No. 16 Wake Forest Sheds Loser's Label
Sunday, November 26, 2006; 6:04 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Jim Grobe remembers when Wake Forest's long-struggling football program was nothing more than a punchline. After all, it was just three months ago. But after a remarkable worst-to-first turnaround, nobody's laughing at the 16th-ranked Demon Deacons anymore. Not after they've earned a spot opposite No. 23 Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
"It's really fun for me as a football coach to see Wake Forest be seen in a different light, from just being a basketball school or a school that wins championships in other sports and has a bad football team," Grobe said during a teleconference with reporters Sunday. "That's what we started battling from the day we got here, having a football program that was almost made fun of into developing a football program that was respected."
It's been a charmed season for the Demon Deacons (10-2, 6-2), the preseason pick to finish last in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
They lost starting quarterback Ben Mauk and running back Micah Andrews in the opening weeks but kept on winning, parlaying one upset into another, setting a school record for victories and ultimately clinching the division Saturday night with a 38-24 win at Maryland.
And convincing victories at Florida State and against nationally ranked Boston College proved to Grobe and his players that there's nothing fluky about the season.
"Our kids have some confidence based on what's happened throughout this season," Grobe said. "Early, with all the injuries that we had, we really had to fight to keep our head above water and won some games that had people scratching their heads and wondering if it was kind of a fluke. As we've gone through the season, we've had enough wins now that our players certainly feel like it's a special year, but our players are starting to realize that if we play good and practice well during the week, we're not a bad football team."
Wake Forest's success hasn't been a product of flashy stats, but rather efficient play.
Redshirt freshman Riley Skinner replaced Mauk and wound up leading the ACC in pass efficiency. Without Andrews, the Demon Deacons lacked a dominating ground game _ they entered this year having finished either first or second in the league in rushing in each of Grobe's five seasons _ but came up with timely plays. Defensively, no ACC team was better in the red zone than Wake Forest.
And Grobe credited the Demon Deacons' nucleus, a bunch of no-name fifth-year seniors whose experience finally translated into victories. No ACC team entered with more returning starters than the Demon Deacons' 18 who took part in the school's third straight losing season in 2005.
"We've got a lot of those unsung heroes," Grobe said. "The key is all those guys that don't get any media attention are really a group of unsung heroes rather than one. That's one of the reason Riley Skinner's been able to be successful _ he's surrounded by a group of older, more mature guys that don't get a lot of credit but keep Riley Skinner comfortable."