Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
What might seem like an average start for Wake Forest has actually been good enough to qualify as making school history.
With its 3-2 record, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has officially led the Deacs to the winningest decade in school history. The Demon Deacons won 57 games during the 1940’s (1940-49), and that had been the previous highlight of the program’s history. After inheriting a 2-9 team from the 2000 season, Grobe has guided Wake Forest to 59 wins in the past eight-plus seasons, including a school-best three-year record of 28-12 during the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons.
The standard has been raised in Winston-Salem, which is why an eight-win season last year was considered by many disappointing, and why the program is now expected to contend for the Atlantic Division title on a routine basis.
The problem for the Deacs this year is that everyone is contending for it -- again.
“I think you feel good anytime you have a chance to contend, the problem is, you look throughout our division and the ACC, and there are just so many teams with talent that are competitive that you don’t have an easy out anywhere,” Grobe said. “It’s going to be an interesting run. … You’re happy to be in it, but I guess the downside is everybody’s still in it.”
That includes Maryland, which will visit Wake Forest on Saturday having shown improvement in last week’s 24-21 win over Clemson. Unlike Wake Forest, which lost in overtime to Boston College, the Terps began their conference play 1-0. It was a surprising start considering Maryland was 1-3 with a win over James Madison heading into last weekend’s game against Clemson.
“This is a very, very big game for us playing on the road,” said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. “I think it’s very important that we win those games to stay in contention for a championship. It would help us keep growing. … I think getting a win in Winston-Salem could give us some momentum and hopefully get us going this season.”
Maryland hasn’t needed much extra motivation against Wake Forest, as the Terps are 6-2 in the series in the past eight games, and Maryland’s .728 winning percentage against the Demon Deacons is its best mark against any ACC school.
Even when Wake Forest is playing well and entering this game off a win, the Deacs have had a tendency to fall flat. Maryland’s last trip to Winston-Salem was one of the most unforgettable meltdowns in Friedgen’s tenure, though. The Terps had a 24-3 lead and Wake rallied to win 31-24 in overtime. Last year, the Deacs weren’t so fortunate, as Wake Forest snapped a two-game winning streak and lost 23-0.
“It was embarrassing,” Grobe said. “We had a good win the week before and went up to Maryland and didn’t play well. You have to give credit to Maryland, they did some nice things defensively to keep us off balance. They came out and threw the ball well against us early. I thought they did a great job. But at the same time I don’t think we played as well. We dropped several possession throws, we didn’t block as well as we needed to. Overall we gave them too many plays, too many chances on third down. I thought Maryland played really well, but embarrassed is a good word to use for us.”
Grobe said his players learned a lesson last year, and that the Atlantic Division is shaping up to be a similar scenario where teams at the top had to “hang on” until the very last weekend.
“Our players have gotten a dose of this,” Grobe said. “They know every game is important and if you play well down the stretch, you’re going to have a chance to win the division.”