A boring beat down is likely to be all that you see when Notre Dame's football juggernaut takes on Wake Forest this Saturday at Touchdown Jesus-ville. The Fighting Irish (10-0), riding the wave of a dreamy undefeated season and potential national championship, are having one of their best seasons in decades; the Demon Deacons (5-5) from Winston-Salem, N.C., are fighting to salvage a .500 season and have been, frankly, not all that great this season. Mediocre NC State smoked them last week.
Talent-wise, this is not a contest. Notre Dame's defense is about five times better than Wake's. If Wake wins-I'd give them a 5 percent chance-it will probably be the biggest win in the school's football history. The buzz around the nation's college sports world will be about some school called Wake Forest ruining Notre Dame's perfect season. For one day, Wake will lead Sports Center highlights. That almost never happens.
But as we all know, Notre Dame is a football school. Nationally known since the 1940s and 50s as among the nation's elite, the school is all about its football tradition; always has been. In the past two decades they have fallen from on high, dropped to pedestrian, truthfully, but still a big-name by any measure compared with Wake Forest's football program.
What you may not know, however, is that for the past seven years or so, Wake has become more of a football school. For several decades before that, Wake earned the reputation as a pretty good basketball program in the venerable Atlantic Coast Conference. Wake rose to modest national prominence in 2007 when it shocked the ACC world by winning the league championship and qualifying for a BCS Bowl Game, the Orange Bowl. It had been four decades since Wake had won the ACC football title. It all came together, finally. I attended that Orange Bowl fest in Miami that season and oh what a party it was of hundreds of Wake friends with whom I matriculated, most of whom I had not seen since graduation in 1985.
Since then they've been solid to mediocre and played in two other Bowl games. They win a few, lose a few, and often disappoint when you get your hopes up that they could repeat 2007. That may never happen again. They probably won't win on Saturday. But if they do, the nation will know the name Wake Forest if they don't already as a university with at least a serviceable football program.
Beyond the field this Saturday take note of another intriguing story about these two schools. The story is about academics. Many people around the country are aware that Notre Dame is one of the nation's finest academic institutions. Fewer are probably aware that Wake Forest is also of that caliber. I'll venture a guess to say that the academic requirements for admission to Notre Dame and Wake Forest will be higher than for any other two college teams competing this Saturday unless Harvard is playing Yale or something like that.
Wake is an intellectual powerhouse. I went there and graduated. I suffered through the torment of tests so challenging and difficult that I have spent the rest of my life unraveling the psychological affects, mostly positive, some negative, they inflicted upon me. You probably don't know this, but Wake Forest is known as "Work Forest." These guys don't mess around. Work hard, study for hours and hours, think it all through before the exam, and take your C if you're very lucky and be glad you didn't get a D. Accept your Ds because you deserve them and be glad you didn't fail. At Wake grade deflation runs rampant. It wasn't just me: I know scores of students who felt the exact same way. It could the named the University of Humbling Students Who Think They're Smart Coming Out of High School.
Wake's mojo: Swallow your non-stellar grade, move on, take another class, get outfoxed by another exam, and wonder why Wake Forest is so hard on its students. The truth is they're hard on students because they insist that you push your mind to its limit, to think critically to the point of exhaustion and near confusion. Knowledge is not enough at Wake Forest. Maneuvering that knowledge, shaping it, connecting concepts and ideas in ways you never conceived of before you received the "outside the box" exam questions, was the way of life. There was no choice; the experience changed me forever in many positive ways. My yearning to learn knows no bounds. Wake caused this.
No doubt Notre Dame challenges its students in a big way also. I venture a guess, however, that had I attended Notre Dame I would not have been any more academically challenged than I was at Wake Forest. In short, Wake blew me away, yet I survived.
It is these intense memories of a difficult yet special and precious time in my life that make me want to root for some Wake Wonderland this weekend in South Bend. These Wake players are smart guys compared with the average Div. I college football players. They're of above average intelligence and academic drive much like the Notre Dame players.
There will be more smart, well-educated guys playing football in South Bend this weekend than you will find on any college football game in the nation, I venture to guess. It may be a blow out for the Fighting Irish on the scoreboard, but it will be a win for America's education of young men on both teams.