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Sons of Scientific Facts: Virginia Tech is a Top 20 College Football Program

By The Elder Scribe | November 16
Sons of Scientific Facts: Virginia Tech is a Top 20 College Football Program

Historical precedent.

Regional talent.

Leadership Stability.

Strong Fanbase.

Weak Conference.

Funding & Growth.

With Virginia Tech announcing this morning that Justin Fuente will no longer be leading the Hokies, my thought process went in a different direction than wondering who will become the next head coach.

Instead, my question was... “How attractive is the Head Coaching job at Virginia Tech?”

Well, I’m here to finally (and comprehensively) answer that question once and for all with an emphatic statement:

Virginia Tech is absolutely and unequivocally, a Top 20 college football program.

Common metrics utilized to rank the Top 25 college football programs often rely on assessing "total value" or in other words, funding, which usually leaves out the other important elements that comprise a college football program, such as the ones listed above. So for some added perspective, based on the complete list of variables, here is what a better assessment of the top programs in college football looks like (in no particular order):

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. Alabama
4. Notre Dame
5. LSU
6. Georgia
7. Penn State
8. Texas
9. Auburn
10. Oklahoma
11. Florida
12. Clemson
13. Texas A&M
14. Tennessee
15. Nebraska
16. Florida State
17. Southern Cal
18. Miami
19. Oregon
20. Virginia Tech


Rounding out the rest of the Top 25, the remaining list looks something like this:

21. Wisconsin
22. Michigan State
23. Iowa
24. Washington
25. Arkansas

Now many would argue that Virginia Tech isn't on the same level as Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Washington, and Arkansas... and I agree.

Virginia Tech is better.

But why?

Well, it boils down to the explanation of how Virginia Tech performs in each category.

1. Historical Precedent

Frank beamer celebrating

Most fans only recognize Virginia Tech as a relevant football program from the Frank Beamer era, where VT’s rise to the top of the college football ranks came from Beamer’s vision of sustaining a lunch pail style of defense, special teams touchdowns, Virginia-based roster talent, and dynamic playmakers in all three phases of the game.

Furthermore, most fans would consider Tech’s run from 1995-2011 as its “peak years”, meaning the program didn’t exist beforehand, nor has it afterward.

Well, what if I told you that VT among all Power 5 FBS programs ranks 17th all-time in wins, with 756 wins out of 1293 total games, making it one of the Top 20 winningest programs in P5 college football history (factoring out the Ivy League and Division III programs).

That’s ahead of other major programs such as Washington, Florida, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota, who are the closest runners-up.

Also, from 2004-11, Virginia Tech rattled of 8 STRAIGHT seasons of 10+ wins, which makes them one of the Top 5 teams OF ALL TIME to achieve that level of sustained success:

1. Florida State: 1987 to 2000 – 14

2. Alabama: 2008 to 2020 – 13 (soon to be 14)

3. Clemson: 2011 to 2020 – 10 (soon to be 11?)

4. Texas: 2001 to 2009 – 9

5. (Tie) Virginia Tech: 2004 to 2011 – 8

5. (Tie) Miami (FL): 1985 to 1992 – 8

I don’t know about you but being one of the winningest programs in college football history, both historically and in the modern era, leads me to believe that Virginia Tech is a serious college football program, and one of the best to ever do it.

2. Regional Talent

VHSL

What sets most programs apart from each other is where a particular university is geographically located, and how that impacts them in terms of its surrounding regional high school football talent for one obvious reason… Easy access to high-caliber football talent is the foundation of any competent football program.

Just ask Nick Saban, who made the move from Michigan State to Louisiana State before the 2000 season, stating:

“One of the reasons that I was even interested in the LSU job when I was at Michigan State was Bill Belichick made us do, when I was working at the Browns, we had to do a ‘Where are all the players in the NFL from?’ Not where they went to school, but where are they from?... Louisiana was first in per capita players playing in the NFL”

— Nick Saban, Hey Coach & the Nick Saban Show

Now Virginia isn’t on par with Louisiana in terms of high school football, or any of the other prominent recruiting regions such as Texas, California, Florida, or Ohio, but historically it’s been solid.

In fact, according to Pro Football Reference, Virginia ranks 14th in terms of producing NFL talent with 641 total players. However, that trend has increased considering Virginia is now 11th in terms of producing ACTIVE NFL talent, with 89 players currently tracked on an NFL roster.

Keep in mind that Virginia ranks 12th in terms of its total population, which is only forecasted to increase over the next 10 years, along with its growing neighbor to the south, North Carolina, which is another fertile recruiting ground (9th in Active NFL talent) and you can argue that Virginia Tech sits in the middle of a healthy region for producing high school football talent.

Lastly, you must consider the level of competition for said football talent.

Clemson, Penn State, Tennessee, and UNC are probably thought of as VT’s primary regional recruiting competition, as those schools are all historically relevant and financially motivated to be College Football Playoff caliber programs.

But from that group, it’s important to note that Virginia Tech has no direct in-state recruiting competition, and only Penn State and UNC are somewhat closer in proximity to two of Virginia’s best high school football regions (Penn State to NOVA and UNC to the 757), but Virginia Tech enjoys equal access to each location.

And what about funding?

Well, as of the 2019-20 football season, Virginia Tech ranks 15th overall in football recruiting expenditures ($847,964). The number one team in football recruiting expenses was the University of Georgia who spent $2.7 million.

If you think about it, a $1.8 million gap between the most elite recruiting program in the nation and Virginia Tech isn't that big, but even if VT invested a more modest increase, say $500k more, Virginia Tech would be in the Top 5 of all college football programs in terms of recruiting expenditures.

So regardless of how you may assess the current state of Virginia Tech football recruiting, it is difficult to argue with the fact that the Hokies enjoy a natural regional talent advantage, no legitimate in-state football rival, limited out-of-state regional competition, and the financial means to invest more into recruiting as a program, meaning there is potential for Virginia Tech to dominate in-state recruiting.

3. Stability

Whit babcock

It would be easy to point at the 29-year tenure of Frank Beamer or even the 6-year Justin Fuente era, that was defined by his consistent "hot seat" status since the 2018 season, as evidence that Virginia Tech offers a relatively high amount of stability for its coaching staff, seeing as Fuente's performance would have likely earned him a pink slip at any other major program.

But for me, Virginia Tech’s stability is its strength more than weakness and reflects well on the current boss of the Athletic Department, Whit Babcock.

And why does that matter?

Because good coaching candidates want to work for good bosses, and Whit Babcock is a good boss.

Just take one look back to last December’s infamous news conference as evidence.

Leading up to that moment, from all accounts both in and outside of the Athletic Department, Whit’s decision to move on from Justin Fuente was all but made leading up to his hour-long press conference on December 15th, 2020… until it wasn’t.

The fallout from that moment still resonates, where countless hot takes among the VT fanbase have continually crushed Whit Babcock for being a bad AD; however, none of them seemed to capture the most important part… Whit Babcock did his job.

And while there may have been a few reasons for why a change didn’t occur at that moment, the VT fanbase won't ever really know why because Whit Babcock is a good company man, fell on the sword, empowered his coach, and deflected criticism away from the Board of Visitors and University President. Which is a HUGE part of his job as AD.

This is chess, not checkers.

So, while many fans were piling on criticisms, the coaching world took notice, especially coaching agents.

The takeaway from their perspective was simple… Virginia Tech is a stable job and Whit Babcock makes decisions based on several factors, not just near-term wins and losses.

Knowing that my job performance wasn’t always one quick programmatic downturn away from impacting my job status would be in my decision-making process as a potential new coach for Virginia Tech, and I would have to believe that any serious candidate feels the same.

4. Fanbase

Fansatlane

This one needs no real explanation to Hokie Nation... Virginia Tech fans show up, regardless of the circumstance.

Just look as recently 2019.

Given the somewhat down year, Virginia Tech averaged 58,293 fans per game out of Lane Stadium’s total capacity of 66,233.

And remember, this was Year 4 of Justin Fuente where there was a swell among the fanbase following a disastrous 2018 season that had the team starting 2-2, to include a lackluster home performance against Furman and the absolute dumpster fire that was the 45-10 home loss to Duke.

Most fan bases would have given up, but Hokie Nation didn’t.

VT’s average of 58,293 fans in 2019 (its lowest in the expansion era of Lane Stadium) still ranked them 24th in attendance. But importantly, if you consider the capacity of Lane Stadium (Top 30 capacity in all of college football by the way), Virginia Tech was 88% full that season for every game, which was Top 20 in terms of attendance in 2019.

Every other year the percentage has only been higher.

Most fanbases, especially those flashier neighbors to the south (looking at you UNC), will never approach the capacity and percentage of Virginia Tech's devoted fan support, and it is a major component of why VT should be considered a top national program.

Also, the team’s entrance is pretty cool too.

5. Weak Conference

Self-explanatory. The ACC stinks and Virginia Tech should consistently win 10+ games a season.

6. Funding & Growth

Funding support is probably one of the toughest measurements for any college football program, mostly because assessing a particular team's total revenue or expenses never really captures the full reason for their successes (or failures).

So, when looking at the landscape of college football financials, it is important to remember a few caveats:

1. Conference media deals are more likely to financially elevate a sub-par program, especially in the SEC and BIG10.

2. Football-related expenditures do not always translate to on-field success, but it does increase the likelihood of success.

I feel like the first point is self-explanatory and is a big constraint for Virginia Tech, at least from a national perspective, whose affiliation with the ACC and its small private basketball-oriented programs means the big TV money will never really be available to the Hokies.

But, this leads to the second point which is even easier to explain.

In 2019-20, Florida State was the highest spending football program, dropping over $67 million on football, which was the highest in the nation and roughly $10 million more than second-place Alabama.

Some of the other programs burning through huge piles of cash with limited success were:

#7. Michigan State - $48.8 million

#12. Ole Miss - $44.3 million

#13. Arkansas - $43.5 million

So if you think about it, that’s only four teams out of the Top 20 that had a 7-6 record or worse. So spending does correlate to winning right?

Well, yes and no.

For the record, Virginia Tech came in at #23 in the rankings (which is probably more like #30 considering private schools aren't included) at $34.2 million, which if you factor in the Athletic Department’s total budget, that’s a serious commitment of Tech’s finances being spent on football.

Also, with the newly installed Reach for Excellence campaign that has the stated goal of raising $30 million over time for the Football Enhancement Fund, it would seem that Virginia Tech understands that you have to pay to achieve on-field success.

However, it’s not just HOW much you can pay a coach, but WHO you pay that is so critical to a team’s success.

Why do you ask?

Because while Nick Saban and his staff may be worth the $18.6 million to coach the Crimson Tide, Mike Norvell and his staff are probably NOT worth the $13.1 million to coach the Seminoles.

And among the coaching compensation ranks, Virginia Tech is currently 39th overall in terms of Coaching Staff Compensation. While that is not good, the difference between Virginia Tech and the #15 overall team, Florida who spends $12.9 million for Dan Mullen and his coaching staff, is only $4.4 million.

The takeaway is, you don't need to pay a ton for the number one coaching name in college football to be a great program, but you do need to compensate a good coach who can hire a great staff and pay them accordingly, which is a cheaper value proposition and one that Virginia Tech is capable of achieving.

So, the good news is, with an already strong commitment to funding football, both now and into the future, Virginia Tech recognizes the need to fund additional funding for better coaching and recruiting, and that additional funding isn't the massive obstacle as most fans would lead you to believe.

CFB MONEY

Putting it all together, Virginia Tech as a football program has a:

1. Top 15 Winning Pedigree

2. Top 15 Recruiting Region

3. Top 20 Fanbase Support

4. Top 30 Football Budget (with growth potential to the Top 20)

5. Easy Conference

6. Stable Leadership

Adding some weight for the more subjective Conference and Leadership elements, Virginia Tech is easily considered a Top 20 college football program, and any fan believing otherwise has been paying WAY too much attention to the micro-level issues and completely missing the forest for the trees.

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