Wake Forest is on the verge of its first “state championship” since 2009.
If the Demon Deacons (7-4) can close out Duke on Saturday, they’ll have in-state bragging rights. They already have wins over N.C. State, 30-24 on Saturday night, and Appalachian State, 20-19 on Sept. 23.
Fourth-year coach Dave Clawson has his team playing its best football at the right time of the year. Given the injuries to breakout star receiver Greg Dortch and defensive end Duke Ejiofor, out the past few weeks, plus the strength of Wake’s schedule, Clawson has done great work this season.
With so many major conference jobs open, Clawson, a proven program-builder (see also his work at Richmond and Bowling Green), will have several suitors next month.
Senior quarterback John Wolford, one of the toughest players in college football, has led the Deacs to their highest-scoring season in school history. Wolford took regular beatings earlier in his career, but behind an improved offensive line, he has accounted for 33 touchdowns (23 passing and 10 rushing) and thrown only four interceptions (in 292 attempts).
Wolford’s improvisation on fourth-down, on Wake’s last touchdown drive, was the key play of the game by the Deacs’ offense. Safety Demetrius Kemp made the points stand up with an incredible hustle play on N.C. State’s ensuing drive.
Emeka Emezie’s emotional reaction to fumbling in the end zone, on what could have been a game-winning touchdown for N.C. State, will be the lasting image of Saturday’s game. But Kemp’s hustle, sprinting about 30 yards across the field after Emezie caught the ball at the 6-yard line, and beating the Wolfpack receiver to the goal line, ultimately decided the game.
If Wake Forest can beat Duke on Saturday at home, the Deacs will have their first Mack Brown Cup title since in 2009. The Cup isn’t real, but Brown’s success against in-state opponents was. Brown, now an ESPN analyst, went 15-0 against State, Wake and Duke from 1993 until he left for the Texas job after the 1997 regular season.
Brown had a plaque put up at UNC’s Kenan Football Center to commemorate the mythical state championship. Since the “Big Four” no longer regularly play each other, determining the best team in the state can be tricky.
Hence the Mack Brown Cup scoring system: 2 points for a road win, 1 point for a home win, minus-2 points for a home loss, minus-1 point for a road loss in games between Wake, State, Duke and Carolina.
A Duke win on Saturday would net the Blue Devils their first state title since sharing it with East Carolina in 2013.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
ACC Power Rankings
Record: 10-0 (7-0 ACC)
Last game: vs. Virginia, W, 44-28. Next game: at Pittsburgh (Friday).
Virginia put a scare into the unbeaten Hurricanes, but the power of the Turnover Chain (a “pick six” by Miami’s D sparked the comeback) prevails again.
Record: 10-1 (7-1 ACC)
Last game: vs. The Citadel, W, 61-3. Next game: at South Carolina.
Even without dangerous receiver Deebo Samuel, you can expect the Gamecocks to pour it out when the Tigers visit on Saturday.
3. Virginia Tech
Record: 8-3 (4-3 ACC)
Last game: vs. Pittsburgh, W, 20-14. Next game: at Virginia (Friday).
Not exactly locked in for Pitt but didn’t have to be to get the win.
4. Wake Forest
Record: 7-4 (4-3 ACC)
Last game: vs. N.C. State, W, 30-24. Next game: vs. Duke.
Receiver Tabari Hines has four career 100-yard games; half have come against N.C. State.
5. N.C. State
Record: 7-4 (5-2 ACC)
Last game: at Wake Forest, L, 30-24. Next game: vs. UNC.
Disaster awaits if the Wolfpack falls at home to the Tar Heels.
6. Georgia Tech
Record: 5-5 (4-4 ACC)
Last game: at Duke, L, 43-20. Next game: vs. Georgia.
The Jackets will likely need to find a 12th game to qualify for a bowl, unless they can stun the seventh-ranked Bulldogs.
7. Boston College
Record: 6-5 (3-4 ACC)
Last game: vs. UConn, W, 39-16. Next game: at Syracuse.
Wasn’t pretty at Fenway Park, but it doesn’t matter, the Eagles can get to seven wins by taking out the banged-up Orange.
Record: 7-4 (4-4 ACC)
Last game: vs. Syracuse, W, 56-10. Next game: at Kentucky.
A 41-38 home loss to the Wildcats was the low-point of last season.
9. Florida State
Record: 4-6 (3-5 ACC)
Last game: vs. Delaware State, W, 77-6. Next game: at Florida.
The Noles are a mess, but the Gators are a bigger mess. FSU’s 35-year bowl streak rides on the outcome.
Record: 6-5 (3-4 ACC)
Last game: at Miami, L, 44-28. Next game: vs. Virginia Tech (Friday).
Poured it out at Miami. Do the Hoos have anything left for the Hokies?
Record: 4-7 (2-5 ACC)
Last game: at Louisville, L, 56-10. Next game: vs. Boston College.
How important is quarterback Eric Dungey? Compare the Louisville and Clemson results.
Record: 4-7 (2-5 ACC)
Last game: at Virginia Tech, L, 20-14. Next game: vs. Miami (Friday).
The Panthers can ruin your championship dreams. Just ask West Virginia.
Record: 5-6 (2-5 ACC)
Last game: vs. Georgia Tech, W, 43-20. Next game: at Wake Forest.
Might need some of those points for Wake this week, but the Devils are happy the losing streak is over.
Record: 3-8 (1-6 ACC)
Last game: vs. Western Carolina, W, 65-10. Next game: at N.C. State.
Suddenly, it’s UNC feeling good and the Wolfpack on shaky ground.