There are many complaints circulating about how we just can’t seem to manage to get back to the College Football Division 1 National Championship Game. Tech’s prospects of getting there are slim and none in all actuality. The program, like 90% (not a pure number folks, an estimate but done in good faith) of the college Division 1 FBS is just not fully equipped to move beyond the 20’s and high teens in the football rankings.
For the sake of a bit of poetic license, this is the “Twilight” of college football. Twilight is defined in Websters as:
twi·light | \ ˈtwī-ˌlīt
1: the light from the sky between full night and sunrise or between sunset and full night produced by diffusion of sunlight through the atmosphere and its dust also: a time of twilight
2a: an intermediate state that is not clearly defined
b: a period of decline
This was all brought on by the football team’s early loss of Tight End/H-Back star Dalton Keene. The draft based exit of Keene was more than a little stunning and for those of us who study this game, dismaying as well. There have been other critical early draft losses that have plagued the Tech program. Michael Vick, Tim Settle, Terrell and Tremaine Edmunds, and Jerod Evans were crippling losses. Program momentum is so critical in team sports, especially college football. There are lots of different kinds of momentum in any sport. Most often we think of it being applied during games where the emotions and playing capabilities of the team are raised to a different level by events on the field. Momentum can be positive or negative, just like twilight.
There is a very different type of momentum in college football that parallels tactical momentum in games. Program momentum is critical for maintaining a consistent team structure and success rate as personnel change over their 4 and 1/3 year eligibility. Adjusting to losses is a constant problem in football. The random injury losses and the normal graduation losses are normally built into the coaching system in each program. What is most difficult to absorb, however; is the loss of star personnel to early exits for promises of big cash and stardom in the NFL.
The Keene bolt for the bucks is just a reminder of the problems faced by programs operating in the twilight. We, by far, aren’t the only program that encounters this problem. It’s just “Keenely” felt because of our roster configuration. Programs like LSU and Alabama can absorb such losses by plugging another 4 or 5 star recruit into the hole. Programs like Tech, Purdue, BC, Syracuse, Carolina… et al, aren’t so fortunate. Early outs for the teams in the peloton of college FBS football can be complete disasters, derailing serious runs at quality wins. We have talked about that sort of self-reinforcing feedback loop, before. The more you win the better you recruit. The better you recruit, the more you win. The death spiral follows the same pattern in reverse.
There are many fans who notice this phenomenon. We all complain, loudly about it, and often start casting blame on the blameless to go with it. The fact remains that it is a “business decision” taken with a certain amount of emotion and ego by a person in their late teens or early 20s. Those of us with gray hair and years of taking potentially short-sighted decisions wince, while others rationalize the problem away. In neither case is the problem solved; merely detested or accepted.
So, the Hokies languish in the twilight, along with more than 100 or so other FBS and high level FCS teams. At least the FCS teams get to compete for a real championship every season. North Dakota State is the 2019 FCS Division 1 champion with their defeat of the James Madison Dukes. Both programs could probably compete at the higher level, but neither seems to be inclined to make the jump. There is a part of many of us that realizes that the chance for a championship among your peers is satisfying, even if the peerage isn’t the crème de la crème.
How did it get this way? There are lots of theories but basically there seem to be three causes that militate against some sort of truly evenly distributed college sports operation where no program is more advantaged than another. (If that is the ideal, mind you.)
Over the next few articles we’ll be examining some of the issues involved in most programs languishing in the twilight of collegiate football greatness. We won’t be dealing with other “non-revenue” sports or the basketball program since those things are often similar but some twilight programs have dominated in the minor sports. For now, we are going to talk football and some of the reasons why Virginia Tech and many other FBS schools are constantly hovering in the dim light between dawn and daylight.
We’ll talk about the big three talent recruiters of college football; money, prestige, and the NFL. Stick with us, this could get interesting. Maybe we’ll even make some proposals that might help fix the problem. We’ll see where this goes. Comment, lament, suggest; this is all about you and your expectations.