These are dizzying times in college football, particularly for the programs that have bowl games coming up. The transfer portal opened on Monday with several hundred confirmed entries. Early signing day is in a couple of weeks. And there is bowl prep. So it is a whirlwind at Wake Forest as the Demon Deacons start thinking about Missouri in the Gasparilla Bowl. The game is on December 23rd at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Head coach Dave Clawson met with the media Tuesday morning from his hotel room on the recruiting trail. The pace is fast as he tries to get a handle on all three elements of a college football coach right now. “Roster management is one of the hardest parts of this job now,” Clawson said. “Because everything happens at once. The portal opened. The early signing day is two weeks away. You really have no idea what your roster is going to look like for next year.” He added. “The timing of all these things happening at once is less than ideal.”
Balancing the “next year” part of the equation against the “next week” portion is quite the juggling act. As of this publication, Wake Forest has lost six players to the transfer portal. “Any time A player goes in there, that’s one more than I’d like. But I think relatively speaking, we’re probably on the low end [of teams who have lost players to the portal since it opened Monday]. Clawson said in some cases there was no room for the player to come back. If the player had indicated that he was going to leave at the end of the season, Wake made an effort to fill that spot via recruiting.
Still, when it comes to “what’s next,” Clawson did not rule out some of the transfer portal players still being on the roster for the Gasparilla Bowl. “If they’ve done everything right, and they’re still going to class, and they’re practicing and they’re lifting. And in the case of we don’t have room for them to come back, I’m not going to penalize them by not letting them play in the bowl game.”
Clawson left the topic with a bit of intrigue. “One of the young men in there, we’d like to have him back. But he let us know late that he’d like to come back and we’ve already recruited for the position. And I’m not going to penalize him because he still wants to play college football.” Want to know who the player is? So do we. Clawson said we can check the roster the day of the bowl game to figure out who it is.
He said he will meet with each player who went into the portal to evaluate the above on a case-by-case basis. He has been on the recruiting trail since Sunday, even as the portal opened.
Beyond that, Clawson said he expects to be at or near full strength for the bowl game. He does not anticipate players sitting out. It happens in many bowls, as a way for them to protect their NFL future. Clawson gave a somewhat off-handed comment that starting quarterback Sam Hartman could be waiting for a call from an intermediary with a NIL offer to go to another school. The reality is this is very unlikely, and for many reasons. Short of going to another school, Clawson expects Hartman to play in the bowl and not opt out in advance of his NFL workouts. Hartman is one touchdown pass away from the all-time ACC record for a career.
Wake lost three of its last four games. As a result, the Demon Deacons got knocked down to a third-tier bowl game. The Gasparilla Bowl’s future is to be determined when the playoffs expand to 12 teams in 2024 and the number of bowl games is reduced. Still, Clawson said it took nothing for the team to rid itself of the taste of how the season ended. “The reaction to the bowl announcement was very celebratory. Guys were fired up to go to Florida.” He added that it is the seventh straight bowl for his team and is double the previous longest streak in school history.
The plans are to implement much of the game plan and preparation in the time before they head down to Florida. The team is allowed 15 extra practices between now and the bowl game. How they schedule them/utilize them is up to the program. “Once we get to the bowl site, it is a little bit of a combination of fun and work,” Clawson said. “We want them to enjoy the events. We want them to enjoy Busch Gardens. And we want them to have time together.” He added, “If you go down there and all you’re doing is practicing and meeting, it just feels like you’re in the season, just in a different location.” He said he likes this particular bowl because it allows the players to get their reward for the season and still be with their families for Christmas.
Last Word will provide full coverage of all the bowl games beginning next week in advance of the Bahamas Bowl.