We’ve yet to flip the calendar into October, and yet Virginia Tech finds themselves in a must-win game vs. Duke on Friday night.
The showdown vs. the Blue Devils, which is slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPN, presents Tech with a simple proposition — win or all but end your chances of winning the ACC Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech is already 0-1 in the conference, thanks to a turnover-laden performance vs. underwhelming Boston College. The Hokies would by no means be mathematically eliminated from the division title with a loss to Duke, but the circumstances would nearly guarantee Tech would be too deep in the hole to dig themselves out.
Two Coastal teams have already won a conference game, as North Carolina and Virginia 1-0 and 2-0 in the conference, respectively. Duke has yet to play a conference game, while Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Miami are all 0-1.
A loss to Duke puts Virginia Tech at 0-2 with few likely conference wins remaining on the schedule. Tech’s most likely win would be against Georgia Tech, a team in the middle of remaking themselves from the inside out. Each of Tech’s other conference games present steep challenges, especially road trips to Miami and Charlottesville and home games vs. Wake Forest and Pitt.
Friday night’s matchup is a winnable one, but Duke is no pushover. After getting walloped by Alabama to start the season, Duke has taken care of business vs. North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee, two inferior opponents. The Blue Devils aren’t impressive statistically, sporting offenses and defenses outside the top-60. That said, Tech has done little to inspire a lot of confidence.
Given the types of performances we’ve seen through Virginia Tech’s opening three games, Tech doesn’t seem like a serious contender in one of the worst divisions in Power 5 football and if you add in another conference loss, that’s all she wrote.
That leads to the next question, which is whether or not a win in Friday’s Duke game is necessary to prevent wholesale staff changes. Virginia Tech is trending in the wrong direction and another conference loss at home to an average ACC opponent gives Justin Fuente’s critics even more evidence that Fuente’s staff needs to make serious changes. Changes that may even include finding a new head coach.
Fuente’s contract virtually guarantees that he will coach in Blacksburg for another season. His buyout figure of $15 million after this season is a steep number, a number that Virginia Tech would have trouble coming up with. Even if Tech director of athletics Whit Babcock concludes a chance is necessary, he may have trouble initiating that change. But if the team continues to under-perform, how much struggle will Babcock be willing to tolerate.
I’m not in the camp that this kind of change is needed just yet. However, observers of the program can come to a reasonable conclusion that Virginia Tech must start winning and winning soon, or else.