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Getting back to a bowl: Wake Forest

Having spoken to Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe several times this offseason, one thing is clear: He honestly believes his team is better than it was a season ago, when the Deacs finished 3-9. And it should be. A natural progression is expected for any second-year starting quarterback, and Tanner Price should be no exception. Wake Forest also has nine starters returning on defense, a deep secondary, and four starters returning on the offensive line.

So what’s the problem?

Florida State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Clemson, just to name a few.

Grobe is a straight shooter. I have no doubts that this team will be better than last season's team But in order for the Deacs to return to the postseason after missing it the past two years, three important things must happen:

1. Go 3-1 in the nonconference schedule with wins at Syracuse, and home against Gardner-Webb and Vanderbilt. Syracuse is improving, and winning on the road is never easy. Former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin is now head coach at Vandy and will be familiar with Wake’s defense. But if the Deacs can get those three and then find three more wins among NC State, Boston College, Duke and Maryland, they’ll be bowl-bound and even have a little margin for error. Don’t count Duke as a given, though, this season.

2. Improved passing game. This will come with the maturation of Price, but also important is the emergence of one or two dependable playmakers at wide receiver. Wake ranked 114th in the country in passing offense last season and 109th in passing efficiency. They lost two of their top three receivers from last season, but there are plenty of options waiting in the wings.

3. Improved red zone and third-down defense. Wake’s defense was one of the worst in the country last season, but where they need specific improvement is inside the 20-yard line. The Deacs were tied for 106th in the country last season in red zone defense, allowing 39 touchdowns in 56 drives. It’s no wonder they ranked 110th in the country in scoring defense. They couldn’t get anyone off the field, and ranked 111th in the country in third-down conversion defense.