2014 Record: 3-9
F/+ Rank: 101
Wins: Gardner-Webb, Army, Virginia Tech
Losses: Louisiana-Monroe, Utah State, Louisville, Florida State, Syracuse, Boston College, Clemson, NC State, Duke
After the Deacs limped to a 4-8 finish in 2013, head coach Jim Grobe resigned, ending a 13-year reign that saw the program go 3-2 in bowl games and qualify for the 2006 Orange Bowl as ACC Champions. To replace him, Wake hired Dave Clawson, the head coach of Bowling Green.
But any optimism about an immediate turnaround similar to what Steve Addazio did at BC was immediately shelved by one of the worst offenses in college football history. After scoring 20 points in three straight games, the Deacons hit the mark only two more times the rest of the season.
An opening day, 17-10 loss to ULM immediately exposed Wake's biggest issue - the offense. They managed just 94 yards of offense, outgained by just Centarius Donald's 117 as the Warhawks opened the season with a victory. The next week against FCS opponent Gardner Webb, Wake won 23-7 but saw freshman quarterback John Wolford throw three interceptions.
At 1-1, the Deacs traveled west to take on Utah State, and the Aggies rode two defensive touchdowns to a 36-24 victory, their first over an ACC team. Once again, Wake's offense struggled, with the running game finishing with -25 yards.
Wake put together its finest offensive performance of the season with a 21-17 victory over Army to even their record at 2-2, amassing 338 total yards but then watched their entire season fall apart over the next several weeks. A 20-10 loss to Louisville saw the Deacons finish with 100 yards (-22 on the ground) of offense, and they managed just 27 points in their next three games - all losses due to a putrid offense. Wake finished with 126 yards in a 43-3 loss to FSU and 170 yards in a 30-7 loss to Syracuse. They did gain over 200 against Boston College, but they lost again, 23-17, gaining less than 20 yards on the ground.
The next week, a 34-20 loss to Clemson made them bowl ineligible, and they followed that up with bookend losses to NC State (42-13) and Duke (41-21) around their only conference win of the year - a pathetic double-overtime victory over Virginia Tech, 6-3.
How bad was the Wake Forest offense? They had the 62nd best scoring defense in the nation, good enough to finish ranked in the top half of the FBS. But they finished dead last in total offense by more than 700 yards, second to last in rushing yards (39.9 yards per game), second to last in scoring offense (14.8 points per game), and 109th in passing yards (176.3 yards per game).
That total yardage (less than combined) was the worst output since Western Kentucky barely cleared 2,100 yards in 2007 as a transition FCS independent
Dave Clawson isn't a bad coach, evidenced by his successful stops everywhere he's coached. At Fordham, he led the team to a Patriot League championship within four years, going from 0-11 his first year to 10-3 and a berth in the I-AA Quarterfinals. At Richmond, he went from 3-8 in his first year to a 9-4 conference championship in the Atlantic-10 in his second year. Two years after that, the Spiders went 11-3, winning the Colonial Athletic Association in their first season in the league before losing in the FCS Semifinals.
He left Richmond for the offensive coordinator's job at Tennessee, replacing David Cutcliffe (who became the head coach at Duke). But head coach Phil Fulmer was fired before the close of the season, and Lane Kiffin let Clawson go. He retreated to the head coaching ranks in the MAC, taking over at Bowling Green. 2-10 in his second year, he built the Falcons into a MAC champion in '13, going 10-3 and defeating mighty Northern Illinois along the way.
Now he's tasked with doing it at Wake Forest. He's been able to build, construct, and win everywhere. With the Deacons pouring money into the football program, the pressure will be on to start producing something better than what we saw last year, when a good defense was undone by the worst offense potentially in college football history.
It starts on defense, where the Deacons bring back one of the best linebacking units in the league. Brandon Chubb is the headliner, but he joins with Marquel Lee and Hunter Williams to form a unit capable of completely wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. Like a three-headed Luke Kuechly, they put together over 200 tackles last season.
Offensively, John Wolford, who played as a freshman, is back. He wasn't the problem last year, even though he wasn't good. The problem is in the backfield, where Dez Wortham and Isaiah Robinson return from producing a running game a good high school team could perform better than. So these guys, while returning, are probably due to be replaced.
What's funny about the offense is that they have a legitimate threat in tight end Cam Serigne. That Serigne is a top five ACC tight end in that offense is completely amazing, and it blows my mind about how good he must be given what he accomplished on a team that bad last season.
Somewhat tongue-in-cheek is the return of punter Alex Kinal. Sent to ACC Media Day this year, our friends over at Blogger So Dear are campaigning him for Heisman because it might be the only thing that makes watching the offense enjoyable.
If someone plays offensive line, and the offense never moves the ball, do we really care about who plays? Yeah exactly.
Returning Quarterback: Yes
As mentioned, John Wolford is back for his sophomore year. Installed as a freshman, he was in a trial-by-fire and was immolated at times during the season. With anything resembling a functional running game, he should improve this year on the basis that there is NO WAY that offense can be that bad again.
Biggest Problem for 2015:
Wake has to hope their offense blows up this year and improves by leaps and bounds because even marginal improvement isn't good enough. They were so bad that a couple of steps forward would improve to them downright terrible from their current standing.
If you have zero faith in the Wake Forest offense, this team's defense could conceivably steal a game here or there. The Deacs need the offense in order to make it to a bowl game, but a bad offensive day would position them to do what they did last year to Virginia Tech. Although the butt of jokes for the way it went down, Wake Forest's defense is capable of winning a 6-3 overtime game against a team that doesn't show up, which means it's impossible to overlook them with BC facing Clemson in the following week.