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 WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -Alphonso Smith's friends back home finally know where to find Wake Forest.
That wasn't always the case during the cornerback's first few seasons with the Demon Deacons, as his pals back in Florida only heard about the small, private school during March Madness.
``Everyone would look at Wake Forest and be like, 'Oh, you've got a great basketball team,''' Smith said. ``It was all basketball. When I'd go home, 'Wake Forest, where's that? New Jersey?'''
Move over, Chris Paul. After the first consecutive bowl appearances in school history and its first preseason AP Top 25 ranking, No. 23 Wake Forest isn't just a basketball school anymore.
``It's refreshing to know that we're finally getting respect,'' Smith said. ``But at the same time ... we haven't done anything for this year yet.''
Perhaps, but Wake Forest also isn't likely to face the week-in, week-out scrutiny that came last year while defending their improbable 2006 Atlantic Coast Conference title. And with Atlantic Division rival Clemson the near-consensus pick to roll through the ACC, the Demon Deacons like to think of themselves as underdogs once again.
``Part of the problem last year was, we almost put too much pressure on ourselves,'' said quarterback Riley Skinner. ``All we kept thinking was that we've got to be some spectacular team that goes out and dominates everybody we play, prove that we could play. And we kind of got out of our rhythm and what we like to do as a team - managing the game, chipping away, taking what the defense gives us and just playing the field-possession game.''
That will again be the game plan as Wake Forest chases a third straight postseason berth and looks to improve on its school-record total of 20 wins in two years.
In some ways, last year's 9-4 finish and Meineke Bowl victory was just as impressive as Wake Forest's '06 run to the Orange Bowl. It further legitimized the philosophy of patiently redshirting freshman and focusing on mistake-free play - the hallmark of Grobe's system ever since he arrived before the 2001 season and gradually rebuilt a once downtrodden program.
``Everyone was like, 'Whoa, Wake Forest, ACC champions?' That kind of took everybody by surprise,'' Smith said. ``Last year wasn't a surprise. Everyone knew we were going to bring it.''
With loads of key players back on both sides of the ball, they could do just that once again in Winston-Salem.
Nine starters return to a defense that ranked 27th nationally, held five of its final six opponents to fewer than 20 points and returned a Bowl Subdivision-best eight turnovers for touchdowns. The kicking game is solid with kicker Sam Swank, who needed only three seasons to set the school's career scoring record with 286 points.
The offense must replace graduated center Steve Justice and do-it-all receiver Kenneth Moore, but returns the ACC's past two rookies of the year, running back Josh Adams and Skinner. He led the nation last season by completing 72.4 percent of his passes and once again is being counted upon to manage games, not necessarily win them by himself.
``You've got a very comfortable guy in Riley Skinner,'' Grobe said. ``You've got a guy that realizes he doesn't have to be a rock star. He doesn't have to be 'The Guy.' He just has to be a guy that doesn't get us beat. ... I wouldn't want his goals to be set on being better (statistically) than last year. I'd like for his goals to be set on winning more games than last year.''
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