It’s the second week of July, and time to begin the annual capabilities reviews. Without a complete picture of the roster, and in particular, a posted Fall Roster on Hokie Sports the first preview will be a review of the cracked schedule and the baseline risk analysis for the season.
Doing Away with Divisions is Not Fixing Things
No one is fooled by the odd maneuvering going on behind the shabby ACC management curtain. The 2023 elimination of the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, and the establishment of round robin multi-year chart of ACC opponents has left the conference with the specter of “no true champion” since in a league of 14 teams, and 12 games there is no possibility of any team actually playing all of the other teams in the full conference. Football is a game won on the field, not in some math formula and computer simulation. Championships are won between champions at lower levels (it’s an ancient combat ‘thing’) but not anymore. It seems championships are determined by jacked around schedules padded with easy peasy cupcake matchups and peer competitions are held to a bare minimum. That offers pollsters, committees, and non-participants the ability to participate, supposedly – anyway.
Wins and losses on the field through fair contests can render disappointing seasons, yes, but they are honest, and used to be acceptable. “Hey, they were the better team last season, but we’ll get ‘em this year!” The refrain is familiar in many different kinds of utterings, but the sentiment is still the same. Actual face to face contests is the point in the exercise of football championships, and the current hodge-podge schedule leaves no true championship for the ACC.
Before 2023 the winner of the Coastal played the winner of the Atlantic. Both of those teams had faced all of their six divisional opponents, plus extra Atlantic crossovers. There were sometimes divisional champions that had lost head-to-head matchups against a lower divisional team, but at least the teams had played each other and others within the division so the ACC record counted significantly and directly.
This season the championship will be largely statistical. That will probably satisfy the ACC Conference fans (all 12 or 13 of them in their ivory towers and fat wallets) but the resulting repeated contests between a very small number of programs for the championship and supposedly automatic bid to the 12-team playoff won’t make too many programs very satisfied. Face it, for nearly the last decade the conference has been dominated by Dabo’s Clemson Tigers, and the only teams consistently coming in a close 2nd have mostly been in the Atlantic division.
Some Coastal teams have bubbled up but without a Coastal championship opportunity, few would consistently make a viable #2. That may or may not last long since Clemson could collapse and some other programs rise to the top for a while, but Dabo Swinney hasn’t decided to go anywhere, and his talent train has been nearly unstoppable. So, given the 2023 realities, who is going to challenge Clemson this season (they presumably have found a QB and Dabo always finds wideouts)? Who is going to grab the available #2 slot in the league’s championship? FSU (Who the Hokies face this season) and Carolina (with Drake Maye and an unknown supporting cast) look like prime candidates. NC State (who Tech plays, too!) might challenge. It’s all going to be determined by statistics at the end of the season.
Fitting Into the ‘Out’ Crowd
Okay, so where does that place the Hokies? The Tech schedule isn’t particularly hard on an objective level – at least if you are just aiming at a winning vs. undefeated championship level season. College football kicks off very early this year. The first active weekend for play is the very first of September, with Tech lining up for an 8:00 PM September 3rd kick against the Sun and Fun Belt’s newer member team and a new nemesis for Tech, Old Dominion University. Tech’s non-conference schedule is disposed of within the first four games of the season, and then, starting with their old Big East rivals the Pittsburgh Painfuls their ACC schedule looks like an eight-game trip through uncertainty and agony.
2023 Hokie Football Schedule
|Old Dominion||Home||3-Sep||8:00 PM|
|Purdue||Home||9-Sep||12:00 PM||Orange Effect - Hall of Fame Inductions|
|Rutgers||Piscataway, NJ||16-Sep||3:30 PM|
|Pitt||Home||30-Sep||TBA||White Effect - Military Appreciation|
|Florida State||Tallahassee, FL||7-Oct||TBA|
|Wake Forest||Home||14-Oct||TBA||Maroon Effect - Homecoming|
|Boston College||Chestnut Hill, MA||11-Nov||TBA|
|North Carolina State||Home||18-Nov||TBA||Senior Night|
Let’s just hover at high altitude for a few paragraphs without doing the deep risk dive that’s coming below. IF (purposeful emphasis, here) Virginia Tech was a healthy decently performing program, the first third of the season should be a challenging but winnable set of contests that result in a 4-0 win/loss record before facing Pitt to open the ACC season.
Non-conference Non-trivial First Third
At first blush, the first four games should be wins. Tech is starting the season on a night game against a near peer program but Tech is at home in Lane Stadium with a new enthusiastic hope filled crowd. Warning: No, ODU is not a joke, it’s a respectable program in the expanded and contentious Sun Belt Conference. They will be a challenge. The Purdue game is going to be a hot one, and I am not talking about the emotional level. It’s the 2nd week in September at noon, and by the 2nd half is likely to be in the mid 80’s, unless it rains. Purdue lost everything including their Head Coach after last season, so Tech stands a better than even chance of picking up the win. The road games to Rutgers and Marshall should also be wins, but neither team will be a push over. Rutgers is the cupcake program of the B1G and Marshall has no QB. There are no guarantees, here. The first 3rd of the season will probably dictate the remainder, though.
The middle third of the season is entirely ACC, and there is zero breathing room. Wake Forest is an unknown quantity and even Syracuse presents an issue though the home atmosphere for both games (Thursday night for ‘Cuse) might help a bit. Frankly, the W/L probabilities for this four-game stretch are pretty low, unless there is some sort of offensive miracle that ignites a 4-0 first third effort. This is the rough patch where we get an idea of how the team will fare in the ACC for the remainder 2023 and 2024. Even losses with demonstrated improvement would offer some hope.
Tech’s final stretch is probably graded as one of the most unfair schedule drubbings of the last several years. There is exactly one home game in the November stretch, and Lane Stadium (North Annex) in Hooville doesn’t count. Tech should have insisted that UVA play the Thanksgiving contest in Blacksburg after last season’s cancellation, but the cheek to do that really doesn’t exist given the tragic circumstances of the 2022 cancellation. In that final stretch, though there are two very winnable contests (BC and the Hoos) and how good NC State is by then will be largely up to fate. The gas saying that the Hoos are better than the Hokies is froth. It’s just a Tony Elliot was a Clemson coach sort of analytical prejudice. UVA football is flat awful and has less talent than we do.
Risk Analysis Time
Let’s talk about the baseline risk chart for the season. There are a few things to remember, here:
- The Risk Ratings for Opponents are directly related to the risk presented by the Hokies.
- There is an indirect relationship we’ll talk about later as the season progresses, though.
- The risk rating for the opponent goes down If the Hokies get better and up if Tech loses.
NOTE: All ratings can be modified or grayed by adding the next level up, i.e., Low/Moderate or subtracting the next level down, i.e., High/Moderate.
Low – Hokies are unlikely to lose the game unless there is something really problematic happening to either side.
Moderate – This is largely an even match up with both teams having a good chance at their levels for winning the contest, but the shading can indicate expected win or loss probabilities.
High – These contests are difficult, often expected losses, and the opponent presents the maximum challenge to Tech. It can only be modified downward with a High/Moderate rating.
The Chart is broken into three sections, just like last year, but the “Probable Wins” section has been renamed to “Should Be Wins.” You will also note that in the “Should Be” pile there is a major footnote caveat. All completed games will be listed by results in the bottom of the chart as they occur.
We will revisit the chart before the Pitt Game, and then again before the Louisville game. Those charts will then be readjusted for residual risks and win odds.
The Hokies’ Base Risk
We haven’t talked about the Risk that we present to our opponents just yet. Right now, we can’t really tell a whole lot because the major problem from last season was the offense in both talent and coaching. We’ve talked about that problem for quite a while so it will stay at very high level for this. But we can say, if the pattern from 2022 repeats into 2023, the status quo will drag the team right back into the same risk territory to our opponents that we presented in 2022; namely – LOW.
The Hokies currently present a LOW/MODERATE risk level to their opponents. There have been a few good additions from the portal, and some weeding in the existing roster that gives the fan base some hope, but until the final whistle of game one is blown, and the Skipper fires signifying the end of a contest, we just won’t be sure of where things will be headed.
2023 Hokie Football Baseline Risk Chart
|Team||Opponent Risk Rating||New Opponent||Odds of Winning||Comment|
|Team||Opponent Risk Rating||New Opponent||Odds of Winning||Comment|
|SHOULD BE WINS|
|Old Dominion||Low/Moderate||No||60/40||Home opener at Lane at night and it is an absolute must win - right out of the gate. Lose this and the firebirds will be screaming for heads.|
|Rutgers**||Low/Moderate||Yes||60/40||Rutgers is flat awful - they rate as a new opponent because Tech only played them in a bowl - rarely. Another must win.|
|Marshall**||Low/Moderate||No||55/45||The Herd is a threat but basically in a severe talent drought in a lower conference. Lose this and season disaster looms.|
|Boston College**||Moderate/Low||No||55/45||Both teams are in the ACC basement for now. Late season contest with BC needing a re-eval for the final four games.|
|Virginia**||Moderate/Low||No||55/45||UVA is a mess and Elliot has not found talent in the portal. The problem will be us and the risk we pose to them for the last game.|
|**These games go to Toss-ups if the ODU game is a struggle - or a loss.|
|Syracuse||Moderate/Low||No||55/45 - 50-50||Babers had a good start and a fade in 2022. Cuse at home is tough. This should be a win - but it is the last mid-season game. Does Tech have an offense by then?|
|Purdue||Moderate/Low||Yes||55/45 - 50/50||They lost everything after a good season. New coach and a middling recent history. B1G program - though. Both need this one badly.|
|Wake Forest||Moderate||No||50/50 - 45/55||Wake could be good or they could be awful - we shall see since this is a mid-season game. Must win for the ACC for both.|
|Louisville||Moderate/High||Yes||45/55 - 50/50||If the Cardinals start well and perform they could drift up to the serious challenge category and high risk. If not, they stay a probable loss toss-up.|
|Pitt||High/Moderate||No||40/60 - 50/50||Pitt in Pitt is tough. Pitt here is disappointing. With Nardo still running things is always a danger to Hokies. Do not see Tech winning this one.|
|North Carolina State||High/Moderate||No||40/60 - 45/55||Home - Senior Night - probably cold - Charlie is still steamed - NC State is going to challenge someone for something in the ACC mish-mash in 2023.|
|Florida State||High||No||30/70||Dead middle of the season and in the Seminole home slaughter pen. Tech would have to be 5-0 to be a threat in this one.|
|Conclusion||5 games that Tech should win, 4 toss ups of various grades and only three scary contests. Current floor - embarassing - again. Current Ceiling 7-5 (with some good luck 8-4).|
Of Floors and Ceilings
From this analysis, we are looking at a one game season. Just kidding, but not really… If the Hokies come out smartly and consistently against ODU, demonstrate a competent offense, and play a solid full game defense, the chart will hold for the first four games. Then we will see how that ends up as the Pitt game rolls around. If Tech struggles against ODU but wins, then the waters get murky and brackish. It will be difficult to tell just how well the non-conference warmups will go, and if any real clarity for game planning and personnel choices will happen. If the Hokies lose the opener to ODU, EVERYTHING changes. Every other game goes up a level in risk and the odds of winning shift toward probable losses. It wouldn’t be the end of the season, but it certainly would be the absolute end of any rational good will left in the fan base. ODU is not an insignificant challenge, but if the offense cannot score points and/or drive and take time off the clock last year’s disaster will come back to haunt the program. Even a competent, average offense is necessary to keep the defense from spending most of the game on the field and getting run over in the 4th quarter.
Suffice it to say, as the chart says, the floor to this season could be embarrassing, again. If Tech can win the first 4 games, it only needs two out of the remaining 8 to be bowl eligible. It’s going to depend greatly on the first one. If the Hokies lose the opener, the hole will be much deeper than it seems. With three radically different quarterbacks, and potentially completely different game plans and styles, that sort of opening would get messy fast. On a positive note, however, if Tech can get to a 4-0 or 3-1 record as the ACC schedule opens, they have a better than even chance of managing a 7- 5 ceiling/5-7 floor. The floor still doesn’t get a bowl bid, but it’s two wins better than 2022. That’s sort of damning with faint praise, but the possibility of ticking off a 7-5 or even 8-4 season with on a 4-0 start is a good thought with which to end this.
Give us your Floor and Ceiling Predictions at Pre-Season 2023:
This poll is closed
Embarrassment looms! The offense was terrible last year and there just isn’t enough movement to make me think that it will be better this season. It’s a crawl space with a mud floor.
It looks like a par season with a lowish floor of 4-8 and a ceiling of 6-6. If the Hokies hit 6-6, I’ll throw confetti and wait to see more improvement in 2024.
There is only up from 2022. Even with a 5-7 floor, an 8-4 ceiling would be gold for everyone. A better bowl, a possible bowl win, and some redemption for the coaching staff and players.
It’s still too early to tell but if Tech loses at home to ODU at night with Lane jumping there should be earthquakes of an entirely different kind.
Next Up? We’ll see. There are three weeks left before practice starts up and we’ve been promised some open sessions for photographs and reporting. That’ll be interesting. So, between then and now, we’ll have to get imaginative.