Sons of Season Predictions
One month to kickoff!
It has been a long and winding road to get to the start of the 2021 season. However, we are now just a month away from the Hokies starting their 2021 campaign with their first game against UNC on September 3rd.
It is no secret that this season is pivotal for Justin Fuente and his coaching staff, as well as the program as a whole. In year six Fuente's hot seat meter is blistering hot in the national media as well as locally with the majority of the fanbase on edge. You will hear this over the course of the next 4 weeks and beyond, but this season is "make-or-break" for Fuente. Most believe that anything less than 8 wins would result in his removal.
Thankfully, it is almost time to put away speculation and start dealing with actual results. These results, which are nearly impossible to predict these days in the Hokie program, were thought long and hard about when composing our season predictions. The outcome? Our Scribes of Saturday season predictions. As expected, they varied wildly. Enjoy!
Scibes of Saturday Season Predictions
Adam Rothe - Record: 5-7
This is a do-or-die season for Justin Fuente and his staff. If you look around, most odds makers are setting the Virginia Tech win total at over/under 7.5, with 7 total wins being a very popular selection. This makes my prediction fall on the more pessimistic end of the possible win/loss spectrum. The main reason for my choice is Fuente's inability to consistently produce results week after week. Improved recruiting is great, but the only thing that matters is results on the field, and winning cures all. All Hokie fans know that at some point this season Tech will be beaten by a team that should not beat them. Will it be Richmond? Syracuse? Duke? All those teams should be easy wins for the Hokies, but we've seen year after year "easy wins" turn into horrible losses, such as Old Dominion 2018, Duke 2019, and Wake Forest 2020. It also doesn't help that the Hokies lost two of their three best offensive players in the off-season, with QB Hendon Hooker transferring to Tennessee and RB Khalil Herbert being drafted by the Chicago Bears. This leaves many questions for Braxton Burmeister, the unproven QB transfer from Oregon, whose performances ran the gambit when on the field last year. Thankfully, the Hokies still have a potential First-Team All-ACC Tight End with James Mitchell, and more depth at the Wide Receiver position then they've had in a while, but many questions remain.
The one area of the field that Hokie fans are hoping for vast improvement is the defense. Justin Hamilton's defense should be much improved with a few key pieces returning along with the ability to have a full offseason program. The expectations are much higher than last year for Hamilton and his staff, so failure to produce results on the defensive end of the ball could be catastrophic for this Hokie team that's trying to bounce back. At the end of the day, there's a world where the Hokies are 2-3 after their first five games with Justin Fuente potentially getting the axe at that time, and there's also a world where the Hokies are 4-1 or 5-0, but if history has taught us anything about this staff it's that it will lean towards the first option. I have been burned too many times by Fuente to give them a winning record this season. My 5-7 prediction includes losses to UNC, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Miami, and one team we don't expect. Hopefully I'm wrong.
Mike McDaniel - Record: 8-4
This will undoubtedly be a popular statement, but it's "put up or shut up" time for Justin Fuente and the Hokies. It has been an up-and-down last few years for the program, and it's hard to imagine Fuente and his staff surviving another sub-par season on the field. Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the Isi Etute murder investigation, which is in no way a reflection of the coaching staff, it has been a pretty strong offseason for the Hokies following a COVID-riddled 5-6 record in 2020. Co-defensive line coach Darryl Tapp left the program to head to the NFL, but was quickly replaced by noted VT alum and DC metro recruiter J.C. Price, who was most recently an assistant at Marshall. Price has immediately meshed with the staff and has been one of many recruiters responsible for the improved summer on the trail. Despite some wins in recruiting this summer, the fate of this staff rides on an improved on-field product this fall. September could make-or-break the campaign, as the Hokies host three of their first four opponents at home, highlighted by a marquee season-opener against Coastal Division favorite North Carolina on Labor Day weekend, and a trip to Morgantown to face-off against long-time rival West Virginia in the middle of the month.
The Hokies begin October against 2020 College Football Playoff participant Notre Dame before finishing with seven straight conference games, with four of those coming on the road. If the Hokies can make it through September with three wins or better against North Carolina, Middle Tennessee, West Virginia, and Richmond, I really like how this schedule sets up for Tech the rest of the way. Despite having to play Notre Dame and going on the road to Miami, some of Tech's toughest conference games are at home in October and November. I think an optimist can look at this schedule and see the Hokies going 9-3, because don't get it twisted, there's plenty of starting talent remaining on this roster. However, I think anything between six wins and eight wins is most likely, with nine wins being an unbelievably strong year and less than six wins being an unmitigated disaster. If the Hokies win seven games or less, it's most likely due to an injury to quarterback Braxton Burmeister, or lack of health on the offensive and defensive lines. Depth is a problem at those three positions that absolutely needs to be addressed, but if the Hokies can weather the storm with existing depth issues in 2021, there could be reasons to be optimistic moving forward as a program, despite all of the negativity and issues surrounding the team over the last few years. As for those wondering who I believe Tech will lose to, my best guess is at home against North Carolina, at home against Notre Dame, on the road on a short week against Boston College, and on the road against Miami in November. I think the Hokies will beat West Virginia in Morgantown, which could have a significant impact on Fuente's future in regard to older donors. Do not underestimate the impact of that football game (win or lose) to the optics of Fuente among high-ranking officials associated with the football program.
Chris Himes - Record: 9-3
There are usually two approaches to projecting a team’s final record. One is going week-by-week in a line item fashion based on the matchup. The other is to assess the team’s aggregate level of returning production and historical performance. I tend to go with the latter approach since there are usually too many variables to consider as you zoom into each week, which begs the follow-up question. Given the veritable roller coaster that has been Virginia Tech’s football program over the last 5 seasons, what can Hokie fans realistically expect from a team led by Justin Fuente in 2021?
Well, I think we can at least agree that the 2018 and 2020 seasons were both weird. Debilitating injuries, toxicity within the locker room, and a very young depth chart all played a significant role in the team going 6-7 in 2018. And if you look at 2020, COVID played a huge reason in the staff’s inability to implement a new defensive scheme or conduct any resemblance of a traditional fall camp due to COVID protocols, meaning the team played last season with very little schematic foundation or continuity which resulted in a 5-6 season, that if you projected a full schedule (they only played 11 games), it probably would have led to a 6-7 record had VT played all 13 games. Don’t get me wrong, both of those outcomes are terrible… but also informative. Why?
Because even when the season was awful, the floor of a Justin Fuente led team seems to be around 6 wins.
Now for the bright side. In the other three seasons (2016, 2017, and 2019), the team won 10, 9, and 8 games respectively. So for me, I would compare the 2021 Hokies to those outcomes since there is stability going into the season among the staff and at QB, the position groups have a solid amount of talent at each level, and they finally had a “normal” offseason in terms of camp and getting their players some much needed reps.
Meaning, the 2021 version of the Hokies will probably be better than 2019, especially with the improvement across the offensive and defensive lines, so if the team stays healthy, they should be pretty good all things considered. So the real potential of this roster likely falls somewhere in between the 2016 and 2017 seasons which has me predicting at least a solid 9 win season, with some big wins early, some frustrating road losses late, and a strong finish that has Tech in contention for another ACC Championship appearance.
Evan Norris - Record: 8-4
It would be an understatement to say that this upcoming season for the Virginia Tech Hokies may be the most important of ones in recent years. Not only because of the pressure being imposed by the fanbase upon the coaching staff, but because of the repercussions that a flop of a season could mean for the program. There is no secret that a bad showing by Fuente and company this season will most likely lead to the exit of the current head coach. However, from what I have seen from Fuente in the past, when his back is against the wall, is that he wins. A couple of situations I can think of off the top of my head in terms of the team fighting out of the corner are the Miami game during the 2019 season and the Virginia during the 2018 season. In both situations, the Hokies needed a win and pulled it out despite heavy criticism and doubts from outsiders. This semblance to be able to never fully fall down is why I have the Hokies at the 8-4 mark.
I think the schedule holds a lot of obstacles such as UNC (Week 1), WVU on the Road (Week 3), Notre Dame (Week 6), and having back-to-back road trips to end the season against Miami and UVA (Week 11/12). I think the Hokies this season, with a full spring and summer camp to prepare, can compile a complete unit both offensively and defensively. And with talks of a much improved defense, I can see the Hokies pulling in 8 to 9 wins in the 2021 season with losses possibly coming from some combination of UNC, Notre Dame, Boston College, and Miami. If the season goes according to plan, I can see huge things happening for the Hokies in the 2022 season with a manageable schedule and lots of talent returning.
Grant Mitchell - Record: 8-4
Listen, the Justin Fuente regime has not risen to the heights that Frank Beamer's did, though nobody should have seriously expected that; looking around sports as a whole, it is nearly impossible to find a scenario in which a legendary coach has stepped out and he has been immediately replaced by an equal. With that being said, the current crew has changed its focus on the recruiting path, lost touch with the fan base, and most importantly, lost more games than they were supposed to after Fuente was hired. This has led to the program's reputation and prestige diminishing in recent times, especially with the legendary Bowl streak coming to an end.
For as many negatives as there are and have been in recent years, the Hokies have a talented group of players; the losses of recent NFL draft picks have not been entirely filled, but they have serviceable replacements, if nothing else. VT also has some of the best positional players in the entire ACC and their starters are sound across the board; where they could run into trouble is with their depth, which is shaky at best. The staff has secured a few impressive commitments over the summer, though they are still a year away from arriving.
Tech's upcoming schedule is very favorable, especially when considering what it could have been— a late-season road trip will prove to be the toughest stretch of games, though they are mostly against beatable opponents, while the "tough games"— vs UNC, at West Virginia, vs Notre Dame— are against programs that are in the lower tier of the contenders.
Now that the Hokies will not be seriously set back by COVID positives and protocols that forced them to have one of the worst training camps imaginable, look for them to restore faith amongst fans as they win a decent amount of games and continue to bolster their future talent.