Jim Grobe has proven you can consistently win games at Wake Forest -- something that wasn't a given before he arrived three years ago. The Demon Deacons had been to three bowl games from 1949-2000. Under Grobe, they have been bowl-eligible twice.
Now, he has a new challenge. The players he recruited are finally busting through the depth chart, and he's going to have to rely on them heavily. Wake's two-deep features 23 freshmen and sophomores, almost all of whom had the benefit of a redshirt season. Veterans beware.
"We're going to go ahead and start getting ready for where we will be in two or three years, rather than wait until too much longer," Grobe said. "We need to be ready to go full speed when we get all the personnel in order, and we're getting closer."
The first big change will be to dump the 3-3-5 defense. Better talent and depth will allow Wake to play a more conventional 4-3 -- and maybe it will improve one of the ACC's worst units.
"Our flexibility is going to improve defensively," Grobe said. "If you're going to put a bunch of tight ends and fullbacks on the field, we're going to be able to put bigger people on the field. And if you're going to come out and give us no backs, or four wideouts, then we're going to be able to match that up pretty good."
OffenseThe line keys everything for Grobe, who loves to run the ball. But this year's version is very young. Veterans Craig Jones and Blake Lingruen return, and sophomore tackle Steve Vallos showed that he could be the group's best.
"We've got the potential to be good up front, but we're very, very inconsistent," Grobe said. "We've got to have a great summer in the weight room."
If the line gets the job done, Wake's skill players are as good as most. Junior quarterback Cory Randolph can run and throw but needs to find consistency. He'll be pushed by redshirt freshman Ben Mauk, who set Ohio-record passing yardage marks in high school.
"It's just a really healthy situation for us at quarterback right now," Grobe said.
At running back, if Chris Barclay can avoid injury, he might burst onto the national scene. Last season, Barclay was slowed by an ankle sprain early, gaining 944 of his 1,192 yards in the last seven games. Wide receiver Jason Anderson is an all-conference candidate after posting 44 catches for a 17.1-yard average. In the slot, which is also used as a running position in Wake's offense, the Deacons have Chris Davis and Willie Idlette -- both former prep sprint champions -- and Kevin Marion, a redshirt freshman who may be the fastest skill player on the team. That group has to show it can hang onto the ball.
DefenseAs the Deacons move to a 4-3, Goryal Scales anchors the middle of the line, and young, athletic ends like Bryan Andrews and Jyles Tucker now may get a chance to show their speed.
Wake returns only one experienced linebacker, Brad White, who will move to the outside to make room for Pierre Easley in the middle. Two defensive backs, Caron Bracy (last year's leading tackler) and James Adams, bulked up to fill holes.
"Linebacker was something we were concerned about coming into spring ball, and now I'm not concerned about it, at least one-deep," Grobe said.
Wake's MIA pass rush has put heat on the defensive backs in the past. But this group is talented and deep. Eric King is an All-ACC corner, and look for Riley Swanson to supplant Marcus McGruder on the other side. The staff loves its new big safeties, Josh Gattis and Patrick Ghee.
SpecialistsRyan Plackemeier is an All-ACC punter, but kicker Matt Wisnosky has been an adventure, even on extra points. Last year, Grobe let Plackemeier kick some, but Wisnosky is back as the starter. The returners, like blazers Idlette and Davis, also could use some consistency. Look for Marion to play a big role.
Final AnalysisThe Deacons have as much talent as ever, but they're young and likely to be inconsistent. The offensive line is the big worry. Wake must run the ball to win, partly because controlling the ball would also help the defense as it changes to a 4-3 and tries to create more pass rush.
Like most underdog teams, Wake has to do all the little things right, like win the turnover battle and avoid penalties. Wake's first four games are the key. To entertain any bowl hopes, the Deacons must win three of those games -- including dates at Clemson and at home against Boston College -- which won't be easy with such a young team.