Merry Christmas, you filthy animals. Welcome to a holiday edition of Monday Mail, which is jam-packed with my opinion and analysis that you desire.
Thanks for the questions this week, folks. Instead of wasting time, let’s dive right in.
What changes can be made for Virginia Tech to begin cracking Top 20 recruiting classes? Seems as if we’ve been stuck in the low 30s, high 20s since 2016
— Preston Huennekens (@Preston_Hue) December 21, 2018
The recruiting cycle isn’t over, but with 19 prospects signed, Virginia Tech’s 2019 recruiting class isn’t making any national headlines. Here’s is where the major recruiting networks rank Tech’s 2019 class…
- 247Sports: 29th (4th in ACC)
- ESPN: 30th (4th in ACC)
- Rivals: 30th (4th in ACC)
The recruiting services agree when it comes to Virginia Tech — not a bad class by any means, but not exactly a great one either.
This has been the trend for Virginia Tech for quite some time. Tech is in that recruiting range where they might crack the top 25 here or there, but not consistently.
Improving recruiting isn’t easy. Each school has institutional challenges that they face, and Tech is no different. Even though Tech is the best football program in the state, there are several elite-level programs within driving distance of Virginia’s population centers. This makes it difficult to keep out-of-state programs from poaching some of the state’s best talent. This is a problem for schools across the country, not just Tech.
Recruiting, in my mind, is all about developing two things — a track record and a brand. Virginia Tech has a track record of being a consistently good program, but the Hokies have failed to win several big games and haven’t won a conference championship since 2011.
Developing a “sexy” brand isn’t easy. I don’t even know how to go about it. There’s a combination of good recruiters, an exciting style of play and an attractive aura that some schools can develop, which is obviously helped by winning games. But some schools are seen as fun and cool, and Virginia Tech isn’t often in that group.
Virginia Tech’s best shot at boosting their recruiting profile is to start winning big games and seriously compete for a conference title. Tech needs to start knocking off some ranked teams, especially at home, instead of boosting their win total vs. borderline bowl-eligible teams. Winning those types of games can help shift the perception of a program.
In the meantime, Tech will continue doing more with less. They must develop somewhat talented players into consistent contributors and hope that the few uber-talented players they do sign can flip the scale.
With all of the wide receivers being signed in recent years, will we see more transfers? Is there too much depth at that position?
— Pete McGee (@Greg0r0vitch) December 21, 2018
Virginia Tech has loaded up on wide receivers since Justin Fuente arrived in Blacksburg. The depth chart looks a hell of a lot better than it did when he arrived. Here are the scholarship receivers on the roster that are set to be on the team in 2019.
- Hezekiah Grimsley (Jr.)
- Phil Patterson (R-Jr.)
- Tre Turner (So.)
- Damon Hazelton (R-Jr.)
- DeJuan Ellis (R-Fr.)
- Darryle Simmons (R-Fr.)
- Eric Kumah (Sr.)
- Jaden Payoute (Fr.)
- Elijah Bowick (Fr.)
- Tayvion Robinson (Fr.)
- Jacoby Pinckney (Fr.)
That’s a total of 11 scholarship receivers, which is an astronomical amount. Fuente has always said he wanted six to eight receivers he felt comfortable with each season, and he should have no problem hitting that number with this many scholarship guys on the roster.
However, when the numbers get this high, attrition is almost guaranteed. Guys want to see the field and have a chance to contribute, not sit on the bench each week.
There’s only one guy on that list that seems to be on his way out — Phil Patterson. The rising redshirt junior has battled injuries in his career and hasn’t broken into the rotation. With Eric Kumah, Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton and Hezekiah Grimsley guaranteed to see plenty of reps, and with several younger players behind him, Patterson is on the verge of falling down the depth chart even further.
There is no such thing as too much depth at any position. But having good depth and a lot of bodies sets yourself up for transfers. Patterson could decide to stay, or another receiver could decide he’s ready to move on. But I’d be shocked if Tech didn’t have at least one transfer this offseason at receiver.
Odds Jackson starts at quarterback during the season opener?
— Riley Beard (@rileycbeard6) December 21, 2018
It’s entirely too early to give a definitive answer on Virginia Tech’s quarterback battle. Ryan Willis, presumably, has one more start to make and we have no idea how the offseason will treat Josh Jackson and Quincy Patterson.
Willis, Jackson and Patterson figure to be the top contenders. Hendon Hooker has fallen by the wayside and unless a miracle happens, Hooker’s chances of starting in Blacksburg are near zero.
Jackson was impressive before getting hurt in 2017 and his three-game stint in 2018 was similar. Jackson completed 62 percent of his passes for 575 yards and five touchdowns vs. Florida State, William and Mary and Old Dominion. Jackson threw just one interception.
Jackson and Willis figure to be the co-favorites entering this offseason. They’ve got the most experience and Willis played well enough this year to give himself a shot.
I’d handicap the percentages like this — Jackson at 40 percent, Willis at 40 percent and Patterson at 20 percent. Patterson’s development this offseason is the wild card.
Seriously WTF is going on in Miami?
— Doug Wilson (@dcwilson40) December 22, 2018
Here’s a bonus question for this week — why did Miami’s leading receiver quit the team before the end of the season and later transfer to Illinois?
Jeff Thomas, a 5-foot-10 and 175-pound sophomore, announced his decision to return to his home state with the Fighting Illini last Friday. Thomas caught 35 passes for 563 yards and three touchdowns last season. Thomas started as a freshman in 2017, catching 17 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s rare for a program like Miami to have their leading receiver transfer to a lesser program before the end of the season. Miami has been an epic disappointment, finishing 7-5 after being expected to give Clemson a run for their money in the ACC Championship Game. Instead, Miami lost to LSU to kick things off and later endured a four-game losing streak that derailed their season.
Miami never settled on a quarterback. The experienced Malik Rosier found himself on the bench through three games, as redshirt freshman N’Kosi Perry took over the reins. Perry was later benched again for Rosier, and Rosier was later benched for Perry to finish the season.
Mark Richt’s waffling at the quarterback position, plus Miami’s overall disappointment, probably led to Thomas jumping ship. Off-the-field issues are always possible, but nothing has been reported at this point.
Miami has a culture problem. Their cockiness and public swagger plays well when they’re winning games. But when their confidence is questioned, and adversity shows its ugly head, Richt’s Hurricanes have folded like a lawn chair. In 2017, a loss to Pittsburgh to finish the regular season led Miami down a dark road, thanks to a 38-3 thrashing by Clemson and a 34-24 win by Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
This season, Miami dropped a road game to Virginia. They followed it up with three more losses and didn’t get out of the grave until Virginia Tech showed up on their schedule. Miami won their last two games, but at that point, the damage was done.
Whatever is going on down in Coral Gables, Richt better figure it out. And he better do it soon. They get a chance to redeem themselves against an equally disappointing Wisconsin team in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and they open against Florida in 2019. Two more losses might place Richt firmly on the stove top.
Oh, and for good measure, Miami is dealing with this embarrassing sideshow.