What Does "Being Back" Mean Exactly?
If you consume college football on a consistent basis, you will no doubt have heard the “Are they back?” thrown around by media and the Twitter-machine like a lacrosse ball in warmups after a team that, at one point was superior for a period of time, wins a few games in a row. However, each year whichever team was declared “back” normally loses in disastrous fashion to a lesser opponent, thus quelling their return to greatness.
But what does “being back” mean exactly? Does it mean a return to winning national championships? Simply contending for national championships? Winning conference titles? Or just winning a consistent amount of games? This depends on the team and what should be reasonably expected of them before being declared “back.”
For this article I decided to look at three teams that have been desperately trying to be “back” for the last decade or longer. These are Miami, Texas, and, because this is a Hokie website, Virginia Tech. At the end of each school’s section I will decide what exactly makes sense to declare the school “back” to greatness.
Miami Hurricanes (The U)
There can be no conversation about teams that have been declared “back” without Miami. The U is probably the most overrated team every single year since about 2005. Without fail they seem to mysteriously appear in the pre-season top 15 every year before getting the doors blown off and unraveling by week 6.
The media adores the U. And there is a lot to love from broadcasting standpoint. Diamond chains, yacht parties, and NFL Hall of Fame alumni are just a few of the things to entice reporters to slurp the U each year. But why do people declare the U “back” each time they win a few games and climb up the polls?
From 1983 to 2005 the U went on a legendary tear that catapulted them into the stratosphere. In that span they failed to win less than 10 games just nine times, and out of those nine sub-10 win years, the U won nine games in six of them. Meaning, they won less than nine games in only three (!!) years during that 22-year run. Absolutely unreal. Success, naturally, followed. The U won the National Championship in 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, and 2001. They were a national finalist (remember this is before the playoff began) in 1985, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1994, and 2002. To go along with five National Championships, the U had one of the longest win streaks in history. Miami won 39 (!!) consecutive regular season games before having it snapped by Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium on November 1, 2003 when the #10 Hokies dismantled #2 Miami 31-7.
Since 2005, the U has been pedestrian. They have only managed one 10-win season, which was in 2017. For most of the last decade and few years prior Miami has wallowed in six to seven-win purgatory. Just eking out a bowl game each season.
Could 2020 be different? If there is anything this hellscape of a year as taught us it’s that anything can happen. Going into their gigantic matchup with #1 Clemson this weekend, the U is 3-0 and they’re the #7 ranked team in America. This is already their third time being on ESPN’s College GameDay this season. If they can pull out a win the U could be well on their way to returning to the national championship picture.
When the U will be “back”: They consistently challenge for and win national championships
A close runner-up to the overhyped train of Miami is the University of Texas. They want to be “back” more than anyone. Football in Texas is a religion. One might argue that it’s actually bigger than a religion. Only a few other places around the country can get 30,000 fans to a high school state championship game.
What have the Longhorns done in the past decade? The answer is… not much. From 2010 to 2019 they only had a season with 10+ wins one time. Similarly, they didn’t win the Big 12 once in that time span.
That’s a night-and-day change from where Texas was from 2001-2009. Over that time span, they won 10+ games a year each year. This includes 11 wins in ’01, ’02, and ’04; 12 wins in ’08; and 13 wins in ’05 and ’09. Similarly, to Miami, this led to many trophies. The Longhorns won the Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl (twice), and the Fiesta Bowl. Along with capturing the Big 12 championship in both 2005 and 2009.
Speaking of 2005, this was the best year in Texas Longhorn history since 1970. Texas QB Vince Young took the college football world by storm that year. He carried the Longhorns all the way to the National Championship game against back-to-back champions in the USC Trojans. What appeared on the field ended up being potentially the greatest college football game of all-time. The teams went blow for blow with Vince Young running wild and leading the Longhorns to a historic victory.
Those heights are what Texas fans have been begging for over the past 10 years. 2020 was looking like yet another year that Texas was on its way to being declared “back”… and then along came unranked TCU in week 3. #9 Texas lost 33-31 and dropped to #22 in the rankings. There is still plenty of time to climb back up the rankings, but TCU provided a blow to a team that is so desperate to get back to their former glory.
When Texas be “back”: They consistently compete for and win the Big 12 championship
Let me begin the Hokie section with this statement: The Hokies going to the 2000 Sugar Bowl BCS National Championship game is an outlier.
Virginia Tech is nowhere near competing for a national championship in 2020. They are miles away from where Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State are. One could argue that the last time the Hokies were even potential contenders was in 2010 with Tyrod Taylor. That team was a dark horse for the national championship, but we all know the story. Back-to-back losses to start the season before winning 11 straight games which included an ACC Championship. If those opening losses didn’t occur, who knows what could’ve been. This is all to say that being “back” for the Hokies does not mean returning to the national championship scene.
However, there is no doubt that the Hokies were a consistent college football power basically every year from 1995 to 2011. Frank Beamer achieved a legendary level of consistency during that time frame. This consistency included eight 10+ win seasons from 2004 to 2011, to go along with four ACC Championships in 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2010.
I’m not sure how to quantify the word “average” but that’s what the Hokies have been for the majority of the past eight or so years. The 2012-2016 years were dreadful. During that four-year span, the Hokies went 7-6 three times and 8-5 once. These records were a far cry from the team that went 11-3 in 2010 and 2011. The Hokies have only been back to the ACC Championship once since 2012. That appearance came in 2016, where the Hokies went wire-to-wire with the future National Championship game-finalist Clemson Tigers.
The 2020 Virginia Tech Hokies have managed to start the season 2-0, even while dealing with 20+ players/coaches out each of their first two weeks for COVID-19 related issues. Only time will tell how many wins this year’s Tech team can achieve, but the more they win the closer they will be to being “back.”
When Virginia Tech will be “back”: Consistently winning 10+ games and competing for ACC Championships