Clemson opponent preview No. 11: Wake Forest, Nov. 21

Wake Forest's John Wolford (10) looks to pass under pressure from Clemson's Tony Steward (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CLEMSON – Duke did it. So did Kentucky. Why can’t Wake Forest reach respectability?

The Deacs are fourth banana in their own state, but they’re far from the Triangle and could easily create its own brand. Winston-Salem is pretty close to Charlotte, a growing city not just in stature but in recruiting chops. The historical tradition isn’t there, no, but some decent players have come through there like QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro and Kevin Johnson, last year’s first-round NFL Draft cornerback. Wake Forest is among the ACC’s finest universities, and has invested nicely in the football facilities.

So, Dave Clawson’s future isn’t completely devoid of hope. Of course, talent acquisition is everything, and Clawson hasn’t yet had enough time to woo some of the better difference-makers to Wake, so it’s not expected the Demon Deacons will stray far from the last-place rung in the ACC Atlantic.

Really, it’ll come down to the early part of the slate, when Wake takes on Elon, Syracuse, Army and Indiana. What’s completely unfair to the Deacs in this particular year is facing three opponents coming off a bye and tripping to Notre Dame as well.

Opponent preview No. 1: Wofford

Opponent preview No. 2: Appalachian State

Opponent preview No. 3: Louisville

Opponent preview No. 4: Notre Dame

Opponent preview No. 5: Georgia Tech

Opponent preview No. 6: Boston College

Opponent preview No. 7: Miami

Opponent preview No. 8: N.C. State

Opponent preview No. 9: Florida State

Opponent preview No. 10: Syracuse

*Phil Steele’s Projected Preseason AP Top 25, posted April 27

Wake Forest coach: Dave Clawson (3-9, 2nd season)

Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

2014 record: 3-9, 1-7 ACC

Scoring offense: 14.8 points per game (127th in FBS)

Scoring defense: 26.4 points allowed (60th)

Series: Clemson leads 62-17-1, including 36-7 at home

Last meeting: Clemson 34, Wake Forest 20: Nov. 6, 2014 in Winston-Salem

Opposing beat writer to follow: Jeff Mills, Greensboro News & Record (@JeffMillsNR)

1. Thrown into the fire: Say this for John Wolford: he had his moments as a true freshman meandering his way through the helm of an ACC offense. A three-star recruit with very little interest among other Power 5 programs, the Jacksonville product did have some promising days on the stat sheet; for example, three straight multi-TD games during a 2-2 start, completing 73 percent of his passes for 242 yards in a close loss to Boston College, throwing for two scores against Clemson’s mighty defense and saving his best day for last, going 24-for-36 for 251 yards and three TDs in a season-ending loss to Duke. Wake Forest was arguably the worst offense in all the land in 2014 – 14.8 points per game! 1.25 yards per rush! – but Wolford gives Wake reason for optimism.

2. Lack of playmakers: There’s the rub for a program that, frankly, is probably a few years or more away from competing man for man with the likes of FSU, Clemson, Louisville, etc. Life’s not bad when guys like Campanaro or Johnson can go make plays by themselves, but Wolford can’t do things all by himself, and right now there’s no obvious help on the way. Here’s how bad it is in Winston-Salem: Isaiah Robinson, a freshman who led the Deacs with 98 carries and had three of the team’s four rushing scores, had 175 yards on the ground all year – or 16 fewer than Wayne Gallman had against South Carolina. Leading rusher Dezmond Wortham had 240 yards – read those seven words again – and no returning wide receiver exceeded 350 yards.

3. Clawing for respect: Dave Clawson doesn’t exactly have the track record that screams fixer-upper. He was marginally successful has the head man in stints at Fordham and Richmond, and was largely unimpressive in his first four years at Bowling Green before the 2013 MAC Championship title earned him a spot at Wake Forest. The next bowl game Clawson wins will be his first.

Week before: at Syracuse

Next week: at South Carolina

On the horizon: at South Carolina

-AB