Tech Tidbits: Talking Preseason Polls Before Preseason Practice

Justin Fuente wants to see preseason polls abolished, and the team find some depth on defense.

[Mark Umansky]

The last time I wrote in this space, I heralded the arrival of the ACC Kickoff, reasoning that it might bring a nightmare offseason for the Hokies to an unofficial close.

Turns out I spoke a bit too soon, and there was yet more attrition on the way in this offseason-to-forget in Blacksburg.

So, let's try this again, shall we? Fall camp is just about to get going, so maybe now, finally, we can get back to the business of position battles and Labor Day countdowns.

The Hokies held a quick press conference today to kick things off, so we get another crack at banishing the offseason demons.

Here we go.

It's Not the Offseason Without Preseason Poll Arguments

Much like last year, Justin Fuente says he didn't vote for his own team in the first preseason coaches' poll — that puts him firmly in the minority among his peers.

Even with all the hits the team's taken this offseason, the coaches saw fit to rank the Hokies 17th overall heading into the year. ESPN's writers were even more generous, putting Tech at 15th to start the year.

It's a classic gruff coach move to not rank your team or to otherwise downplay preseason hype as a motivational tactic, so it's not stunning to see Fuente take this tack once more — when reporters pressed him on why he didn't rank his team again, he joked it was because "I knew I'd be asked about it."

Still, I want to give him credit for being more thoughtful about the issue than simply delivering the old lines about rankings are earned, so on and so forth. Fuente didn't mince words and said he thought preseason polls of all stripes should be abolished.

"We should take the poll after week four," Fuente said. "It should be like the (playoff) committee. Whether we're in it or not in the preseason has no real bearing on our focus."

On this, we certainly agree. I get that preseason polls are a tradition, and that sportswriters need fuel for fiery takes in what's left of the offseason. But preseason rankings have always been and will always be a crapshoot — worse, they tend to color our expectations about for the rest of the season in subtle ways we might not always think about.

If some off-the-radar team isn't ranked to start the season, particularly because they're not Power 5, but they play well to start the year, often they get included toward the bottom of the poll and then have to fight their way up. If a team is ranked to start the year, particularly in the top 10, and then drops a bit due to an early loss (or losses), it's that much easier for them to work their way back up the rankings due to their preseason status.

Getting rid of preseason polls would hardly fix all these problems, but I bet it'd help.

The Hollifield Hype Train

So we've covered one offseason staple in preseason poll talk, so let's move to another: the incoming freshman hype train!

This time around, the subject is LB Dax Hollifield, one of the top recruits in the 2018 class who just so happens to play at a position of need for the Hokies.

We won't know for sure until the pads go on, but the early review are, let's say, positive.

Well, OK then!

It helps Hollifield's case that he's not up against entrenched starters at the position, with the Hokies set to rely on a pair of newbies at both the mike and backer spots this year.

Coming out of the spring, it seemed Foster had pretty much settled on sophomores Rayshard Ashby at mike and Dylan Rivers, once a bigtime recruit in his own right, at backer.

Just because he said something nice about a freshman doesn't mean that will change, especially because Rivers got plenty of good experience on special teams last year, while Foster has praised Ashby's grasp of the defense in the past.

But Bud has said plenty of times before that he isn't married to the idea of certain linebackers being locked into one of the two spots, and that he'd rather play his top two guys. I think most Hokie fans dreamt of seeing a Rivers-Hollifield pairing there someday — maybe that day will arrive sooner than we thought.

Sorting Out the Defensive Depth...Or Lack Thereof

There are plenty of other depth issues to sort out on defense besides the linebackers, and I have to imagine that will be a prime focus of the coaches this fall.

Defensive tackle is naturally the position that comes to mind, considering Cam Goode's sudden departure from the team. Even though he was just a freshman, it was no secret that the coaches viewed him as a guy who could contribute right away and earn some snaps early.

Beyond the starters, the coaches have talked up Jarrod Hewitt plenty, and Xavier Burke should have plenty of familiarity with the defense as a redshirt junior, even if he doesn't have much on-field experience. But after that, things get a little light.

With Debose standing at 6'1", 250, it seems a bit surprising that the coaches would consider moving him inside, but interesting to hear it bandied about nonetheless. It certainly underscores the uncertainty at the position.

Oh, and there's also cornerback to consider. You may have heard there's been some losses there recently.

Crossen made the move to safety fairly quickly upon arriving at Tech, but, for what it's worth, he told me during his recruitment that the Hokies "predominantly" saw him as a corner. If he becomes a viable option there in addition to the top four Foster sketched out, that could be some good news.

But by and large, things are awful bleak at the position. The Hokies basically need Caleb Farley to be everything they thought he'd be more, and to hope that some of these other guys with scattered experience pick things up quickly.

The constant refrain from pundits and fans alike is that Bud can work magic even without much experience, and there's little doubt that's true. Yet, as Fuente himself put it today: "Bud's not gonna make any tackles out there."

I'll leave you with a very important Nickname Update to file away should Patterson make a big catch this year.


Filthy Phil is an awesome nickname...hope to use it a lot this year

Kind of clears up Clay Dean . Saw clips in the spring of him at DT he looked pretty good but was
still listed as OL until the other day .

Coastal 1

TE Chris Cunningham on #Hokies not being on Fuente's preseason coaches poll ballot: "It's sort of like you have to get out of the mud. Earn it the hard way." #Hokies


Yeah, I'd abolish pre-season polls. They're not worth the electrons (or paper, if printed).

You just haven't earned it yet, baby.

Crossen at corner surprised me. He was very solid at free safety this spring. However, he struggled in coverage against other good talents in the NC/SC Shrine Bowl at the corner spot. In man to man, he had a hard time getting out of his backpedal when WRs would curl back in front of him.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Bud talked about Dax at backer. Bud clearly loves Dax, but he also went into great detail about why Dax isn't an ideal fit athletically for that spot. He also didn't dismiss it and challenged other linebackers to study the game and prepare themselves like Dax.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

That's high praise for a T-Freshman in regards to preparation. I'm excited to watch the youth on D develop - talk about a stout and experienced D in a year or two.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

Hill, Walker, Mihota, House
Dax, Rivers, Ashby
Watts, Hunter, Diablo, Floyd, Ladler, Farley, Waller, Quillen

Talent + Bud + Staying healthy, wont be the best VT D of all time but with an improved O they won't have to be. Should be a fun team to watch.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

This. CornFu gets to win us games this year and Bud just has to not lose them. I feel like we can amange that a lot more times than not. Who here thinks the O can average 5 point a game more than LY? I think they can. And if so, I think the LPD can play well enough to win a lot of games.

I thought Tyree Rodgers might be in the mix at CB.

Looked him up on the roster, thought he was slated to wear #2.

Found him at #39. Slipping from #2 jersey to #39 isn't a good sign.

Moved to safety too. Didn't have a good spring game.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

My only issue with polls is that the week 1-4 rankings are factored into the computer rankings for week 4. So, if you are a really good team that isn't ranked initially, you have to be even more impressive than teams that are winning ranked ahead of you in order to move up.

But, the folks who control the flow of information want and need chatter and hype. They also control one of the two polls. The polls aren't going away even though they should not be factored into the computer rankings.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

There's an easy solution to this, right? Put the polls out there to create the "buzz", then simply don't factor them into the computer rankings when they come out.

Is it basketball season yet?


Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

What computer rankings are you talking about?

I think there's a bit of a disconnect there. AFAIK, all of the major computer rankings create a preseason projection, which is then used as a portion of their rankings during the season, generally weighting them less and less as the season progresses and in many cases removing them entirely at a certain point. Sagarin states on his rankings page when this change happens, which is only once all teams become "well-connected" by some metric. I know S&P+ and F+ have a similar system too.

I don't think any of them use any portion of any of the human polls as a part of their calculations.

Whoops. I thought the polls were factored into the Week 4 computer rankings. My bad.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

There's some're not crazy. The old BCS "poll" combined the human polls with computer polls. However, they severely limited the computer poll accuracy by banning them from taking into account the score differential, so barely beating someone was seen just the same as winning by 40. Then at one point they gave the computers less weight because they didn't agree enough with the humans.

Can't figure out why the BCS didn't work out...

Also, I haven't seen Bryce Watts on anyone's list here. I suspected he might be in the mix for substantial playing time.

Is it basketball season yet?

I wish he was a bit longer, but Bud took him out of the spring game at the same time he took Walker out. That is usually a sign that Bud knows what he has in Watts and doesn't want to expose him to unnecessary risk of injury. He wasn't challenged in the passing game. However, he made a very nice tackle in space on a Peoples counter that spilled to Watts.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

It must be almost football time because we're bickering over the existence of preseason polls.

Fact is preseason rankings are extremely good at predicting post-season results as numerous studies have shown. The reason we rag on them is because they are extremely visible, and it's easy to see when they get something wrong, but in classic cognitive bias form, we ignore everything they actually get right. Most advanced stats based prediction modeling actually uses preseason polls in their calculations (538 does a great run-down on this in March Madness season) because they are one of the best available metrics for overall talent in a program as well as compiling subjective analysis from experts in the field (and before you argue that just allows people to be biased, consider that any field that cannot be perfectly quantified (as in all sports) relies on opinions of experienced people in the field, at least until someone comes up with the Grand Unified Theory of Football).

Also, the "haven't earned it" argument is moot, they are predictions, not awards. You can't earn a prediction, it's just a reflection of what someone thinks is going to happen.

Not that any of this matters though, because they are a great form of marketing, and as long as these games get shown on TV we're gonna need rankings to help promote them.

I just get the feeling that Hazelton is going to be a monster and Fuente is trying so hard to keep it on the DL that he can barely contain himself.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

He is fully healthy right? I'm pretty sure he's going to ball out, but missing all that time during the spring has me scared.