Deacons one win away from bowl eligibility

A win against Army today would be Wake Forests sixth, qualifying it for its first postseason bid since 2011

Ben McKeown—For The North State Journal
Wake Forest running back Cade Carney (36) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during a football game against Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham

With a win against Army at BB&T Field on Saturday, Wake Forest would reach the six-win mark that would qualify it for the postseason. That might now seem like such a big deal at most schools. But for a program that hasn’t been bowl eligible in five years, it’s certainly reason to celebrate. Just don’t expect coach Dave Clawson and his players to get too excited over their modest accomplishment. That’s because after five wins in their first seven games, they’re expecting much more than the bare minimum from this breakthrough season. “We’re just going out and playing,” senior defensive tackle Josh Banks said earlier this week. “By far, we want to win more than six games, so we just have to go out there and make sure we defeat Army. Then we can get the seventh win and so on and so forth.” The Deacons have been one of the ACC’s most pleasant surprises after winning just three games in each of Clawson’s first two seasons with the program. And yet, as unexpected as their success might seem, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise given their coach’s history. After averaging only 3.25 wins in Years 1 and 2 at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, Clawson’s teams have jumped to an average of 6.0 wins in Year 3 of each coaching stop. Gaining bowl eligibility is a natural part of that familiar progression. But it’s not something Clawson spends much of his time talking or thinking about, especially around his players. “I think when you start a season, there are these big picture goals that you want to accomplish,” Clawson said. “You mention those things at the beginning of the year and then the off-season program, but once you get into the season it’s just a week-by-week season. “I know it’s cliché and I know it’s coach-speak, but it’s real. We can’t become bowl eligible unless we are 1-0 this week. So to talk about it, that has no impact on how we play this week.” Instead of talking, Wake spent its bye week putting in extra work preparing to defend Army’s triple option offense. Although the Deacons are a 7½-point favorite and have beaten the Cadets in each of the past two seasons, neither of those victories came easily. Last year’s game was decided on the final play when Mike Weaver hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired for a 17-14 victory at West Point. Wake won 24-21 in Winston-Salem in 2014. At 4-3, Army is better than it was a season ago. Complicating matters for the Deacons is the fact that the quarterback that engineered their 2015 win — Kendall Hinton — may or may not be ready to return to action after missing the past four games with a knee injury. “We have struggled against them the last two years here,” Clawson said of the Cadets. “We’ve been very fortunate to win. We want to get ready for Army and try to play the best game we can against them. If we do that, all those other things take care of themselves.” One of those other things, of course, is reaching that six-win plateau, which for all the downplaying, is still an important milestone in the development of Wake’s program. “It would mean a lot,” sophomore offensive guard Phil Haynes said. “We haven’t been to a bowl since 2011. I know the fans that stuck with us will be really, really happy once we get that. I get the feel from around campus, “Oh, y’all are almost at six wins. You’re doing real well this year. I can’t wait ’til you get the next win. We’ll be excited when that happens.”