TOP 25 COUNTDOWN
No. 21 Wake Forest
9-4, 5-3 ACC (defeated Connecticut, 24-10, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl)
5 offense, 9 defense
vs. Clemson, Oct. 9
Player to Watch
Alphonso Smith, senior cornerback
Perhaps more of a player to hear, Smith talks plenty to opposing wideouts and backed it up last season. His eight interceptions tied him for the most in the country, and he returned three for scores.
Why They're Worth Watching
Under Coach Jim Grobe, Wake Forest has been transformed from a warm and fuzzy overachiever to a fixture among the ACC's elite (or at least what passes for elite in the ACC). Nowhere is that more evident than the secondary, where the Demon Deacons boast one of the best units in the country. Aside from Smith's ball-hawking, safety Chip Vaughn led Wake Forest with 105 tackles and 14 pass breakups, and cornerback Brandon Ghee broke up 10 passes. Outside linebacker Aaron Curry, who had four of the Demon Deacons' 19 interceptions last season, is a first-team all-ACC candidate. Kicker-punter Sam Swank will be among the country's best. Quarterback Riley Skinner has two years of starting experience and his health after playing with a separated shoulder for much of last season. Sophomore running back Josh Adams, who rushed for 953 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, will spearhead Wake Forest's misdirection running attack.
Why They're Vulnerable
Skinner emerged as a team leader, but he threw more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12) one season after his savvy game management led Wake Forest to the ACC championship. He completed 72.4 percent of his passes last season but managed just 6.8 yards per attempt. Erasing mistakes and adding explosive plays will be difficult: Wake Forest lost the backbone of its offense in all-ACC center Steve Justice and its primary big-play threat in wide receiver Kenny Moore. It also won't help that the Demon Deacons will break in a new tight end, left guard and left tackle. An already deficient pass rush -- it ranked ninth in the ACC -- lost defensive end Jeremy Thompson, who led Wake Forest with 6.5 sacks. The Demon Deacons play several pivotal ACC games on the road at Florida State, Maryland and Miami. Their marquee home game, against Clemson, comes against an Atlantic Division foe that plastered them, 44-10, last year.
-- Adam Kilgore
No. 20 Wisconsin.
No. 25 Arizona State, No. 24 Alabama, No. 23 California, No. 22 Penn State.