With a week off at the halfway point of the season, Wake Forest will be doing a little scoreboard-watching this weekend. While coaches like to talk about only worrying about their own business, the Demon Deacons do not control their own fate in the ACC race. So where does Wake Forest sit in the conference picture? What is Wake Forest watching this weekend?
At 5-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play, Wake Forest needs help to get back in the conference race. The loss to Clemson three weeks ago put the Tigers in the driver’s seat for the ACC Atlantic Division and the conference as a whole. Wake needs help from others in the conference while maintaining a meticulous record the rest of the way. Finishing the regular season 11-1 is a tall task. Another loss puts Wake Forest in a fine bowl game, but likely kicks them out of the conference race.
Clemson At Florida State
Clemson is at Florida State this weekend. As unseemly as the Seminoles faithful was to Wake Forest and head coach Dave Clawson in particular in the midst of Hurricane Ian, the Demon Deacons need to be rooting for Florida State in this one. With Wake already having beaten Florida State, the Demon Deacons own a head-to-head tie-break. And with a need for Clemson to have two losses, this weekend needs to be a viable potential option.
The Tigers are only a four-and-a-half-point favorite, despite being ranked sixth in the country. Florida State needs nothing short of a really good game from quarterback Jordan Travis. He has the ability to get going with the midrange throws, and if he can find a rhythm, the offense will move. Sam Hartman picked apart the Clemson defensive backs, a group of mostly subs at the time.
Needing The Seminoles
The challenge is on the other side. Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei is massively improved from last season. He is facing a Florida State team that is number one in the ACC in pass defense. But Clemson’s offense also brings running back Will Shipley is averaging six yards per carry and has eight rushing touchdowns. A lot is going to be asked of the Florida State defense, and Wake Forest is going to be doing a lot of the asking. After Florida State, Clemson has only Syracuse, Louisville, and Miami left on the conference schedule, so time and opportunity are running out for those two losses.
North Carolina State At Syracuse
The other game of particular interest to Wake Forest football is North Carolina State at Syracuse. There are different pathways through this game for the Demon Deacon faithful.
Syracuse is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the conference, so theoretically a full game ahead of Wake. But the Orange also have what is possibly the toughest path in the conference race. After hosting NC State, Syracuse has road games at Clemson, Pitt, and Wake Forest. There is also a home game against Florida State on the docket.
A loss to Wake Forest would take care of the tie-break issue for the Demon Deacons. But it would be a luxury for Wake to get that one more Syracuse loss in there somewhere.
North Carolina State already has a conference loss. The Wolfpack is tied for third in the ACC Atlantic with Wake at 1-1 in conference play and 5-1 overall. A second loss knocks them out of the divisional race for all intents and purposes. Wake Forest could deliver the fatal blow in Raleigh in early November. Or it comes this weekend against Syracuse.
“It’s A Win-Win-Win” – Michael Scott, Dunder Mifflin
NC State could be without the services of quarterback Devin Leary. He injured his shoulder last week and his timeline for return is to be determined. Head coach Dave Doeren has been very cagey about the prognosis. The Wolfpack brings in the best defense Syracuse has seen thus far this season. But the pass rush has not lived up to pre-season expectations. Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader and running back Sean Tucker have an opportunity for sizeable numbers.
The beauty of this game where Wake Forest is concerned is that no matter the outcome, it helps the Demon Deacons. Either NC State gets all but eliminated from the divisional race, or Syracuse gets its first of two needed losses. Either way, it’s a plus for Wake Forest.
Tending To Business At Home
Clawson is like any other coach in the country. He says he does not focus on what other specific teams in the conference do from week to week in the win-loss column. He says he sees the scores, knows the standings, and focuses on the task at hand for Wake. The beauty of being a fan is having the ability to openly root for specific outcomes. This is what comes with success. It creates the ability to keep a sharp eye on games outside Winston-Salem with a set of expectations that go beyond simple hope. There is a new level of vested interest in games beyond Wake.
Of course, none of it matters if Wake doesn’t take care of its own business in the remaining six games. The Demon Deacons need to win out to keep themselves in the race. It would have been nice if conference commissioner Jim Phillips had done the right thing over the Summer and gotten rid of the divisional play this year, like the Pac-12 did, instead of waiting until next year. A top-two finish would be good enough.