As an early look at USU's out-of-conference schedule, I'll be examining each opponent in-depth to give you a better feel for who we're going up against. Our second preview takes a look at the Wake Forest Demon Deacons:
Coach: Dave Clawson. Clawson started his head coaching career at Fordham University, spending five years (1999-2003) with the Rams. The Rams had averaged 2.2 wins per year the ten years prior to Clawson's debut, and Clawson lost every game his first year, and his first 12 games overall. Even with such a rough start, he went on to lead them to a 29-29 record and their first conference title in 14 years. After Fordham, Clawson moved on to coach the Richmond Spiders, where he engineered another complete program overhaul. The Spiders had averaged three wins per year in the three years before his arrival; in four years at the helm (2004-2007), he had a 29-20 record which included conference titles and an FCS playoffs semifinals appearance. After a year as OC at Tennessee, he took the HC job at Bowling Green, where he spent the next five years (2009-2013). He left the Falcons with an overall 32-32 record, including a conference title in 2013 and three bowl game appearances (all losses). This will be his first year with the Demon Deacons, where he hopes to create similar turnaround results.
Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Stadium: Groves Stadium (Capacity: 31,500)
Mascot: The Demon Deacon. The mascot, first used in 1941, comes from the school's Baptist origins, combined with a comment made by a journalist who at one point called the school's play "devilish," inspiring the term ‘Demon Deacons.' The costume was apparently patterned after a legendary school super-fan, "Doc" Murphrey.
Conference: ACC-Atlantic Division
2013 Record: 4-8 (2-6 in conference)
Bowl game: N/A
Five key players (in no particular order):
1) Whichever players become the starting QB, RB, and WRs: See the analysis of the offense.
2) Kevin Johnson: Johnson will be one of the seniors leading this impressive group of defensive backs. Playing at the cornerback position, Johnson recorded 3 INTs, 58 tackles (39 solo), 12 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble.
3) Merrill Noel: Playing opposite Johnson is Noel, another senior CB. Noel recorded another 3 interceptions, 52 tackles (37 solo tackles), 6 pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles. Both backs are heavy hitters who will look to make plays every down.
4) Ryan Janvion: Sitting at strong safety, Janvion was the team's leading tackler, contributing 95 total tackles (61 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, and added another interception to the team tally (WF pulled in 12 total INTs last year, with 8 separate players adding to the count).
5) Brandon Chubb: The now-junior linebacker was the second highest tackler on the team last year with 87 total tackles (57 solo), 3 tackles for loss, two pass break ups, and one interception which he returned for a touchdown. He'll definitely be one to keep an eye on as the game progresses.
Offensive overview: The Deacs are, perhaps, in the worst spot in the nation offensively. They lost their starting QB from last year to graduation; their two returning signal callers (Tyler Cameron and Patrick Thompson) combined last year for an extremely underwhelming 37% completion rate, 97 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 INTs, and a combined average passer rating of 42. If they have any chance of competing in this game, they will need someone to emerge under center in a big way. Having also lost their starting RB, they will rely on two young backs who, as freshmen last year, combined for 213 yards on 75 attempts (2.84 yards per attempt), 2 touchdowns, and all of that on an impressive 3.8 attempts per game. In order to give an inexperienced and/or challenged QB some breathing room, the Deacons will need a strong presence at RB... which it doesn't look like they'll have. The only decently promising group offensively is their receiving corps, which consists of a dozen players, most of whom were freshmen last year. The group, which also includes four RBs who were targeted from time to time, averaged 126 yards receiving per game, and pulled in 5 total TDs over the course of the season. None of them, however, averaged more than 25 ypg by themselves, and none of them averaged even 3 receptions per game. With no clear starters at any of the skill positions, the scene is wide open for young players to step up and become the new brand of Wake Forest football. The line returns three starters, which may help stabilize the rest of the offense. Of course, last year's Demon Deacon offense was, quite frankly, offensive (yuck yuck yuck... so punny.) in how terrible they were. That being taken into consideration, perhaps having no returning experience will be a blessing in disguise.
Defensive overview: With as bad as the offense was last year, the defense had to be equally good to keep the team from completely collapsing. The bad news for Wake fans is that many important pieces of that defense left. Both of the top two tacklers are back. And of the eight players with an interception last year, five return. The main problem comes in the front seven; of last year's group, only two return. The d-line is especially bleak, with no returning starters. While the defensive backs will undoubtedly be a great strength to the defense, it may not matter if the d-line and the LBs can't stop the run.
Early prediction: While the Aggies will be testing out a new O-line, the rest of the team is in stable, and impressive, condition. This game will be a good warm up for a road game against Arkansas State. Aggies win comfortably in front of a roaring home crowd: 42-17.