This wasn’t like all the other times.
Almost all the other times a top-five team has come into Lane Stadium, yes, they’ve won. All the other times Virginia Tech has taken on a defending national champion, it ended as a cruel reminder of what the Hokies’ program is – or more importantly, what is isn’t. Virginia Tech is not a blue-blood program. It’s not one of the elites. It’s not Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State or well, Clemson.
But it could be. And if you read between the lines of Saturday night’s loss to the Tigers, it wasn’t just another example of the Hokies giving their best effort and coming up short against a superior team. This was a young team WAY ahead of schedule punching up at big brother, fighting tooth and nail to just to prove it belonged.
Even in a loss, as ugly as it was…I saw signs of a bright future in Blacksburg.
I said on Friday that Clemson should win the game. I picked the Tigers 28-17; the final was 31-17. It played out exactly how it should have. The Tigers’ speed and strength on defense manhandled the Hokies’ inexperienced offense, and flexed their muscles just enough on offense to where the Hokies couldn’t keep up. Mistake after mistake after mistake cost Tech a chance at the upset. The Hokies weren’t ready.
Before anyone starts to lay into the coaching staff for an imperfect game plan, or the receivers for some untimely drops, or the defense for a few missed tackles and a blown assignment, let me stop you right there.
Don’t be those fans.
Don’t be Tennessee. Don’t be Texas A&M. Do not demand perfection when perfection isn’t possible.
For everyone who watched last night’s game dumbfounded at the Hokies’ litany of struggles and miscues, let me remind you again: this wasn’t supposed to happen already.
An ACC Coastal title, a near-stunning upset of Clemson last season, a 10-win season in year one – NONE of that was supposed to happen in 2016. The fact that Virginia Tech made it all the way to 12th just four games into 2017, without its top three offensive players from a season ago, speaks volumes about the job Justin Fuente has already done.
Of course every loss stings. You never want to show up on the national stage and come up short. But this was an invaluable learning experience for Virginia Tech — for its freshman quarterback, its young receivers and talented but young defense. It’s going to take another couple recruiting classes before the Hokies can match the talent and depth of Clemson, but for the players who took the field on Saturday night, this was a chance to get better.
Now the real challenge is navigating the remaining schedule, which is manageable yet by no means a walk in the park. Teams like Duke and Georgia Tech will challenge the Hokies. They aren’t going to win many games on talent alone. Fuente uses the phrase “margin of error.” He used it with last year’s team, and this year’s team has even less room for mistakes.
There will be more games like this where the Hokies can make a statement. Each time they’ll be more prepared than the last. Clemson is maybe the best team in college football. The Hokies outgained them, even scared them at times…but also made all of the mistakes a young team tends to make in these games, and that was the difference.
Clemson and Alabama part three
This is college football, where chaos rules the day and nothing ever plays out the way it’s supposed to, but damn if it doesn’t seem like ‘Bama and Clemson are just WAY better than everyone else.
In 2005, USC and Texas went wire-to-wire as number one and two before meeting in the national championship game. That hasn’t happened since. Clemson opened the season number five, but it’s the start of October and we already seem to have a clear idea of who the best teams are, just like we did 12 years ago. The Tigers actually remind me a lot of last year’s Alabama team — suffocating defense, deep backfield, a mobile quarterback with limitations as a passer.
The running question all season long will now ask who’s better between these two. Alabama has LOOKED better, but Clemson has much better wins. The Tigers are the first team to ever beat three top-15 teams in September. Alabama has won two SEC games 125-3. Get ready for Clemson-Bama round three. I’m not sure it’s avoidable at this point.
What’s next at Tennessee
Butch Jones is 100% gone at Tennessee. The Vols are now 14-20 in their last 34 SEC games, and the 41-0 loss was the most appropriate way for the Jones era to end. Kirby Smart is only in year two at Georgia and he already has the Bulldogs looking like a Playoff team. Jones is in year five at Tennessee and the Vols are one of the most discombobulated programs in America.
The five names I’d have a the top of my list if I’m Tennessee AD John Currie are:
- Chip Kelly
- Bob Stoops
- Justin Fuente
- Jeff Brohm
- Bobby Petrino
One other wild card that will never happen but you have to ask: Peyton Manning.
Watch this video and tell me he wouldn’t be great:
So much donor money would come pouring in the school would need its own building just to hold it all. A college football coach is more CEO than anything. Manning’s meticulous attention to detail, Tennessee bloodlines and football acumen would make him an outstanding coach. Again, he absolutely turns it down. But if I’m Tennessee…I ask.
I don’t think Kelly takes the job. I don’t think Fuente takes it either. I think Stoops, Brohm and Petrino are the most realistic options to replace Jones. Any of them would be better than the trainwreck going on now. There’s talent in Knoxville, they just need a coach players won’t quit on.
USC is who I thought they were
I tried telling y’all, USC isn’t that good. The only times USC has been a legitimate national title contender, they’ve been stockpiled with NFL talent at every position. This team has plenty of talent, but it’s not so much that the Trojans can walk into any stadium anytime and win. The Trojans looked vulnerable in three of its first four games, while the injuries started piling up. They traveled to Washington State on a short week and came up short, 30-27. USC does not have a bye week all season. There are difficult games left on the schedule (a two-week stretch against Utah and Notre Dame looms in a few weeks). While most of the country fell in love with Sam Darnold and thought “this was USC’s year” (cue eye roll), I see a nine, maybe even an eight-win team. USC is done.
Here’s this week’s JP Top 10. I’ll have the full Top 25 tomorrow.
The JP Top 10
- Penn State
- Notre Dame