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Today, Virginia Tech announced the exact times of its first four football games. And I until I looked at them, I never quite realized how much I don’t like the Hokies’ 2018 schedule.
If you will look to your left in the first column, there’s a block that says “On Deck” where I type in all the schedules of the area teams and sports I’m interested in: The Redskins, Nationals, Caps, Wizards, NASCAR, Virginia Tech football, Virginia Tech basketball, and the football schedules of the three main Ashburn schools including Stone Bridge, Broad Run and Briar Woods. That column shows you by day what’s coming up in the next few days, or if you want to see a specific team, or the entire month, you can just go to the menu and click on “Calendar.”
It’s an entirely self-serving exercise that allows me to check the site every morning, see what’s on the schedule, and know whether it’s going to be a good sports TV day/night, or whether it’s a good day for yard work, grocery shopping or running errands. The calendar program allows me to import items in mass, which I do for the bigger ones that are from 82 to 162 games. But since they include ads and a bunch of other junk I don’t necessarily want, I hand key in the smaller ones like football and college basketball schedules.
It was while doing this that I realized Virginia Tech’s schedule starts out fine, with a nationally televised Labor Day game against Florida State. But then the next three are potential “trap” games, and could set a direction for not only the season, but Justin Fuente’s coaching tenure at Virginia Tech.
Let me first say I love what Fuente has done in Blacksburg. The transition from legendary head coach Frank Beamer to Fuente has been seamless. He won 10 games in his first season when many would struggle to just be .500, and he came back in the second season with 9 wins, despite having to go with a redshirt freshman quarterback who had never been on the field for a single down in college football.
That’s not easy.
But the third year for a head coach in a new program is usually a barometer of where the program is going. First-year success in many cases can be due to the ability to coach talent somebody else recruited, since you pretty much have to be on elite athletes for several years to be able to convince them to come to programs like Virginia Tech.
By year 3, however, you’re in no-man’s land. You have two years’ worth of recruits, which should be establishing the foundation of your new program, while being two years into the previous regime’s recruiting (which wasn’t that great in Beamer’s final years) so most of the really good talent from that source is gone. By year 4, a new coach should have a critical mass of players he recruited for his needs.
Year 3 is when you tend to see new coaches who started out like gangbusters take a brief pause. And if you have injuries – like the Hokies have already had in the offseason – it gets even more challenging.
That’s why I hate this schedule. Win or lose, the game with Florida State will be a good test being on the road against a name program with a new coach. But only six days later, the Hokies again play against a team in a lower division who happens to be pretty good. If there’s a disappointing finish against Florida State, the team might come home, go through the motions against William and Mary, and maybe end up getting surprised.
As many remember, that’s exactly what happened years ago against a certain program in Harrisonburg, where their alumni are still partying like it’s 1999. UVA basketball will forever have its loss to No. 16 seed UMBC. Virginia Tech will forever have its loss to James Madison.
But right after that, Virginia Tech plays another home game against East Carolina. If you were to name the unheralded school that has jumped up and bitten the Hokies more times than any school in the program’s history, guess who it would be? East Freaking Carolina. It doesn’t matter who is coaching that school, they always seem to find a way to surprise the Hokies. I look at it as an annual no-win game they should drop from the schedule. If Tech wins, everyone expects it. If they lose (which they do a lot more than they should) it’s a big story.
But then it gets even better. The Hokies travel to Norfolk to play Old Dominion, another no-win situation. If they don’t win by 50, it will spark a “what’s wrong with the Hokies?” sentiment. Plus the game is on the artificial turf of old Foreman Field (that’s what I knew it’s name as a kid growing up in Norfolk), and injuries and artificial turf just seem to be a lot more prevalent than on real grass.
So the Hokies start out with a great game, three trap games, then start their ACC schedule at Duke before returning home to play Notre Dame. They might end up undefeated, ranked highly, and having a lot of momentum for those games.
But they could also be 2-2, unranked, banged up, and fighting to right the ship for the 2018 season.