The season is set after National Signing Day wraps, there will be a short lull in activity in the foreground, and the work of conditioning and getting ready for Spring Practice and first peeks of 2016 will start. March/April will be here before you know it. While we are waiting, there is something that is teasing everyone's imagination. Now that the schedule is out and the ticket sales start to generate momentum there are also expectations.
Let's look at the schedule in two ways. First, let's admit the personnel and depth that we currently have, and take a very objective cold eyed stare at what we could see. Next, let's look at it from a fresh, "different" perspective, one that we'll go into a bit later.
The initial look is simple. We know within a few true freshmen who the personnel on the field will be (okay, we'll fight about QB's later - my bet is Jerod Evans - we'll discuss that over the next few months) and how they have performed in the very recent past. So, for the static analysis crowd, here is what we are looking at:
The 2016 Virginia Tech Hokie Football Schedule:
Sept. 3: at Home vs. Liberty - This game is supposed to be an opening "cupcake" warmup. It's refreshing that it's actually the first game and the team hasn't been fed to a meat grinder. Liberty is no slouch football team, but it's also not likely to win. This season might be their best chance, but they'll be a premium full speed scrimmage opportunity that this Hokie football team will likely need. 1 - 0
Sept. 10: at the Racetrack vs. Tennessee (Bristol. Tenn.) - The Battle in Bristol is likely to be a very evenly matched affair, with a decidedly local to southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee flavor. We haven't seen much of Tennessee lately, and the whole show might look like two drunks slugging it out in the infield over their favorite race team driver. My crystal ball looks hazy but right now, Tennessee has a tiny edge. 1 - 1
Sept. 17: at Home vs. Boston College: - BC just isn't very good right now. We are likely to see some interesting flavor with this one; because this is a coaching grudge match with Lefty running the offense. This of course makes BC as offensively inconsistent as it has been since "Matty Ice" graduated. The "Awkward" Bowl is going to end up a close match, but Tech is just a better program with better personnel, right now, than BC. 2 - 1
Sept. 24: at Home vs. East Carolina: - East Carolina parted company with Ruffin McNeill for whatever issues that they had with him or didn't. Ruffin had our number, that's for sure. All of ECU's tools are gone; their performance potential is still there. This game will be the current squad's snake poison since they have eaten Pirate guff for the last two seasons. Beyond two is too emotionally distant for any college team; but the past two bitter tastes might or might not be enough. Scottie Montgomery will either make a statement, or Justin Fuente will. It's likely a grinder grudge match. 3 - 1
Oct. 8: at North Carolina: - UNC coaching is intact; their program is building both talent and power. This one unfortunately we lose close or not depends on more factors that historic analysis can predict. 3 - 2
Oct. 15: at Syracuse: - ‘Cuse is rebuilding something. They have a new head coach, Dino Babers and an old atrocious venue, The Carrier Dome. So what ‘rebuilding' is, hasn't really flowered yet, and we haven't seen where it's going. The team has, and will, continue to struggle for the foreseeable future. Hokies should take this one, but predicting more than that is for other WAG sessions. 4 - 2
Oct. 20: at Home vs. Miami (Thursday): - Nope. Sorry, Lane hasn't been a home field bonus for a few seasons, and Miami has shed Al for the excellent Mark Richt and there is some revenge on the sidelines in the presence of one Stacy Searels, who knows way too much about too much. 4 - 3
Oct. 27: at Pittsburgh (Thursday): - Nope again. We just don't seem to be able to win in the "Big Ketchup" and Pitt is completely intact and raring to punch us square in the gut again. 4 - 4
Nov. 5: at Duke: - I'd like to see us beat Duke, but I don't know. The game is "there" it's after a series of very tough games in shifted schedules. Maybe the week and a half off will help, but there is the probability of another loss, perhaps close, but another ding against a Cutcliffe coached Duke team. 4 - 5
Nov. 12: at vs. Georgia Tech: - We beat them up pretty badly last season, and only a few pieces change between teams. The Bumble Bees were more Wreck than Yellow Jacket last season and there might be some changes but only the score could be closer. 5 - 5
Nov. 19: at Notre Dame: - Notre Dame, in South Bend, in the cold of late Fall, and a probable high ranking. Nothing more to say. 5 - 6
Nov. 26: at Home vs. Virginia: - They have a new coach, new staff, new everything. The odds are even. We have them at home and the Commonwealth Cup stays in Blacksburg. 6 - 6
All right! All right! I can hear the fussing and fuming, and those cuss words you are about to utter are sinful, so stop. This is supposed to be an objective analysis, not a homer's wish list. AND it is based on recent history not on something that we haven't seen a bunch of, on the field performance. What we need to take into next season is something different. We need to take a sort of ‘bloody mindedness' to the table that admits we are a work in early progress and it's going to take several years for the new staff to rebuild the recruiting pipeline, and put better more appropriately assigned talent into the depth chart.
So what's this new different and fresh perspective? Hokie Nation needs to pitch a quarter of a century of preconceived notions and historic analysis out the window. We need to stand up and admit that we have a new, promising head coach, and a hybrid staff of the best of both worlds. We need to pat the Beamer Era on the shoulder, give it a hug and a kiss, and wave it good-bye.
To do that effectively we have to admit that we don't know how things are going to go and how good we are likely to be. We need to focus on one game at a time, as fans since we aren't coaches, and internalize that our recruiting and talent pipeline had winnowed to a trickle, and we have serious deficiencies in several units. We need to focus our good will on that new staff, and give them a chance to breathe. They need to develop a "new" Virginia Tech Hokies. That's going to take some time and patience. Historically a rebuild from scratch would take four to six seasons of fits and starts. It did for Frank Beamer. Of course he and his family paid for those efforts and the thin results for a good four years before things changed. Justin Fuente shouldn't need that long. The program was moribund and lethargic by 2015. We can already see the new increased energy and enthusiasm for building something special, and that goes with the legacy staff as well as the new.
We'll see as the players start sorting themselves out; and the core of the 2016 football team learns the new systems and starts the process of rebuilding. There will be the vast majority of the Hokie faithful who will understand and not lose faith if there are stumbles. There will be the detractors, the sour grapes club, the want to go back folks. They need to remember that this is college football. The coaches and players are humans who are doing their best, and as Bruce Arians says that it's not you, it's your football. Well, we need to remember that.
So, my personal Way Too Early Prediction is: 0-12
Not as a finish, but as a start. The Hokies need to learn to win with its new coaches. To do that, we must take one game at a time with no expectations except to beat the opponent immediately in front of us. We should not "expect" to win any game before it's played. We must plan to defeat each opponent and put ourselves in the position to do so week after week. Above all, we as the Fans of Hokie Nation need to throw away those old "expectations" based on old thinking and feelings.
It is time to start fresh in the Fuente Era. He and the new staff deserve that from us.
Signing Day and Spring Practice are ahead.