CFN Preview 2013 - Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Wake Forest WR Michael Campanaro
Wake Forest WR Michael Campanaro
Posted May 22, 2013 2013 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Jim Grobe
13th year: 73-74
Returning Lettermen
Off. 24, Def. 19, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Wake Players
1. WR Michael Campanaro, Sr.
2. NG Nikita Whitlock, Sr.
3. LB Justin Jackson, Sr.
4. CB Kevin Johnson, Jr.
5. QB Tanner Price, Sr.
6. RB Josh Harris, Sr.
7. CB Merrill Noel, Jr.
8. FS A.J. Marshall, Sr.
9. LB Mike Olson, Sr.
10. DE Zach Thompson, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/29 Presbyterian
9/6 at Boston College
9/14 ULM
9/21 at Army
9/28 at Clemson
10/5 NC State
10/19 Maryland
10/26 at Miami
11/2 at Syracuse
11/9 Florida State
11/23 Duke
11/30 at Vanderbilt
Wake Forest needs to change its direction, it has the talent to do just that in 2013.

Since tailoring the best three-year run in program history from 2006-08, the Demon Deacons haven't been especially demonic on opponents. Over the last four years, the team is 19-30 under longtime head coach Jim Grobe, settling back toward the rear of the ACC. The 2012 edition was thinking postseason when November began, but got routed in three straight games to finish 5-7. Has Grobe lost his touch in Winston-Salem?

If Wake Forest is going to rebound from its hideous 2012 finish—and four-year slumber—this would be the season to do it. It begins 2013 with a senior-led team that boasts 19 returning starters, eight on offense, eight on defense and three on special teams. If the Deacons can stay healthy and out of trouble, issues that bit them a year ago, they could be a feisty and dangerous group out of the Atlantic Division.

Offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke wants to run the ball more efficiently this fall, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to meet that goal. It'll be a collaborative quest, from fourth-year starting QB Tanner Price and oft-injured RB Josh Harris to the versatile receivers and much-maligned O-line. Somehow, some way, the Demon Deacons has to find a way to milk more balance and potency from a 117th-ranked attack that scored more than 28 points just once in 2012.

The D can't help but be improved from a year ago. Nearly all of the unit's top performers return, including NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Justin Jackson and corners Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel. It has a very nice mix of youth and experience, infusing the fresh legs of LB Brandon Chubb and SS Ryan Janvion into a veteran-laden group. Wake won't be Florida State, but it could make as big of a leap forward as anyone in the ACC in 2013.

For years, the current senior class spoke of doing special things before it was through as Demon Deacons. It's quickly running out of time. Wake Forest needs to turn things around in 2013, with its veterans on the field and on the sidelines determined to lead the charge back to a higher level of competitiveness.

What to look for on offense: Orville right. Flanker Michael Campanaro is the star of the receiving corps, if not the entire offense, but he needs more help in 2013—a lot more help. Enter junior Orville Reynolds, a converted running back poised to do a little bit of everything for the Deacons this year. He's a slippery, 5-9, 185-pound playmaker who'll be counted on to turn quick slants, direct handoffs and fly sweeps into explosive plays downfield. The offense needs more than just Campanaro going forward, and Reynolds appears primed to fill the void.

What to look for on defense: Will the real Merrill Noel please stand up? The junior cornerback was unable to build on his unexpected, monster debut of 2011, performing at a pedestrian level last season. However, the coaching staff knows all about the cornerback's potential as a cover guy, having witnessed him tie for the FBS lead in passes defended two years ago. If Noel can shake off his sophomore slump and perform the way he did as a rookie, the combination of he and Kevin Johnson will cause fits for opposing quarterbacks.

The team will be far better if … the offense improves on third downs. The Demon Deacons labored for all kinds of reasons in 2012, but ranking 114th nationally in third-down conversions ranked at the top of a long and frustrating list. Wake Forest must find a way to extend drives, spending more time on the opponent's side of the field. While the team was No. 3 in the country in red-zone touchdown percentage, it was 122nd in red-zone trips, meaning it stalled incessantly before drives ever had a chance to develop.

The Schedule: Starting out with Presbyterian, Boston College, ULM and Army - if all goes according to plan - should provide a nice base of wins before dealing with Clemson on the road. If the Demon Deacons can split with NC State and Maryland at home, and pull off an upset at either Miami or Syracuse, all of a sudden, the season will look solid before hosting Florida State. Closing out the ACC season with Duke at home is a plus, but bowl hopes can't hinge on a regular season finale at Vanderbilt.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Michael Campanaro. Campanaro is a 5-11, 190-pound flanker at Wake Forest. He's unassuming by every possible measurement. And then Saturday rolls around, and few defenders can slow him down. Without a lot of support, the Second Team All-ACC pick missed all or part of three games, yet still finished third in the league with 79 catches for 763 yards and six touchdowns. Campanaro is tough, sure-handed and able to find the soft spots in opposing defenses. He'll use this final year in Winston-Salem to earn a spot in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Best Defensive Player: Senior NG Nikita Whitlock. For all intents and purposes, Whitlock is an outside linebacker in a 3-4 D … who happens to line up at the nose. He's a 5-11, 250-pound paradox who drives blockers batty with his sudden burst off the snap and array of swim moves to the backfield. A Second Team All-ACC selection in each of the last two years, he slipped a bit to 51 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and three sacks during an injury-riddled junior season. Now healthy, Whitlock will perform like the lineman that dominated at times in 2011.

Key player to a successful season: Senior RB Josh Harris. The Demon Deacons are determined to run the ball much better in 2013, and are willing to jump through hoops and even expose QB Tanner Price to get it done. Harris is capable of solving the problem on his own if he can just stay healthy for an entire year. He's the ACC's leading returning rusher, but rarely is able to carry the load the way the program would like. If Harris can carry the ball more than 200 times for the first time in his career, it's likely to have a transformative effect on the entire program.

The season will be a success if ... the Deacons win at least seven games. After skipping the postseason last year, this veteran team will have no excuses for not participating in the postseason in December. None. There's too much seasoned talent on both sides of the ball, and the schedule is tailor-made for a rebound. Presbyterian, Louisiana-Monroe and Army are on the non-conference slate, and NC State, Maryland and Duke must all visit BB&T Field in the fall.

Key game: Sept. 6 at Boston College. While it doesn't seem like much, this is a huge game for the Demon Deacons in 2013. The team is just 5-16 outside of Winston-Salem the past four years, so any road victories are a big deal. Wake Forest needs momentum after losing the final three games of 2012. It should get that in the opener with Presbyterian, but must be able to build on Week 1 by walking out of Alumni Stadium with a Friday night win on national TV. If the Deacons want to reach their goals this year, starting 3-0 is an absolute necessity.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Yards per game: Wake Forest 301.3 – Opponents 432.8
- Third-down conversions: Wake Forest 32% – Opponents 45%
- First-half scoring: Wake Forest 117 - Opponents 233
- 2013 Wake Forest Preview | 2013 Wake Forest Offense
- 2013 Wake Forest Defense | 2013 Wake Forest Depth Chart