kevin Johnson and Kenny Okoro has the playmaking ability to create a paradigm shift in turnover margin for Wake Forest.

The Schedule: The Demon Deacons have to own the home field early on with four home games in the first five weeks wrapped around a road trip to Florida State. The non-conference schedule is a relative layup early, but the ACC season end on November 10th with Notre Dame and Vanderbilt to close things out. The Clemson and Boston College games are home, as are Coastal games against Duke and North Carolina; those all have to be wins to have a realistic shot at a winning season. Coming up with a road win against Virginia after a week off would be a huge boost to kick off the second half of the year.

Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Tanner Price. For the second time under Jim Grobe, Wake Forest has a franchise quarterback to build around. The lefty is the steady hand of the Demon Deacons attack, deftly distributing the ball with a paucity of turnovers and mental mistakes. He really turned the corner as a sophomore, completing 253-of-422 passes for 3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. He's poised, clutch and very accurate, entering the upcoming season riding a streak of 173 consecutive throws without an interception. Price is also a threat to make things happen with his feet, one more thing for opposing defenses to worry about.

Best Defensive Player: Junior NG Nikita Whitlock. The junior is essentially an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense … who happens to play at the nose. He's a 5-11, 260-pound enigma who drives blockers nuts with his sudden burst off the snap and array of moves to the backfield. A Second Team All-ACC selection in 2011, he racked up 64 tackles, a team-best 14.5 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks. For such a young player, just halfway into his Wake Forest career, he's mature, motivated and unlikely to be stooped even by double-teams.

Key player to a successful season: Junior RB Josh Harris. He's not even listed as a starter on the post-spring depth chart, yet he remains vital to the success of the program in 2012. Wake Forest absolutely, positively must run the ball better than it did in 2011, when the team ranked 99th nationally, and averaged 3.2 yards per carry. And while Orville Reynolds was sharp in the spring, and has a role in the attack, it's hard to imagine that he'll be a 25-carry-a-game feature back. The Deacons need Harris, whose hammy is no longer acting up, to approach the player who tore through Virginia Tech for 241 yards on 20 carries two years ago.

The season will be a success if ... Wake Forest earns a second straight bowl invitation, regardless of the destination. Anything less than six wins just isn't going to cut it in Winston-Salem. Nor should it. The Demon Deacons, while likely not a contender in the Atlantic Division, should be able to reach the .500 mark to become bowl-eligible. The program plays seven games at BB&T Field, including winnable meetings with Liberty, Army, Duke, Boston College and Vanderbilt.

Key game: Sept. 8 vs. North Carolina. The Week 2 visit from the Tar Heels shapes up as a potential tipping point game for Wake Forest. In the rear view mirror should be an easy win over Liberty. Up ahead will be a brutal trip to Tallahassee. And sandwiched in between will be a date with Carolina that'll say a lot about the Deacons' ceiling in 2012. If they can hold serve, the team will have a great opportunity to hit the midway point of the season with a head of steam, a boatload of confidence and a pretty impressive spot in the standings

2011 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Wake Forest 114.6 – Opponents 169.8
- Passing yards per game: Wake Forest 253.2 – Opponents 227.9
- Fourth-quarter scoring: Wake Forest 54 - Opponents 11
- 2011 Wake Forest Preview | 2011 Wake Forest Offense
- 2011 Wake Forest Defense | 2011 Wake Forest Depth Chart
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