Wake Forest has provided plenty of heartbreak to BC fans. I think we should view the Deacons differently...they should serve as our example that "it" can happen. "It" being the magical season where it all comes together and we win something meaningful. To get an informed look at the Deacons' chance of repeating, I've asked Chris Chase of chrischase.com to answer a few questions about his alma mater.
1. Under Grobe the offense has been able to plug anyone off the bench and keep on trucking. Not so much on the defense. With the players lost to graduation, the NFL and grades, what can we expect from the Wake defense this year?
Chris Chase: One of the Fox Sports regional stations that I pay $5 a month to get, yet never watch, was showing a replay of The Orange Bowl last night. In addition to being surprised that Wake was up 3-0 early in the 2nd quarter, I was pleasantly reminded of how crisp the team's defense was. They flew to the ball, tackled in swarms and largely played mistake-free football in that game, and all season.
It's tough to imagine the Deacs D repeating that in 2007. The unit's physical and emotional leader, Jon Abbate, inexplicably skipped his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. (Most forecasts had him pegged as a late-round pick, but Abbate went undrafted and is now trying to catch-on with the Texans as a fullback. Abbate built up such goodwill at Wake during his junior season based on his play and inspirational story so he hasn't gotten much flak for bolting, but he kind of deserves some. He had the wrong people telling him the wrong things, and now he's fighting for a roster spot instead of leading his team into Chestnut Hill on Saturday.) Aaron Curry will take his place in the middle for the Deacs. He has more of the prototypical linebacker size than Abbate, but I've seen him described as "high-energy" in two places, which is oftentimes the football equivalent of hearing that a girl has a "nice personality".
Considering Abbate's early departure and the graduation of safety ballhawk Josh Gattis, the Deacs would seem to have a tough road to replicating their defensive success from 2006. Of course, one year ago nobody thought Abbate or Gattis would be first team All-ACC either. They adhered to the system and shined. There are any number of players who could do the same this year; including personal favorites Boo Robinson (DT) and Alphonso Smith (S). (Although Smith was pretty awesome last year, so that’s not much of a stretch.)
(Incidentally, when perusing through the ACC Media Guide trying to find last year's preseason all-ACC teams, I came across this startling fact: The ACC team with the most recipients of the Player of the Year award is Duke, with 10. That'd be like finding out Keanu Reeves has received the most Oscars.)
2. Riley Skinner was the suprise of the ACC last year. Do you expect a sophomore slump or do you think he takes it to the next level this year?
Chris Chase: One year ago, quarterback Ben Mauk was the anticipated savior in Winston-Salem. As a senior in high school, Mauk set national records for yardage and touchdown passes (6,540 and 76, respectively) and was named Mr. Football for the state of Ohio. But an arm injury in Wake's 2006 opener caused him to miss the entire season and forced redshirt-freshman Riley Skinner into the lineup. It's impossible to know what would have happened if Mauk hadn't hurt his arm, but it's tough to imagine that he would have led the Deacs to the Orange Bowl.
Skinner's play was indicative of Wake Forest as a team. He played effective, smart, mistake-free football all season. There weren't too many highlight reels featuring Skinner, but he was a game-manager that kept the Deacs in nearly every game (with the exception of Virginia Tech).
There's no reason to think why Skinner would regress in 2007. Wake's offensive line lost All-ACC tackle Steve Vallos, but with center Steve Justice leading an experienced unit, they should be able to keep Skinner upright, thus giving him plenty of time to see the field. As long as Skinner has that time and can be as mistake-free as he was last year, the dreaded sophomore slump should be avoided. I just hope he can stay healthy.
Skinner is frequently a key blocker in Wake's misdirection run game and he thrives in that role. At the Maryland game last year, my eyes weren't focused on whichever Deac was carrying the ball, instead I was watching Skinner set up his block, lowering his shoulder and taking out any Terrapin in the area. Since he's wearing less padding than other members of the team, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Skinner pop a shoulder out.
3. Last year was the "perfect storm" season (bad ACC, most breaks going Wake's way, injured players being replaced by even better players) for the Deacons. Can it happen again?
Chris Chase: My mantra during last year's magical run was that Wake Forest was three plays away from hiking to a bowl game in Boise and being a nice story rather than being one of the most unexpected stories in recent college football history. If you read my blog last season, or read my take on the BC game on this site, you'll know that I picked against Wake every step of the way, figuring that they couldn't possibly keep winning. In truth, though, the Deacs were only "exposed" against Virginia Tech. Their lateral running game worked against normal defenses, but against VT's speed, Wake couldn't get anything going on the ground.
Tech isn't on the schedule this season and neither is Miami. This is good. The quickest teams Wake will see are Florida State and Clemson. The Deacs crushed the 'Noles last season in what was Bobby Bowden's worst home less ever. Against Bowden's son, the Deacs held a 4th quarter lead before imploding following a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. The Deacs know they can play with both those teams, something that would have seemed unthinkable just 365 days ago. (It’s a complete joke that Florida State is ranked #19 to start the year. Maybe they’ll play well enough to earn that spot, but they did nothing last year to show that. This is why the AP and Coach’s Poll should start the first weekend in October.)
For as many breaks as Wake got last season (Duke missing a short, game-winning FG; a batted away goalline pass as time expired against UNC and the BC game that I won't discuss here), that Clemson game was well within their reach before a relatively unlucky play that turned the tide. Luck tends to even out over the course of many games, but football seasons are short. It’s unlikely that good fortune will continue to shine upon Winston-Salem, but not impossible. With 12 games on the schedule, seven of which are toss-ups, I'm going to say that Wake will win 7 or 8. They could challenge for the Atlantic Division title, but I think they'll fall short. However, any amount of wins from five to ten wouldn't shock me.
4. The BC-Wake games have been classics. What is your prediction for this year's game?
Chris Chase: My first prediction is that I'm going to be livid if the guide on my DVR is correct and ABC is showing the Nevada/Nebraska game instead of Wake/BC at 3:30 on Saturday. The only thing I'd want to see Nevada and Nebraska do against each other is - sorry, I really don't know how I intended to finish that joke.
Holy crap, did Matt Ryan really throw the ball 57 times in the Wake game last year? That's a lot. If he does that again, I'd like Wake's chances. As it is though, I'm predicting that the series stays true to form, with the home team winning a close game. In 2004, Wake won on a last-minute 40-yard TD pass. The next year, in a driving downpour in Chestnut Hill, Wake choked away a 17-0 lead and a 31-20 lead with 3:29 left. (I still contend that the refs deserved much credit for BC's win, but that doesn't matter now.) And we all know what happened last year. Three years, three close games, three wins by the home team. I say BC makes it 4-for-4; but I've been wrong before. And that's just fine with me.
Check out Chrischase.com for more on Wake, the Redskins and his take on the sports world.