What if I told you that despite suffering one of the program’s worst losses just a few weeks ago, and despite underwhelming in consecutive weeks vs. very inferior opponents, that Virginia Tech would approach the stretch run of their schedule as the possible favorite to win the ACC Coastal?
On Sep. 28, just hours after Duke’s drubbing of the Hokies inside Lane Stadium, you’d rightfully call me crazy. But now, that question reflects Virginia Tech’s reality. The Hokies upset No. 19 Wake Forest on Saturday, vaulting themselves into serious conversation as a Coastal contender.
Virginia Tech’s victory over the upstart Demon Deacons was an epic defensive showing in a game meant to honor outgoing defensive coordinator Bud Foster, but Foster’s career summation will come at a later date. To me, Saturday’s victory meant more about the current state of the program and just how far this team has distanced themselves from their September sorrows.
Since being embarrassed by the Blue Devils, who’ve been exposed as a poor team, Virginia Tech has rattled off four wins in five games. They’ve won three straight conference games, elevating themselves to a virtual tie with Virginia at the top of the division. Hendon Hooker hasn’t lost a game that he’s started, throwing seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The Hokies’ running game has found a level of consistency not often achieved in the Justin Fuente era, rushing for 224 yards or more in three of Tech’s last four games.
Speaking of Fuente, it’s time to give credit where credit is due. While the players certainly deserve a large portion of the kudos for the Hokies’ recent play, Fuente and his staff deserve credit too. He’s taken all sorts of heat this season and rightfully so. His program spent more than a calendar year on the decline, dropping game after game and missing out on recruit after recruit. The loss against Duke was bottomless pit, but the problems have been known for a while.
With his back against the proverbial wall and an increasing amount of the fan base ready for his ouster, Fuente has successfully navigated his team’s turnaround and pulled much of the fan base off the ledge. Virginia Tech’s recent revival doesn’t erase Fuente’s demerits, but it certainly cancels some of them out.
Fuente wasn’t going anywhere after this season anyway, but he has bought himself valuable time as the rebuild progresses. Fuente’s team will be full of upperclassmen next season and a challenging schedule presents a real opportunity to make some national noise.
In terms of this season, Virginia Tech has the chance to return from the brink and win the ACC Coastal Division, a feat few thought possible on Sep. 28. But given the schedule and how Virginia Tech is playing, it’s hard not to peg the Hokies as legitimate contenders.
Nothing is safe to assume this season, or any season, in the Coastal Division. A trip to Atlanta to play a pesky Georgia Tech team awaits, while challenging games against Pittsburgh and Virginia — also two-loss teams — lay ahead. Virginia Tech has as good of a chance as anyone else to win this division and even if they don’t, the Hokies’ chances of extending the program’s prized bowl streak to 27 straight seasons seem as high as they’ve ever been.
There’s reason for optimism in Blacksburg and it’s been a while since that was the case. Virginia Tech still has their work cut out for them, but it seems like the tide has turned for Fuente and his players.