So I've seen a LOT of things posted about recruiting in the various threads, about how we're underperforming, our class ranking sucks, how we need to win VA, etc. etc. etc. These are my thoughts on why those metrics don't matter as much as you think and why you should be happy about where our program is right now as well as the steps Fuente is taking. This is a LONG post, but it's couple year's thoughts worth of our program.
To start, I'm going to do a comparison of two programs to illustrate my point. Here are the class ranks for us and Ohio State as the classes I would argue comprise most of the players who took the field in the 2016 season. Yes, I know these are CFB's classes, but I'm using them to illustrate a point. The first is coaching. Beamer took these classes and finished 2015 with a 7-6 record, needing to beat UVA to even be bowl eligible. CJF takes over in 2016 and pretty much adds Jerod Evans, but otherwise has the players that were already on campus when he took over.
Class Virginia Tech Ohio State
2013 | 20 | 3
2014 | 31 | 7
2015 | 25 | 6
CJF took those players and proceeded to win 10 freaking games!!!!
He took us to the conference championship against Clemson (the general consensus as to who we should be competing against). We lost 35-42. And we were knocking on the door at the end of the game. That's a pretty close game against the eventual national champions. How did Ohio State do? Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0. According to all the comments about recruiting, Ohio State should have scored 35 on them and we should have scored 0. In case there's other forgetting, Clemson beat Alabama 35-31, and Alabama had the number 1 recruiting classes from 2013-2015. So we played Clemson close to how the team with the best recruiting classes over that stretch played them. Conclusion, recruiting rankings are one (flawed) indicator of future success - getting better recruits definitely helps, but I argue it's not the predictor of success everyone seems to think it is (after all, how many times have we beat Florida State and Miami teams with 5 star talent all over their side of the field?).
Coaching. SOOOO many of you aren't sold on Fuente and think Cornelson should be gone. Here's the thing, you clearly haven't evaluated what you actually and honestly believe. Given those parameters (Fuente is at best a so-so coach and Cornelson can't coach in P5), that means that you believe that Fuente and Cornelson took the reins of a 7-6 team (that had to win the last game of the season in 2015 to even be bowl eligible), recruited Jerod Evans, who then ignored all coaching and play calling and the team (on offense anyway) played pickup football and was able to win 10 games, going to the conference championship, and coming within a touchdown of tying the conference championship against the eventual national champion. Then, the next year, despite Jerod Evans (inexplicably) trying to go pro and having Josh Jackson at the helm, we proceeded to win 9 games, again, with a quarterback who's biggest criticism from Fuente was that he didn't really prepare for games. So, going back to the parameters, you believe that Josh Jackson was able to play pickup football, while not preparing for games, and we were still able to win 9 games. In the ACC. Some of you (hopefully most of you) are picking up how mind-boggling that is. Also for the record, the last time we'd had a 10-win season was 2011 when we went 11-3.
I know you pessimists are like, "but, but but, what about last year, that PROVES they can't coach!" Wow, listen to you guys. Last year sucked (losing absolutely sucks), there is no denying it. But let's take a closer look at last year. Josh Jackson was the starting QB. Josh Jackson is at best a serviceable QB. Then he got hurt. In steps Ryan Willis. Ryan Willis is, in my opinion, better than Josh Jackson, but still not great. I think he did a decent job in the ACC. And that's with a highly suspect O-line and not good run game. Oh, and the defense. Our defense was bad. Like REALLY bad. But I don't blame Bud Foster. People said things like Bud gets a pass because of him being Bud. Damn skippy he gets a pass, but not because he's Bud. Let's take a closer look at the defense last year, by first looking at the end of 2017. Tim Settle left – that hurt, and it probably would have helped his draft placement had he come back for one more year, and doubt the coaches would have thought he'd go pro. Then the Edmundi went. I think the clear expectation was one of them would leave, but Tremaine was only 19 and the coaching staff probably thought he'd be around another year (at least leading into that year). Then the coaches knew they needed help at CB, so they picked up Jeremy Webb, who promptly tore his Achilles right before the season started. Adonis Alexander wasn't able to return to the team because of academics and entered the supplemental draft. Then Mook Reynolds got arrested on a drug related charge and was dismissed. That is a LOT of players on defense we were counting on being around. If I'm not mistaken, we had 5 true or redshirt freshmen starting on defense last year. To put that in perspective, when Kendal Fuller started, I remember hearing how Tech very rarely started freshmen. Let alone 5 on just one side of the ball. Then I heard people say things throughout the season like "at some point lack of experience isn't an excuse anymore." A little outdated now, but I'm wondering if it's the 3rd or 4th game in that gives you YEARS of experience? And there's a reason why, despite TONS of freshman talent each year and multiple first round draft picks, Duke and Kentucky don't win a national championship every year. Experience usually beats athleticism and potential. So another question for last year's team is, considering how bad some of you think Fuente and Cornelson are – who exactly COULD have won more games with that many freshmen starting (from a defensive perspective, but also with only a decent QB below average run game)? I'd put large sums of money on nobody. Then there's the offense from last year, but how it relates to defense. I think one of the things that people don't consider is the strategy to keep a defense off the field. And that is to win time of possession. I think Fuente and Cornelson spent a lot of time trying to keep our defense off the field, the challenge being we weren't really good enough to pick up the 3 or 4 yards at a time and extend a drive. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing some of the play calling that people didn't like from last year was to try to extend drives as long as possible. The saddest thing in my book is that had last season been Fuente's first season here, nobody would have batted an eye. It would have been a continuation of what Beamer had left us with, but we would have given a new coach some leeway on rebuilding the program. The thing is, we weren't even really seeing the rebuild until last year.
That leads us to this year. Specifically, the first four games. I think a couple things happened that I haven't seen covered (or bear additional explanation, or at least guesses). One of the first is that our O-line has multiple freshmen, and they needed reps. The other is that I'd read something that sounded like the staff honestly thought Brock Hoffman would get his waiver to play immediately (effing NCAA and their arbitrary rule enforcement and changing reasons why you can't play). So some of the first game or two may have been switching someone else in on the O-line. Then Fuente started playing HH, the 0-line was playing well, and our D really started performing. People still questioned Cornelson's play calling. Pittsburgh was played in the rain, you don't want to call a pass plays when long yardage is needed and the ball can slip out. Plus our D was really holding them. That's absolutely the type of really conservative play calling I can get behind. Notre Dame I think people wanted QP to air the ball out more, but go back and watch his HS footage. He was, without a doubt, a run-first QB. I think he CAN throw the ball, but he's probably, at least at this point in his career (which is VERY young) still much more comfortable running the ball than he is throwing, especially under a pass-rush. Let's all reflect on some VT history, specifically when Logan Thomas was QB. Remember that play where he was on the 20 and tried to force the play and threw the interception? Of course you do, because that wasn't one play, that happened a LOT. If the coaches call plays so HH can lead the offense down the field and score without trying to force things and turn the ball over, I'm okay with that. Also, we would have won the Notre Dame game if 2 things hadn't happened. One is the refs (WTF were those calls all about???). The other is if HH had started. Convince me I'm wrong.
Next, the single biggest stat I hear about anticipated success for the next year is returning starters. We have TWENTY-ONE freaking people who will return! (theoretically). Who else returns 21 starters from a team that won 8 games and bitches as much as some of our fans????? Considering we were improving throughout the season, I'm really excited about next year!!! And if nobody goes pro at the end of NEXT year, we'd have 12 starters (from this year) that could play the following year!!!!! Considering 12 starters are what some teams get back on a team in any year and we could have 12 come back for the next two years, that looks a lot like what I'd call continuity! And if you go to the two-deep, there's 41 that come back next year and even another 12 that would be coming back in 2 years (yeah, that's 24 total that would come back in 2 years). That should have people freaking salivating at our prospects for next year!
Another issue is recruiting. "This year's class is horrible, we can't win championships with a class ranked in the 70's." Calm down champion, we have 5 seniors on the team. Even if we got the top 5 players in the country, the classes are based on total points, not average points, so we'd still have a worse ranked class than someone who had twenty 4-stars. And we've been picking up ju-co players that are graded separately, and don't factor into the class rankings. Let's look at recruiting in general, especially on offense, since those are the new coaches. We have freaking 4-star recruits on the O-line! Remember when our main source of O-line talent was the D-line? I sure do. And think back to to all the times we complained about the O-line. We're getting some serious talent there, and I think they're one of the big reasons McClease has done better this year. McClease really needs a hole, otherwise he runs up to the line, stops, does that little shoulder wobble thing that he thinks will confuse defenders, but really just signals that he's about to be tackled. But Keshawn King! Wow, he looks the kind of back we've been missing since (insert name of one of our many awesome backs of the past) (especially when he adds weight, don't forget he came in at 182!!!). He is the kind of back that can keep busted plays alive and make something out of not much. And Tahj Gary even looked good in the limited touches he got (and he was coming off an injury last year). And we just picked up Herbert, who looks solid. QBs – we've picked up Hooker and Patterson, as well as several transfers. And I have a good feeling about Knox Kadum (but we'll see). We have some serious QB talent on the roster. And look at our receivers! Tre Turner!!!! Damon Hazleton (a transfer, so again, didn't factor into any of our incoming classes). Robinson, who has brought what we've been missing in the return game! And that's just our big names. Tight ends, holy crap, we've got those!!! Keene and Mitchell are beasts! That's a lot of talent on the offense! Defense is a different story. As I mentioned, it's a young team. I'd go more into who I'm excited about, but it'll be interesting to see how Hamilton shakes things up. Pollard is a freshman and he really seemed to hit his stride late in the season. Let's hope Caleb Farley comes back! There's a lot of other guys I like on defense and hopefully they'll stick around. From everything I've seen and heard, the players really like Hamilton, we just have to see how the players match his scheme (and hopefully he keeps the talent we've got that's been effective which I'd think he'd do until he can recruit the type of players he wants).
So another issue people have with the coaching staff is player turnover. This one is easy. The first part is, if you didn't see it, go find the article on how some players wanted to lose at the end of last season so they didn't have to go to a bowl game. As an ex-athlete who always wanted to be better, I absolutely would want every practice I could get to get better. I'm glad anybody involved in that nonsense is most likely gone. The other thing is that the staff probably sat down with some players and let them know, whether because of talent or work ethic (or both), they probably wouldn't get much playing time. So they left. And according to the (I think) Roanoke Times that kept up to date throughout the year on how all the transfers performed (the ones who left and were grad transfers or at the end of 2017 that are eligible to play), none of them really did much. So, guess what, I don't care much that they transferred away.
QB play and play calling. I already covered some of this above, but wanted to address some specific issues related to QBs. I really took notice of something Fuente said, I think it was early this year. He pointed out that QBs can be really hard to evaluate. So I looked into it. At first I searched on QB draft busts. But then I realized that if you just look at draft busts, a LOT of them, probably most of them, are all QBs. So if NFL talent scouts can't get it right, I'm willing to forgive our coaches in their recruitment and selections of QBs. Hooker is only a RS/SO! He played really well and I'm excited to see him back. But my main point is that we had Josh Jackson left over from Beamer, and Willis served admirably as we recruited other QBs. I think we have tons of talent at the position and are really well set up for the future and should have some great production coming!
General thoughts. Basically, I was frustrated last year like so many of you, but saw the flashes that gave me hope for the future (who else can say Tre Turner!). I put a lot of stock in the performance of Fuente's first 2 years and am greatly encouraged by the influx of talent across the offense. I'm (somewhat cautiously) optimistic about the Hamilton hire and how we'll perform there. There have also been things that Fuente has said that makes me believe that something incredible would have to come along to take him away from Tech. I think he has really, honestly embraced the family atmosphere that Tech has. People talk about the SEC all the time and how much you get paid, but unless you succeed like RIGHT NOW in the SEC, you probably won't have a job for long, so why take a job at someplace like Arkansas when Tech has a lot to offer. We were one game away from the Coastal again, and considering how many returning players we have and talent on offense, I believe we're in a very good position to play in the conference championship next year and, assuming the defense comes along, I honestly believe that playing for a natty is possible within a few more years (not next year!). Basically, I think last year was our big rebuild, but Foster leaving might create another rebuild in a year as Hamilton builds the defense he wants, but overall, I'm extremely optimistic about the future of the program, hope some of my thoughts have built some hope amongst the other Hokie faithful out there!
I'd love to hear your thoughts!