Midseason report: Wake Forest

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Considering the Demon Deacons entered this season with eight new starters on defense and had to replace the best defenders to come through the program in Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry, it’s impressive Wake Forest even had itself in a position to challenge for the Atlantic Division title. But Wake regrouped from an overtime loss at Boston College and earned back-to-back wins over NC State and Maryland. Then they ran into a recharged Clemson team, fresh off a bye week. The Tigers humbled Wake in a 38-3 loss and were the first team this season to really keep quarterback Riley Skinner in check. Skinner had been the difference for the Deacs until then, but for the first time under coach Jim Grobe, Wake Forest has turned the ball over more than it’s taken it away, and that’s contributed to some of the struggles. The rest is simply a matter of youth and inexperience, as even the fourth- and fifth-year players on defense have been thrust into starting roles after spending most of their careers as backups. The good news for the Deacs? They’re not the only team with two losses in the conference, and they can still get to a bowl game.

Offensive MVP: Riley Skinner. He’s the ACC’s career leader in total offense and the school’s winningest quarterback and career passing leader. He’s ranked No. 20 in the country in passing efficiency and led the Deacs to a come-from-behind win over Stanford. He’s averaging 251.14 total yards per game. Clemson was the first team to hold Skinner without a pass of at least 20 yards during his tenure as a starter.

Defensive MVP: John Russell. On a defense desperate for leadership -- and big hits -- the defensive tackle has come through. He’s having an outstanding senior year, and leads the team with 3.5 sacks this year. He also has one quarterback hurry, 22 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. The staff loves his consistency, and says he’s like a coach on the field.