Wake Forest

Deacons' rise good for state

The most intriguing day of this regional college football season could end with a hot debate about the pecking order of in-state teams.

With North Carolina (2-0) hosting Virginia Tech (2-1), East Carolina (3-0) visiting N.C. State (1-2) and Wake Forest (2-0) at Florida State (2-0), there's even a chance the state could have three teams in next week's national rankings.

That would reflect a stark turnaround from just four seasons ago, when the state's five major teams combined for a 19-37 record and only Carolina, at 6-6 after a bowl loss, managed to finish at .500.

To a heavy extent, the general improvement has been led by Wake Forest, which for many years had one of the least successful programs in the nation.

"What Wake Forest has done is remarkable, and there's nothing to make you think they can't be good for a long time to come," new Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said.

Which is why an upset win by the Deacons at Florida State would be more than enough to keep them atop the state heap regardless of the outcomes at State and Carolina today. The Seminoles are no longer the same overbearing team they were throughout the '90s and into the early 2000s, but there are signs of recovery in Tallahassee.

Florida State players have come to view Wake as a constant reminder of an upside-down football world. Most of those FSU players were on the field when the Deacs won 30-0 in 2006 and 24-21 last season in Winston-Salem.

"We really need to show we can beat those guys," Florida State defensive lineman Everette Brown said. "They've become a big problem for us."

The revenge factor frequently gets overplayed in football. It's often a lot more rhetoric than deep-seated emotion. The Wake game is more than rhetoric for the Seminoles. Next to Florida and Miami, there's probably not a higher priority date on the FSU schedule this season.

Taking a third straight win in the series will be extremely difficult for Jim Grobe. But if it happens, other in-state teams can brace for another hot Deacons run. With Navy up next, in Winston-Salem, the Deacs could be 4-0 when Clemson arrives on Oct. 9 for a Thursday night ESPN game that would set the stage for another Wake appearance in the ACC championship game -- maybe against Carolina.

It sounds incredible, of course. The season is still very young, but things seem to be changing all over.

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