Posted: Wednesday November 29, 2006 9:24PM; Updated: Thursday November 30, 2006 10:43AM
After beating Boston College, things have looked up for Wake Forest. The Deacons can prove they're No. 1 in the ACC by beating Georgia Tech Saturday.
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The last time Wake Forest won an ACC football title, Stevie Wonder was belting out Signed, Sealed, Delivered, The Flip Wilson Show was the hottest thing on television and Love Story dominated the box office.
Thirty-six years later, the perennial doormat Demon Deacons have created their own Love Story in Winston-Salem.
And how can you not get swept away by this Cinderella story?
In the first 53 years of the ACC, Wake Forest had gone winless in conference play more times (eight) than it had winning records (six). But it's a punch line no longer. This season No. 16 Wake is 10-2, setting a school record for wins and becoming the first team in ACC history to go 6-0 on the road.
Wake can put the finishing touches on its turnaround from 4-7 in 2005 to a BCS bowl participant with a win over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game on Saturday in Jacksonville.
"You can't ask for anything more than to be able to play for the ACC championship and go to the Orange Bowl if we win," quarterback Riley Skinner said. "It's just something that hasn't been done here and we're real excited about what's going on."
It's not just what Wake Forest -- Sports Illustrated's and nearly every other publication's preseason pick to finish dead last in the ACC's Atlantic Division -- has done that is so stunning, but how the Deacons have done it (with a nucleus of unknown fifth-year seniors) after losing their starting quarterback and tailback.
Three quarters into the season, quarterback Ben Mauk was lost for the year when he broke his arm diving for a fumble against Syracuse. Two weeks later, tailback Micah Andrews, who was replacing 2005 ACC player of the year Chris Barclay, was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
"The coaches, we probably worried more about losing Ben and Micah than the players did," ACC coach of the year Jim Grobe said. "The players were really sad for Ben and Micah, but they realized that the only thing we can do is keep working and press on."
Skinner, a redshirt freshman who was No. 3 on the depth chart, replaced Mauk, and Grobe had to revamp his shotgun spread option offense with a more conventional attack. Skinner has been impressive, leading the ACC in passing efficiency (142.1).
"We knew he had a live arm and that he was a really smart kid," Grobe said. "But without the experience, nobody could have dreamed he would step in the way he has and won so many games. I've just been amazed, honestly."
The running game, which had been first or second in the conference in each of Grobe's five seasons, has slipped to third in 2006. But it's hard to knock a ground attack that's become a tailback-by-committee, led by converted wide receiver Kenneth Moore and Kevin Harris.
If you're looking for a megastar among these Deacons, you can forget it. Wake Forest doesn't have any can't-miss pro prospects. No household names. At Wake, it's all about veteran leadership.
"We don't have any superstars on our team," Skinner said. "We don't have any people that are all over the media. Everyone's pretty well grounded, character-wise, and they know what they need to do."