SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
10/03/2006 01:14:00 PM
'Wake' Up the Echoes
Riley Swanson and the rest of the Wake Forest defense have been surprisingly stout this season.
Saturday is another one of those days where it seems the football gods decided to go overboard on big games. LSU-Florida. Tennessee-Georgia. Oregon-Cal. Oklahoma-Texas. It will make for an action-packed day, but couldn’t they have spread things out a little better? We sure could have used a couple of those games last Saturday.
The unfortunate byproduct of this big-game glut is that we won’t be treated to what would have been a truly surreal scene: The GameDay guys broadcasting live from outside Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. That’s right, folks. On nearly any other weekend, one could probably have made the case that Saturday’s much-anticipated (in the Carolinas, at least) Clemson-Wake Forest showdown qualified as the Game of the Week. Shoot, it’s the Game of the Year in the ACC to this point.
The Demon Deacons, if you haven’t heard, are 5-0 for the first time since 1987. No, they haven’t played anyone, but c’mon, give ‘em their props. While there were signs going into the season that Wake, which returned 16 starters, might surprise some people -- a certain college football writer predicted as much back in June -- what’s remarkable is that they’ve done it despite losing quarterback Ben Mauk and tailback Micah Andrews to injuries. In their place, however, redshirt freshman Riley Skinner is completing 65.3 percent of his passes and DeAngelo Bryant ran for 105 yards against Ole Miss. Most of all, though, the defense has been phenomenal, allowing just 10.6 points per game (10th nationally).
Wake Forest hasn’t started a season 6-0 in 62 years. Common sense says the Deacons’ run will end this weekend against 15th-ranked Clemson (4-1), which itself has been on an absolute tear lately. The Tigers are averaging 240 yards a game on the ground, and their defense, despite losing three key starters to injury, ranks ninth nationally in yards allowed (239.6 per game). But wait ... there’s an added twist to this drama. For whatever reason, Wake has had Clemson’s number of late, beating the Tigers the last two times they’ve visited Winston-Salem (2003 and 2005) despite the fact that Clemson wound up going a combined 17-8 in those seasons while Wake finished below .500 in both.
All of which means Saturday’s game will be the biggest thing Groves Stadium has seen since ... I don’t know, since they built the place? Believe it or not, I’ve had the good fortune of covering a game there. The year was 1996, and Jim Caldwell’s Deacons, in one of three wins they’d post all season, stunned a Gary Barnett-led Northwestern team that would wind up sharing the Big Ten championship. The backdrop is very picturesque. Lots of trees. But I’m not sure the stadium, which seats 31,000, is all that much bigger than Hoover High School’s. This shouldn’t be altogether surprising, considering Wake is the nation’s smallest BCS-conference school (4,200 students).
Which is why it’s nice to see the Deacons getting their moment in the sun. Even if that moment only lasts another week.
OK, Stew, I appreciate the rarity of hyping a Wake Forest game, and you do it with just the right finesse. Still, Wake vs Clemson will be meaningful to students, alumni, and fans of both schools... and a few gamblers. Whereas, last weekend's showing by Georgia Tech in beating then then undefeated host Hokies (doesn't it feel/sound like your hacking up phlegm when you say that?) is a better candidate for ACC game of the season. Now, if Clemson continues winning, and the Jackets sting 'em in Death Valley, well, THAT might be the game of the season.
Speaking of the bad-ass-ground-hornets, do you think this team's performance is eclipsing their head coach's capabilities?
tin man wrote, "Speaking of the bad-ass-ground-hornets, do you think this team's performance is eclipsing their head coach's capabilities?" Allow me to speak for Stewart - Given that he name Chan Gailey one of the five worst coaches ( http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/stewart_mandel/06/28/mandel.mailbag/1.html), the answer is probably yes. Of course, Stewart's prophecy may still be fulfilled, with this win a high point in an another erratic Yellow Jacket season.
You could pick a worse place to watch a game, and easily find an ACC school whose won loss record is worse, and whose coach is an embarrassment to the state. Actually, there are two such schools within a 3 hour drive of WFU.
As you say, hurray for the underdog for another week or two, and hurray for a school known for never putting the win column ahead of good sportsmanship... and at least in BBall, still winning its fair share of games.
I'm going to this game from Texas - my daughter is a freshman at Wake - and I can't wait to watch some ACC football. I am missing the Texas-ou game and I have to tell ya that there is NOTHING like that game....
But my daughter has a 20 game winning streak going (her Texas high school team won state last year) so Clemson is in trouble....
So far, the ACC game of the year was Tech vs Tech. With the Miami Hurricanes downgraded to at least a Tropical Storm, UVA mediocre, and Duke and UNC waiting for basketball season, that game probably decided the Coastal division.
Still, Clemson vs. Wake didn't disappoint. Wake could have easily won that game had they been able to hang on to the football. Not bad against a team with as much talent as Clemson, but they always play Clemson tough.
We'll see if Wake is for real if they can beat NC State next week, who seems to have seen new life since starting conference play.
The Atlantic division is still wide open. Even FSU still has a chance.