Friday, Sept. 13, 6 p.m. at BB&T Field, Winston-Salem (ESPN)
Last meeting: Carolina 50, Wake Forest 14 (Oct. 17, 2015)
All-time series: Carolina 69-35
Head coach: Dave Clawson, sixth season (28-35, 12-28 ACC)
2018 result: 7-6 (3-5 ACC); beat Memphis in 37-34 in Birmingham Bowl.
ACC preseason poll: Sixth, Atlantic.
Key losses: G Phil Haynes (Fourth-round pick), RB Matt Colburn, WR Greg Dortch, WR Alex Bachman, C Ryan Anderson, RG Patrick Osterhage, DT Willie Yarbary, DT Zeek Rodney, DE Chris Calhoun, LB Demetrius Kemp, S Cameron Glenn, S Chuck Wade.
Key returners: QB Jamie Newman, QB Sam Hartman, RB Cade Carney, RB Christian Beal-Smith, WR Sage Surratt, WR Scotty Washington, WR Kendall Hinton, TE Jack Freudenthal, LT Justin Herron, RT Jake Benzinger, DE Boogie Basham, LB Justin Strnad, CB Essang Bassey, CB Amari Henderson, S Luke Masterson.
Top newcomers: WR Donovaon Greene, WR Nolan Groulx, DE Shamar McCollum.
Getting to know the Deacons, quickly
- Carolina and Wake Forest prove their reputations as strong academic schools by scheduling this as a home-and-home nonconference series. Not only do the programs avoid paying a six-figure guarantee for home games, they'll have great crowds and got a primetime ESPN spot for their efforts. Smart!
- Clawson's work at Wake Forest is more impressive than the record appears. After going 6-18 overall and 2-14 in the ACC in his first two seasons, the Deacons have gone 22-17 and 10-14 with three straight bowl victories at the toughest job in the league.
- Newman won the starting job, while Hartman will serve as his plenty-capable backup. Sometimes, the line, "We're comfortable with either guy," is coach-speak, but the Deacons mean it. Hartman was fantastic as a freshman, completing 55 percent of his attempts for 1,984 yards, 16 TD and 8 INT before suffering a season-ending injury. All Newman did was come in and finish 3-1 while completing 60 percent of his attempts for 1,083 yards, 9 TD and 4 TD while rushing for another 4 TD.
- Wake Forest's defense under Jay Sawvel was a bigger disaster than Business 40 Winston-Salem for four games last season. The defense certainly wasn't good (116th in total defense) down the stretch, but it got better under Lyle Hemphill despite battling injury. It would be hard not to take a major step forward with seven starters returning, including Strnad and Bassey, who are among the league's best at their position. Hemphill also plans more three safety looks to combat the passing attacks that have become more common.
- Surratt was excellent as a freshman, as the 6-3, 215-pound receiver caught 41 passes for 581 yards and 4 TD. With older brother Chazz Surratt moving to linebacker at Carolina, he mentioned his excitement about a potential meeting of the Surratts over the middle.
- Not only is Wake Forest talented at receiver and quarterback, but Carney (188 car., 1,005 yards, 8 TD) will lead a solid backfield as Beal-Smith, the No. 23 back in his class, finally gets a shot at a major role.
- The kicking game is a weapon, with Nick Sciba going 19/22 on field goal attempts last season and hitting all 50 extra point attempts.
- It's a Friday night game! Take the day off, tailgate with some Lexington barbecue, grab a hotel in Winston-Salem then make the drive up to Asheville or Boone and enjoy the weekend. Alternatively, hit the road early to the beach and find a place to enjoy a few beverages and catch the game on ESPN.
Wake Forest is probably a bowl team, and they'd certainly be one in the Coastal Division.
The Deacons are going to bring a dynamic offense that can hurt opponents in a number of ways. Find a way to stop Carney up the middle? They'll get Beal-Smith outside the tackles. In addition to the big bodied receivers and Freudenthal, Groulx and Hinton can stretch the field and win in the slot.
That'll be important, because it's a long way from 116th in total defense and 101st in scoring defense to becoming one that can win with an average offense.
What would a win mean for Carolina?
It's safe to say the Heels have more talent on the roster, but they've had more talent than plenty of teams over the past two years.
Winning on the road would be a significant step, and to do it, Carolina would have to be significantly more disciplined than they've been in recent years. Disciplined on defense, disciplined in taking advantage of their offensive opportunities and seriously disciplined in avoiding penalties because the Deacons won't beat themselves there or in the kicking game.
This would certainly be a win to build confidence on for the Heels, if they were able to win a rivalry game over a gritty team that is used to grinding out victories.
What would a loss mean for Carolina?
This will be the first game of the season where Carolina has more talent, but they'll likely be underdogs.
If it is indeed a loss, it will be because either the defense wasn't good enough to slow down Wake Forest or the offense failed to take advantage of opportunities. The latter would be less concerning, because the Deacons, 28th in total offense last season, are legitimately a good unit. Coming up short offensively, however, would be major disappointment, especially given Carolina will have had two weeks to prepare against an SEC defense in South Carolina and a Miami unit that will be among the nation's best.
At the least, this should be a competitive game for Carolina and anything less would be disappointing for the Tar Heels.
Neat college football thing
Who gave the Deacon a motorcyle? Did the Deacon have a mid-life crisis and decide to become a weekend biker? Does he have a proper motorcycle license? Isn't he a bit old to not be wearing a helmet? How do the grandkids feel about this? How does the clergy feel about a man of the cloth going on like this in public? How does his hat stay on?
We have many questions, but the Deacon's commitment to leading the team onto the field is indeed a neat college football thing. Especially the time Arnold Palmer hopped on the back of that chopper.