2012 Program Preview - Wake Forest

Wake Forest CB Merrill Noel could well be one of those prospects who breaks out in 2012. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

There are a few programs you just have to have sympathy for. Wake is one of them.

The Winston-Salem-based school enrolls less than 5,000 undergrads as the smallest FBS school. Competing in North Carolina for recruits with UNC, NC State and Duke from the ACC, as well as East Carolina in Conference USA, there's an annual battle for talent in state. In the past few years, Wake has dipped into Florida to bolster the roster, and 2012 was no different.

Now, Jim Grobe faces a difficult task with roughly a dozen returning starters after bringing the Demon Deacons back to a bowl losing the Music City Bowl to Mississippi State. The talent isn't overwhelming. The schedule isn't forgiving.

It's not a likely make or break season for Jim Grobe. Given the 2006-2008 run and the disappointing following two years, it could be for the program.

After the jump, the prospects worth noting as well as some games and matchups to pencil into your calendar.

References

Blogger So Dear (SBN Wake Forest community), SB Nation team page, official team site, CBS Sports preview

Notable offensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Michael Campanaro
WR
RS Jr.
UD
Tanner Price
QB
Jr.
UD


Notable defensive prospects

Name POS Yr. Early projected Rd (notes)
Kenny Okoro
CB
RS Sr.
5
Joey Ehrmann
OLB
RS Sr.
7
Nikita Whitlock
NT/3-4 DE
RS Jr.
UD
Zach Thompson
DE
RS Jr.
UD
Merrill Noel
CB
RS Soph.
4


Summary

Wake's going to see some players step up with so many departing seniors. Even so, they already boast a handful of fringe draft prospects. I feel like this is one of those teams that could see four or so prospects fall off the map or see those same guys improve their stock a few rounds while the new Deacons blossom in their roles early on.

Key games

North Carolina (home) - Week 2 (Sat., Sept. 8 - 3:00 p.m. ET, TBD)

Assuming Wake gets though with a win against Liberty to open the season, this is an absolutely crucial game. With UNC traveling to play their first road game of the year, the Deacons have a chance to pull out a statement win ahead of a very tough week 3 challenge at Florida State.

Is it a must-win? No. Is it a "jeez Louise with a some Roquefort cheese, I would like to win?" Yes. And I'm talking a lot of Roquefort, folks.

Notre Dame (away) - Week 12 (Sat., Nov. 17 - 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Vanderbilt (home) - Week 13 (Sat., Nov. 24 - TBD)

Interesting back-to-back to finish the season. Wake gets the South Bend-Peacock alliance treatment following a road contest against NC State; they cap off their 2012 campaign with a home game against SEC competition in an improving Vandy program. Is 2-0 inconceivable? No, but it's not likely IMO. Going 1-1, though the more likely route, raises the question of which game brings Wake a win and which carries a loss. It's a question I certainly can't answer right now.

Key matchups

CBs Kenny Okoro & Merrill Noel v. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins, Week 9 - Thur., Oct. 25

A short week after traveling to play Virginia, Wake will have its hands full with Clemson's offense. Specifically, the Tajh Boyd-Sammy Watkins connection is likely to be in full gear by this point in the season.

NT Nikita Whitlock & DE Zach Thompson v. Vanderbilt OTs Andrew Bridges & Wesley Johnson , Week 13 - Sat., Nov. 24

I mentioned above how crucial this game could well be. If Wake is to make a game out of this, it could well come down to these two battles. On Vandy's side, Johnson has taken gametime snaps at LT, LG and C. He's tough to see forward given that he could add another 20 lbs. to his frame if necessary. Bridges, on the other hand, emerged as a redshirt freshman left tackle who showed competency at the college level.

Whitlock and Thompson both featured prominently in their redshirt freshman seasons in 2010. Now as RS junior leaders, they'll be expected to help lead the defense not just the line. By the time this game comes around, if Wake is still waiting for that to happen their season may well be a lost cause.

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