Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
At Notre Dame (8-5)
ACC home games
ACC road games
At Florida State
At NC State
Gut-check time: Sept. 15 at Florida State. Florida State fans are sick and tired of hearing about Wake Forest. Imagine how the Seminoles feel. Nobody needs to remind them that FSU has lost to the Deacs in four of the past six games, including last year’s 35-30 loss. And now, with expectations soaring for Florida State, the smallest school in the BCS thinks it’s going to roll into Tallahassee and do it again? FSU fans say puh-lease. Not a chance. Not with this loaded roaster. Wake Forest, though, has recruited the state of Florida well, including a little place called Pahokee. The Deacs are well-coached and usually disciplined. Do they have what it takes, though, to beat the Atlantic Division favorites on the road?
Trap game: Sept. 29 versus Duke. Those of you who have been following this series might have realized by now that Duke has a chance to surprise some teams this season. The Deacs’ series against the Blue Devils has been one of the ACC’s most entertaining and tightly contested in recent years. Since 2005, when Duke lost 44-6 to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils have lost five of six games in this series by a combined 16 points. Three of those games (2011, 24-23; 2008, 33-30 OT; 2006, 14-13), have been by a field goal or less. Despite the close games, Wake Forest has won 12 straight against Duke. This could be the year the tables turn.
Snoozer: Sept. 1 versus Liberty. This is the only tune-up the Deacs get, though, as they go right into back-to-back conference games in Weeks 2 and 3.
Defining stretch: Oct. 25-Nov. 10 (Clemson, Boston College at NC State). The Deacs host the defending division champs on a Thursday night, and then have back-to-back games against two more Atlantic Division opponents. Wake Forest came within a field goal to beat Clemson last year, a shock to many following the conference race. The Deacs were able to beat NC State, but that will be more difficult this year in Raleigh. If Wake Forest is going to make another run at the division title, it will likely have to go 3-0 in this stretch (unless it somehow escapes Tallahassee with a win).
Final analysis: Wake Forest is fortunate it doesn’t have to play Coastal Division favorites Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, but road trips to Florida State and NC State will make it difficult to build upon last year’s surprise run in the Atlantic Division race. This is a difficult schedule for the Deacs because they’ve got to be good early with three league games in the first five weeks. The bye week comes at a good time, the midpoint of the season, so they’ll get a chance to recharge and heal before the most difficult stretch. Road wins within the division will be a must, as Wake Forest has to travel to Florida State, Maryland and NC State. It’s likely Wake Forest will be a better team than it was a year ago, but this schedule might make that difficult to see in the Atlantic Division standings. With three winnable home nonconference games, though, the Deacs should be bowling again.