So I’ve been kind of passive so far about this season. I look forward to it like any football season, sure, but I’m currently battling some amount of vague apathy. Why? This is the third straight year- third- that I cannot feel justified in having expectations for this team.
Do you know how weird that feels?
College teams often have rotating rosters. That’s just due to the rotating nature of the student body. Considering the longest anyone is on a team is five years, and in general a starter that’s GOOD is only around for three if that, you get the churn, of course. You end up definitely rooting for players, but obviously more for long-term faces (coaches in the NCAA or big time long-contract players in the pros) or institutions or organizations (professional teams or colleges). But the churn that Virginia Tech has managed over the past three years have (though in my mind justly) completely adjusted expectations for the team.
First year for Fuente I couldn’t have much in the way of expectations. Sure the team had talent returning- Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, Sam Rogers, Bucky Hodges, Wyatt Teller, Tremaine Edmunds, Andrew Motuapuaka, et. al. Bud Foster and Charley Wiles were back on defense to give that group some teeth. But how was it going to all fold in under a new order of coaching and how would all the players turn out, especially with a brand new quarterback? Jerod Evans was supposed to be a promising transfer, but it was either going to be that or either Brendan Motley or Joshua Jackson as a true freshman all the way up until the season. Even if Evans lived up to potential, if the offense didn’t work, it was going to be a complete crapshoot of a season. Turns out thankfully that it wasn’t, and by the end of the year a winning Belk Bowl bid and a slot in the ACC Championship was a decent ceiling. Sure we’d love to win the blasted National Championship (though I have my thoughts on that; that’s for another article), but a 10-win season was about as realistic as even the optimists could’ve expected. Could’ve been even better if the offense didn’t decide to crap the bed in certain games, but it happens.
Then the offseason came and all the offensive players left- well, most all but for Wyatt and Cam. Evans disappeared to the pros looking for cash and due to the running load among other things. Isaiah was thought highly of, though obviously he got some not great intelligence on that and he ran a blah forty time that dropped him way down the draft order. Bucky wasn’t going to gain any more professional-style tight end experience and he graduated, so it was time for him to move on. But that put a serious crimp on expectations again, since it forced in a bunch of new players to the quarterback role (Josh Jackson) and of course the receiving corps. So the offense was brand new for a second year for a different reason. Started off amazingly…then between injuries, playcalling, and general ineffectiveness, it faded down the stretch. Again, in a rebuilding year, Fuente and the team won a good amount of games- nine- and continued building behind the scenes. If you look at the average rating of a Virginia Tech recruiting class in 247, it’s continued to rise each year. It might be a lot of three star recruits still, but it’s getting higher and higher.
But here we are, and now it’s time for the defense to go through the same crud that the offense has- huge personnel overturn. Returning starters are hard to come by on Bud’s side of the field, and the slots are being replaced by sophomores and freshmen- redshirt or otherwise. Starting brand new, then. Great.
So where does that leave us? Well, at least in my opinion, we are in the same place that we were the past two years. Take the end result off the board for now. If I tell you that, consecutively, a team would suffer a year with a new coach, a new offense, and a new defense, what would you say? Meh, those teams didn’t do that well, likely. Well, not the case so far.
I’m sure at this point you’re thinking, “Hey, you just proved that you could very well expect 8-10 wins out of this team based on that information!” I’m not exactly disagreeing with you. But I would posit that just because something similar happened the past two years it doesn’t mean we can just assume it will go as well as the previous years. I’d like to think so, but then there’s the dangling participle of last year’s story- the offense and its spiral into self-destruction. Put it this way: if Jackson had ended the year healthy on a good note, I’d actually feel confident in saying ‘hey, we’ll probably win 8-9 games in spite of the turnover’. But since he was hurt and struggled, I’m left wondering what exactly this team is going to prove to be. Now that Cam Phillips is gone, he’s also lost his most reliable target. Who is going to step up?
Between all these questions, I don’t think I can muster up a real expectation for this team this year. Honestly we’re looking at probably the most questions for Coach Fuente and his staff since he got here. So I’m going to sit back and be patient. It’s hard to do in a third year for a coach- Fuente has somehow managed it each year- but it’s an open-ended question as to what this team can be, and it’s not due to roster decay or mismanagement or super scandal. This roster hasn’t somehow lost overall talent. It’ hasn’t endured some big program-shattering issue. Just that this year was the year everything not-great-but-not-awful happened all at once. And that’s made a good bit of difference.
So, I admit, I am passively watching and waiting. I want to see how it shapes up. I doubt even actually seeing this team play in Tallahassee is going to tell us what the team will be. I can’t say I’m waiting with baited breath, though. Just mild intrigue at the now annual question of…what is Virginia Tech?