Back to bowl: Wake Forest

Wake Forest should have been a bowl team this year.

Coach Jim Grobe knows it, and his players know it. But the Deacs fell short of their expected goal as a host of injuries and off-the-field issues combined to send them to their fourth straight losing season. Wake Forest ended the year on a three-game losing streak, and was not even competitive in any of those games, leading to some grumbling out of Winston-Salem when the campaign ended.

Some wondered whether Grobe had lost the team, whether some fresh energy and passion was needed on the sideline, whether Grobe should be feeling some heat. The frustration is understandable, but here is some perspective: Wake Forest did make a bowl in 2011 and its prospects for next season look even better than they did when 2012 started.

That's why Wake Forest should be a slam-dunk choice to make it back to a bowl game in 2013. Just look at the talent returning: starting quarterback Tanner Price; top receiver Michael Campanaro; top running back Josh Harris; top nose tackle Nikita Whitlock; top linebacker Justin Jackson; and just about every starter on the offensive line.

The Deacs are going to feature a senior-laden starting group, a team that should understand by now what it takes to win. There is no question Wake Forest suffered through its share of injuries this year, as nearly all of its marquee players missed time at some point during the year. The offensive line was held together by tape and bandages. The suspension of several players added to the issues. There were some clear chemistry problems, contributing to its 5-7 finish.

Grobe admitted as much in an interview with the Winston-Salem Journal, saying, "The biggest focus for us is not staying healthy. The biggest focus for us is not staying out of trouble. We ought to do those things. You’re going to have years where you have more injuries than others. You’re going to have years where the kids forget who they are and they do things they shouldn’t do, and they pay for it. But I think our biggest thing is chemistry, shelving egos, not being worried about being All-ACC, or All-American or All-Solar System, just worried about helping our team do best."

A glance at the Atlantic shows that Wake Forest should be in good position. Clemson should be the preseason ACC favorite but beyond that, Florida State loses a ton of talent; Boston College and NC State have new coaches; Maryland is a big question mark; and Syracuse is in Year 1 in the ACC.

There is plenty of reason for optimism.