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Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Demon Deacons covet home-state bowl slot

Wake Forest keeps moving up.

That's how the Demon Deacons feel after securing a Belk Bowl invitation to face Texas A&M on Dec. 29 in Charlotte, N.C.

"It's exciting for us to be in Tier I bowl," coach Dave Clawson said, referring to the upper-echelon level in the Atlantic Coast Conference's bowl pecking order. "For us to be able to play in Charlotte where the Panthers play ... and especially for us to be close to our fan base."

The Demon Deacons will be playing just 78 miles from campus. The school campaigned heavily for a spot in the bowl and now it's counting on its fan base to respond.

The Demon Deacons have done the job on the field for most of the season, producing a 7-5 record. There were November victories against Syracuse and North Carolina State that created many of the good vibes around the program.

This marks the second year in a row that Wake Forest will be in the postseason.

This year, there has been a marked improvement from the offensive side.

Going into the Belk Bowl, the Demon Deacons have compiled a school-record 404 points this year to go with a school-record 5,409 yards of total offense.

"We're finally older on offense," Clawson said. "If you look at us the two previous years, we struggled on the offensive side of the ball. We still only start two seniors (on offense)."

Much of the credit goes to an offensive line that has developed into such a solid group that three of its members received some sort of All-ACC distinction.

That has allowed senior quarterback John Wolford to put together a splendid season. The players around him have flourished as well.

Wake Forest is the only school in country with three players (Greg Dortch, Cam Serigne, Tabari Hines) with three or more touchdown receptions in a game this season. Hines has emerged as a key receiver since Dortch went out with an injury and missed all of November.

Wake Forest's offense has a balanced component much like the Aggies, who've thrown for 230.9 yards per game and rushed for 168.5 yards per game.

The Demon Deacons have been strong in turnover margin, something that might be the biggest difference maker, Clawson said.

"If there's one reason we're in back-to-back bowl games, it's the turnover margin," he said. "We're probably not going to be too successful if we lose the turnover margin. We can't give people short fields."

Just like last year, Wake Forest lost its regular-season finale at home to a team that needed to win to become bowl eligible. Though that wasn't desirable for the Demon Deacons, they would like a similar response for the bowl game.

Texas A&M is directed by interim coach Jeff Banks after the firing of Kevin Sumlin.

For Clawson, this is the third consecutive time he takes a team to a bowl game against an interim coach.

He was the Bowling Green coach in 2012 when his team lost to San Jose State in the Military Bowl after Mike MacIntyre left to take the Colorado job. Then last year, Wake Forest won the Military Bowl following the departure of Temple coach Matt Rhule, who went to Baylor.

For Wake Forest, appearing in back-to-back bowls is a coveted accomplishment.

"It's really important," Clawson said. "It's a goal for our program that we're in a bowl every year. We're proud of the progress we've made, but there's also a lot of work to do.

"We want to finish strong. I think winning the Military Bowl last year put us into (2017) with a lot of momentum and we're hoping to do the same thing."

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