Some things that come with a national ranking can be ignored; others just can’t be.
That’s become Wake Forest’s balancing act.
“I mean, obviously, people are going to congratulate you. That’s the buzz of the school, the buzz of friends and family and everyone saying it to you,” senior tight end Jack Freudenthal said. “Obviously we’re going to say it’s incredible, we want to be ranked, that’s not something you don’t want. … We just want to go 1-0 every week.
“We can’t let that noise affect how we prepare each week.”
The Deacons are up to 19th in the Associated Press poll and 17th in the Coaches poll, garnering national rankings for the first time since 2008. So, the last time Wake Forest was ranked, its oldest player — sixth-year left tackle Justin Herron — was 12 years old.
With rankings comes national recognition, and Coach Dave Clawson knows that.
But he also knows that the week or day or hour that the Deacons allow themselves to read too much into the rankings is the moment they’ll take a step backward from their 5-0 start.
“I tell the players all the time: It’s an affirmation of that they’re doing things right and they need to continue to do those things,” Clawson said. “We don’t talk about it. ‘Keep your eye on the ball, 1-0. Focus on Louisville, and if you do that, all that other stuff takes care of itself.’
“The second that we pay attention to that and we worry about that or we concern ourselves with that, we’re now not focusing on things that we control.”
Clawson made clear during his weekly news conference this week that the Cardinals have the Deacons’ full attention.
The 1-and-0-every-week mentality helps. It’s not something unique to Wake Forest, but it’s a widespread cliché in college football programs for a reason — it helps keep players from thinking too far ahead.
“Yeah, I love that. I really do,” senior offensive lineman Nate Gilliam said. “It makes me just calm down and not think too (far) ahead; I just love that it’s just one opportunity this week, we go 1-0.”
Gilliam said now that Wake Forest is indeed ranked again, the most important thing to him is “to keep it going on this trajectory we’re on right now.”
It’s the sense that this is only a part of the journey, in Clawson’s sixth season at the helm — instead of being an achievement.
“That can’t be our validation. Our validation has to be our process and knowing that we’re getting better and knowing that we’re assignment correct and we’re running to the football and that we’re protecting well,” Clawson said. “… And I’ve had teams before that that becomes the validation, they stop doing what they’re supposed to do, that doesn’t last long.”
Wake Forest, obviously, wants to keep this going for as long as possible. The Deacons are favored in this week’s game and are likely to be favored in each of the next two games — both at BB&T Field — against Florida State on Oct. 19 and N.C. State on Nov. 2.
Wins mean the Deacons will keep climbing, and it’ll become less of a novelty to see Wake Forest in the polls.
“It’s been a while, but that’s just how far we’ve come. And this is not where we want to be. We want to keep going,” Freudenthal said. “Obviously the sky’s the limit, and this year can be really special and if we can do like we said, nonstop, 1-0 every week.”
The next chance for that comes Saturday night.