Spring Football is getting underway across the country, and Notre Dame's opening game is less than 180 days away. Blue & Gold Illustrated will be breaking down the 2012 schedule and ranking teams based on difficulty during the next two weeks to get you ready for spring practice.
Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has built a dangerous team in Winston-Salem without a ton of top talent.
No. 6: Wake Forest
Nov. 17, 2012 — South Bend, Ind.
Last Meeting: Notre Dame scored two unanswered, second-half touchdowns to beat the Demon Deacons on the team’s first trip to Winston-Salem in program history. Wake Forest squandered two red zone opportunities and Michael Floyd’s over the shoulder catch in the third quarter gave the Irish a 24-17 lead they would not relinquish.
Spring Practice Dates: March 6 – April 14
The wheels fell off late last year for Wake Forest, which lost five of its last six games to finish 6-7 with a loss in the Music City Bowl. The common consensus seems to be that a trip to a bowl game was a victory for a team with that level of talent, but the Demon Deacons played Notre Dame much tougher than a struggling 6-6 team on their home turf.
Jim Grobe’s 12-year tenure is an eternity, and he has lasted that long by always getting the most out of his team. Grobe has a challenge on his hands with rebuilding the offense this year, but if they can put together a steady offensive line they have the ability to finish above .500 in the ACC in 2012.
Top Returners: QB Tanner Price, NG Nikita Whitlock
Price put together a solid sophomore season under center and brings a wealth of experience to the quarterback position this year. The 6-2, 205-pound southpaw threw for 20 touchdowns with six interceptions last season while completing 60 percent of his passes. He does a good job of distributing the ball in the spread offense, but will need to find a new go-to guy this season with the departure of wideout Chris Givens.
Whitlock is anything but your prototypical nose guard. The point man of Wake Forest’s defensive front burrows into backfield and takes on double teams despite checking in at about 260 pounds. He had 64 tackles last season and tied for the team lead with 3.5 sacks. He and the entire starting linebacker corps from last season return to provide some consistency for Wake Forest this year.
Top Newcomer: WR Sherman Ragland
Ragland redshirted his freshman season last year, but is expected to make some noise while climbing the depth chart this spring. The 6-1, 195-pound receiver ran a 4.5 second 40-yard dash and had a 35-inch vertical leap coming out of high school. He got good reviews from Grobe and the coaching staff during practice last fall. Coaches are hoping he can draw some attention away from junior Michael Campanaro, who will likely be Price’s top target in the passing game next season.
Biggest Losses: WR Chris Givens, FS Josh Bush
Ragland’s role grew immediately after the team’s bowl loss when Givens told reporters he planned to pass up a fifth year of eligibility and head to the NFL after a breakout junior season. The speedy receiver became one of best in the ACC last season, catching 83 balls for 1,330 yards — a conference high. Givens was the most consistent threat the Deacs had on offense and a safety net at times for Price.
Bush was a total package at free safety. He developed into a top cover man and also played the run well. He intercepted six passes, two against the Irish for a total of 54 yards, and finished his last season with 59 tackles. He and strong safety Cyhl Quarles led the secondary to the country’s 17th best turnover margin last season. Both players graduate this year and will leave a hole in the middle of an otherwise strong defensive backfield.
How will Grobe and new offensive line coach Jonathon Himebauch replace four starters along the offensive line? Senior center Garrick Williams is the only regular starter back in 2012. Junior Steven Chase played some significant time as a sophomore and will likely be the team’s left tackle when they break camp next month. The rest of the spots are very much up in the air. Grobe has told the local media that the line is certainly his biggest project, but he thinks he has an athletic cast from which to select.
Why They’re Here:
Wake Forest lands on our countdown as the sixth toughest opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule despite some big holes to fill and a 6-7 record last season. The Demon Deacons were a solid team through eight games last season before crumbling down the stretch. Their tooth-and-nail battle with the Irish didn’t appear to be a fluke. This time around Notre Dame will also have to deal with the distractions of Senior Day. If anything, it doesn’t seem fair to underestimate Jim Grobe after all he’s accomplished at the small North Carolina school in the past decade.