With the ACC football schedules released, it’s time to take a closer look at a few things you should know about Wake Forest’s 2018 slate.
The Deacons will play three Thursday games
This is the most in school history. Wake Forest will open its season on Thursday at Tulane, then have games on Thursday night against Boston College (home, Sept. 13) and N.C. State (road, Nov. 8). WFU previously played two Thursday games in the 2014 and 2008 seasons, and played a Thursday and a Friday game in the 2015 and 2013 seasons.
The Deacons are used to opening the season on Thursday as they’ve done it eight of the past 10 seasons. Usually it’s against a team it can beat, often an FCS team. However — in what it Dave Clawson hopes isn’t an omen for this year — the Deacons did lose on the road to Louisiana-Monroe in 2014.
In mid-season Thursday games during the Jim Grobe and Clawson eras, the Deacons are 2-2. Grobe beat Florida State in 2007 and Clemson in 2008, both at home. Grobe lost at home to Clemson in 2012 and Clawson lost at home to Clemson in 2014. Wake Forest is 0-2 in Friday games, losing in 2013 to Boston College and in 2015 to Louisville.
This year, the Deacons play on Saturday before each of the mid-season Thursday games, meaning they will have short weeks to prepare. However, that will give them longer run-ups to the Notre Dame and Pitt games that follow the Thursday matchups.
Speaking of Pitt…
even though this will be its sixth year in the league, it has yet to meet Wake Forest on the football field — ever. Beating the Panthers will be a key to the Deacons’ bowl hopes. Pitt didn’t beat anyone of note last season until it upset then-No. 2 Miami in the season finale. The Panthers don’t graduate many, but they lost some top players to the NFL. Pitt travels to Winston-Salem between games against Virginia Tech and Miami.
The Deacons face two teams coming off byes
For the first matchup, against Florida State, the Deacons also will be coming off their bye. Wake Forest’s next matchup, a road trip to Louisville, will see the Cardinals coming off a bye week.
Clawson gets his open week at the same time as last season: middle of October after six games. Last year, the Deacons lost to Georgia Tech after the bye, but then won three of five to clinch a bowl game.
But the timing of the bye is no guarantee of a strong finish. In 2016, the Deacons had a bye on Oct. 22, but then went 1-4 the rest of the way.
What does the road to a bowl game look like?
As usual, the Deacons need to do a lot of their work early. After the road opener against Tulane, Wake Forest has five straight home games.
While Tulane only has one winning season since 2002, it was a inch away from bowl eligibility on the final play of last season and shouldn’t be overlooked, especially on the road. But let’s say the Deacons beat Tulane, as well as Towson (week two, FCS school) and Rice (week five, 1-11 last year).
The other early home games are against B.C., Notre Dame and Clemson. The Deacons have only won two of the last five against the Eagles, but let’s say they take this one and lose the other two.
That means the Deacons would be looking for at least two wins, maybe three, down the stretch for bowl eligibility. The payback for five straight home games is that four of the final six are on the road. The obvious places to find wins are the two home games, which are Syracuse and Pitt. Road games against FSU, Louisville (although they’ll be without Lamar Jackson) and N.C. State aren’t as promising.
Leaving it up to the traditional season finale at Duke could be trouble: The Deacons have lost five of the last six against the Blue Devils, and the only win came in the only game not played at the end of the season, 2016’s September matchup.