Few Known Knowns in Openers

College football would be a better game, and its coaches would certainly sleep much better in August, if the sport featured Friendlies.

Friendlies, as anybody who knows soccer can attest, are those games between opponents with nothing riding other than the opportunity to find out more about your team and what you need to work on before the rubber really meets the road and the won-loss record is chiseled in granite.

Baseball has Friendlies. They’re called spring training. Pro football has Friendlies. They’re called preseason (don’t call them exhibition) games. Even college basketball has a form of a Friendly in those preseason scrimmages against another program where details are released to the media and general public only at the expense of some poor underling’s career.

But college football is different. The teams practice all August, show up for the opener, the National Anthem is sung, the whistle blows and boom, just like that, they begin going at each other with everything on the line.

Some teams carve themselves a certain margin of error by scheduling an opening opponent that really has little to no business giving them a real game. But there’s still more uncertainty there than most coaches would like, as Wake found out in 2012 with a 20-17 home victory over Liberty and two seasons ago with a 7-3 home win against Tulane.

Wake opens another football season tomorrow night at Tulane and I have no idea what to expect. And that puts me in good company with Dave Clawson and Willie Fritz, the head coaches of the respective schools.

We all can see the strides Clawson has made during his four seasons at Wake, and it’s hard to miss how Tulane has improved over Fritz’ first two seasons.

“This is a much deeper and much more talented football team than the one we played two years ago here at BB&T,’’ Clawson told the media on Tuesday. “That was a game we were fortunate to win. We really shouldn’t have won the game.’’

But as to just how much progress has been made won’t be known until the teams line up and start playing. There are just too many unknowns.

As much as I would love to relegate Donald Rumsfeld to the dustbin of history, I can’t help, in these instances, but recall what he said about the known knowns and the unknown knowns. And in that there are so many similarities between warfare and football, I’ll refer to the man who did so much to sabre-rattle us into a war vanity war the rest of the world was trying to warn us against.

The known knowns for Wake are the speed and talent at the skill positions, the size, strength and athleticism of the defensive front and, most of all, the experience, confidence and precision of one of the best offensive lines in the ACC. Clawson spent four years building that line block by block and the results should ensure that the Deacons, in Clawson’s fifth season, will be at least competitive.

But then come the known unknowns, the new faces at linebacker and in the secondary, a new kicker, and most glaring of all, a freshman quarterback in Sam Hartman who at this time last season was playing high school football.

I’ve expressed concern about linebacker, a strength in Clawson’s early days when All-ACC linebackers Brandon Chubb and Marquel Lee were roaming sideline to sideline. But Les Conor of Demon Deacon Digest and Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal have attended preseason practices and games and seem to be impressed with starters Justin Strnad and D.J. Taylor. And obviously Ryan Smenda, Jr., has made a splash or he wouldn’t be listed as second-team as a first-year freshman.

So maybe the Deacons will be OK, or even a notch above OK, there.

But even if I knew what to expect from Wake, I still wouldn’t have any idea what’s going to happen tomorrow night. That would require me knowing far more about Tulane than anyone other than the Green Wave coaches and maybe their immediate families are going to know – or think they know.

In did check out the Seven Key Storylines for Tulane Football 2018 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune published earlier this week, and found out that the Green Wave quarterback, Jonathan Banks, is a talented athlete whose career has been hindered by injuries, and that Fritz and his staff are looking for vast improvement from a defense that gave up 436 yards a game last season.

But the most inescapable of all the known knowns is that this is a really critical game in Dave Clawson’s fifth season as Wake’s head coach. The Deacons do return home to play Towson on Sept. 8, but then the schedule gets rocky really fast. The biggest game of the season could well turn out to be the visit by improved Boston College on Sept. 13, followed the next week by a visit from Notre Dame.

Wake should get a respite at home against Rice on Sept. 20, only to turn its sights to a home game against Clemson on Oct. 6 and a trip to Florida State on Oct. 20.

Only in his nightmares does Clawson allow himself to contemplate a losses against Tulane, BC, Notre Dame, Clemson and FSU leaving his Deacons at 2-5 with trips to Louisville, N.C. State and Duke remaining.

Maybe Wake will wax Tulane tomorrow night, drill BC in BB&T and head into the Notre Dame game feeling good at 3-0. It could happen. But if you’re looking for a prediction, you won’t find it here.

Now if the sport of college football featured Friendlies, I would probably have a better idea of what to expect. But if the sport had Friendlies, there’s no way you could call it football.

The terms are just too incongruous.

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