WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Jim Grobe expects this year's Wake
Forest team to show significant improvement. The Demon Deacons couldn't be much worse.
Last season, the uncharacteristically young team lost nine games in a row -- and for a while held the nation's longest losing streak -- while sliding back into last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division.
That's where they're picked to finish in this year's preseason
"I've got a feeling that we're not a cocky group right now," Grobe said. "We're a group that knows we've got to practice hard and play hard to be in this league. We learned a lot last year the hard way. I don't think there's any question about that. It's a different football team right now."
The swagger that Wake Forest developed while reaching three straight bowl games from 2006-08 and winning an unlikely ACC championship is all but gone during the team's struggles of the
past two seasons.
The high school players the Demon Deacons recruited during that
fleeting rise now are the upperclassmen who will be asked to help
lead a turnaround of their own. Assisting them with that daunting task is a core of second-year players who were rushed onto the field during their freshman seasons -- most notably quarterback Tanner Price, who emerged as the starter a few weeks in, and wound up throwing for 1,349 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"The biggest thing last year was just positive, and not getting down on yourself, not getting down on your teammates or the coaches," Price said. "Just knowing that you've got to keep fighting, and there's a brighter future ahead of you."
Price is one of 17 starters returning from last year's 3-9 team. Five are sophomores -- a huge number for a program that prefers to
be patient with its younger players.
"We're a football team where, if our coaches and our players develop like they should over a 5-year period, by the time our kids are juniors and seniors, if we've done a good job developing them and they've done a good job of working in the weight room and in practice and all those kind of things, then we can be very competitive," Grobe said. "In years like last year where we've got very few seniors, we haven't developed very well, we have to play too many freshmen (and) we're not going to fare very well."
He's counting on this year's upperclassmen to be much better. The improvement will have to begin up front, where four senior starters return along the offensive line and will be asked to give Price more protection than he was given in 2010.
Opponents sacked Wake Forest quarterbacks 26 times -- the most given up by an ACC team that played fewer than 13 games. The Demon Deacons will have to grow up quickly against a schedule that includes nine bowl teams from last season.
They open at Syracuse, welcome the ACC's divisional favorites -- Florida State and Virginia Tech -- to Winston-Salem in consecutive weeks and begin November with a visit from resurgent Notre Dame.
That will be quite a challenge -- or, quite the opportunity for them to prove they're headed in the right direction.
"At Wake Forest, we've proven we can do it. The problem is, it's not a guarantee," Grobe said. "We're not going to reload every year and just come back and be competitive in the league. I feel like this year we're a much better football team than we were last year. ... There's a little bit of electricity in the air right now. I've just got a feeling that we're going to bounce back and be a much better football team than we were last year."