“It was a bright cold day in [May]. And the clocks were striking [Opinion Week].”
We all remember 2014. Synjyn Days routinely knocking defenders on the ground. Zach Laskey falling forward for two yards. Justin Thomas shaking the life out of Mississippi State. An “opportunistic defense” stealing turnovers left and right. Owning the SEC. But here’s the thing: the best year under Paul Johnson will always be just that: the single best. We will never eclipse it. We will never finish better. And that’s fine.
First, some ground rules. What do I mean by “finish better”? I would consider a better season to be one with more wins (12+) and/or a Playoff berth. That probably wouldn’t happen without an ACC Championship, so let’s throw that in there too. With that in mind, let’s get started.
“Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still [hope], [hubris], and [spinzoning], and when the [fans] of a [football team] stood by one another without needing to know the reason.”
The tragedy and curse of fandom is hope. We all begin seasons anew with the hope and anticipation of what might become of our beloved team. Will this be the year? Will we beat our rivals? Will we win all of our home games? Will we be ranked? You build up confidence that this will be the year. That you will beat your rivals. And then you don’t. Why was 2015 so painful? Because of 2014. Because 2014 gave us hope. Because we thought we could be better. The bane of a college football fan’s existence is the little voice inside your head telling you that your team can get better. That your team will make it. In 2015 I listened to that voice and suffered for it.
I am here to be your liberator from this suffering. I am here to be the O’Brien to your Winston Smith.
“It might be a long time. But don’t give up hope. Everyone is cured sooner or later.”
All you have to do is accept that 2014 is the peak. That’s it. Once you do that, you are free to enjoy the season for what it is. You are free to have hope within reason. You are free from the delusions that afflict so many of your peers.
But Chris, can’t we get better? Can’t Nate Woody give us a great defense? Can’t TaQuon rise to the level of JT? Can’t we catch a few lucky breaks?
Sure. All of those things can happen, and I absolutely hope and expect them to. I’m not saying we can’t get better, it’s just my belief that these incremental improvements will reach a ceiling. And that ceiling is 2014. Like Ingsoc before me, I have established three truisms to guide you along the journey to this realization:
GEORGIA IS GOOD
TECH IS TECH
HAPPENSTANCE IS ORDINARY
GEORGIA IS GOOD
Al Gore himself would be shaking with how inconvenient this truth is. As much as we want to not believe it, the fact does not change. The university of georgia has a good football team. But wait! It gets worse! Clemson has a good football team. Miami has a good football team. And guess what? We have to play all of them. every. single. year.
Winning in the Playoff era is hard. Think about what would have to happen for us to even get to the big dance. A Tech Playoff run would involve:
1. Going at least 10-2 in the regular season including wins over Clemson and georgia
2. Beating Clemson or Florida State in the ACC Championship
3. Beating one of Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Notre Dame, etc. in a semi-final
4. Beating another one of those teams in the Championship.
That is an absolute gauntlet.
It’s not just about being good. It’s about being good consistently, and consistency is something we just haven’t seen. This isn’t me being a defeatist, this is me being a realist.
It’s a shame, but we live in an era where having the rivals we do sucks. Teams like Clemson and georgia will always stand in our way because they are true football schools now. The recent trend is elite schools separating themselves from the pack. Think about which teams will be favored to win the National Championship over the next 10 or so years. How many teams are on that list? 5? 6? The powerhouses will always be there suffocating the upstarts. The system of college football will always favor the schools that make football a priority. It just happens that we have to play a lot of schools that do so. The only thing we can do is diligently participate in the Two Minute Hate against them.
TECH IS TECH
Let’s face facts here. Tech will always be Tech, and that means that football will never truly be a priority. Now I am a firm believer in Todd Stansbury and his ability to improve Tech athletics, but he can only do so much. There are issues that Tech has always had and always will have. To me, these issues fall under two overarching categories: money and recruiting.
Tech will always be an academics-first school and will always prioritize academic related issues over athletic ones. I defy anyone to argue with that statement. Simply put, we’re never going to spend the amount of money it would require to turn us into perennial contenders. In 2015-16, Tech spent $76,301,805 on athletics. That’s good for 50th out of all Power 5 schools. Will Todd be bumping that number up? Yes, he’s said so. Can he bump it up enough to make a big difference? Doubt it. Spending $100,000,000 was only good for top 30. I think you get what I’m saying, but wanna see an at-this-point-unnecessary stat that will just make you feel worse?
Yes Chris, ruin me.
Texas spent the most money on athletics in 2015-16 to the tune of $171,394,287, (if you recall, they then proceeded to lose to Kansas). What I’m trying to say is that we’ll always be behind in the money game. And college football truly is a money game; you can’t be a top program without Domino’s levels of dough.
I think we all know about our adversity in recruiting, but let’s put it in writing here. Remember how we’re an academic school? Yeah turns out the top recruits ain’t come to play school. Again, Todd is doing a great job of shifting our branding to make up for this, but it can only go so far. Another ugly truth is the fact that top recruits ...looks around suspiciously... don’t want to come play in an option offense. I am on the record as a huge option fan, but I’ll admit that it hurts us here. It’s tough to offer a top running back the chance to maybe carry the ball five times in a game when they can go get 25 at an SEC school. Ready for another ugly truth? Our atmosphere isn’t great. Of course, Boddy Dodd can get rockin’. But for much of the season it consists of students arriving late and alumni leaving early. As much as people like you and me hate it, we just don’t have a football culture. And recruits notice. Adidas and our new branding direction are both great steps in the right direction to make us “cool”, but the ultimate “cool” is being able to play in front of 50,000 screaming rabid fans for every single home game.
Tech will unfortunately always have these intrinsic barriers. We can make all the micro-improvements we want, but they’ll always be there. Does that suck? Yes. Is it the worst thing? Not necessarily. We as students and alumni are who we are because Tech is who Tech is. Silly sounding sentences aside, Tech plays an important role in the college universe. That role just doesn’t always involve sustained success in football. The college football world is getting bigger, more expensive, and more competitive. The elite football programs are separating themselves and a school like Tech just can’t keep up. The very idea of a four team Playoff has eradicated parity in college football. It establishes an elite class of teams and worships them above all others. In my mind there are four main groups in the stratifications of college football:
1. The Elites. Alabama and their ilk. The top 5-6 teams fall into this category.
2. The Performers. These are the teams that will stay ranked for the majority of the season. They’ll go to a good bowl. About 20-25 teams reside here.
3. The Normals. These are the remaining Power 5 teams that don’t fall into the top two classes along with the top G5 teams. They don’t usually make much of an impact on the national season outside of a couple good wins, but they’ll usually get that sixth win to make a bowl.
4. The Proles. These are the rest of the G5 and Kansas (if you’re keeping score at home, this has been a rather anti-Kansas blog). They will have no impact on the season whatsoever, save for a few random miracles.
We fall in the Normals category but in 2014 we were Performers. I think we can get there again. In fact I think with the improvements we’re making that we should be able to consistently be Performers. But even then, we won’t ever be Elite. We won’t be able to get past the top Performers and Elites that stand in our way. You can either be upset about that, or you can accept that sometimes things have to be a certain way. I think our destiny is to consistently be ranked in the 16-25 range and rarely jump into the top 15. And I’m completely okay with that.
HAPPENSTANCE IS ORDINARY
I used to think that we got unlucky in 2014. Having the Duke game on fall break? Bad luck. Losing in the last few seconds to UNC? Bad luck. DeAndre Smelter tearing his ACL in the uga game and not being able to play against Florida State? Bad luck. These observations aren’t necessarily wrong, but they also aren’t the whole truth. We caught plenty of lucky breaks in 2014 to go along with the bad ones. When you look through the season (and any successful season really), you can see all the little things that had to happen to get to the finish line. So many things have to occur perfectly. And sometimes luck plays a huge role. I certainly don’t want to diminish anything that the 2014 team accomplished (by now you should realize that I worship at their feet), but there was plenty of luck involved. Playing against Cole Stoudt and not Deshaun Watson. Barely escaping Georgia Southern and Virginia Tech in back to back weeks. Butker going 61% on the season and then making the one kick that counted. A porous defense somehow coming up with big turnovers when it mattered.
2014 wasn’t a fluke, but it was a perfect storm. Was the team talented? Yes, absolutely. Did they rise up in big moments? Yes, absolutely. Did they earn everything? Yes, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that luck wasn’t involved. It always is. Think back to 2015 now. We lost a lot of close games with basically the same roster as 2014. The 2015 team just didn’t catch the breaks. Is that so hard to believe and accept?
Well if we were lucky then, couldn’t we be just as lucky again? Or even luckier?
Honestly I don’t think so. For the reasons described above, I don’t think we’ll really ever be in a situation like 2014 where luck can play such a huge role. Luck feeds on the very parity that no longer exists because of Playoff culture. As the strong get stronger, luck won’t help us as much. Besides, wishing for luck isn’t really where you want to be.
Like I said way back at the beginning, having a better season than 2014 would almost certainly involve a Playoff berth. So let me rephrase this luck discussion: Can a team luck into the Playoff? My answer is a firm no.
Tl;dr Tech is not a football school and the highest of successes belong to football schools. Our rivals are too good, our path is too hard, and our priorities are elsewhere. Again, I don’t see this as defeatist thinking. It’s just cold realism.
“There are five fingers there. Do you see five fingers?”
”Power is in tearing [football fan] minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes”
Now allow me to rebuild your fandom into its new shape. It’s not all doom and gloom. We will be good this season. We will be good in future seasons. We will get better in the coming years. We just have a limit, that’s all. I’m excited about 2018. I’m excited to see Nate Woody’s defense. I’m excited to see TaQuon’s growth. I’m excited about Adidas. Those that know me know I am relentlessly positive about the program. At my core, I’m as delusionally upbeat about our prospects as they come. I’ve already convinced myself that we’ll go 10-2 regular season, lose to Clemson in the ACC Championship, and then win a New Year’s Six bowl game, effectively matching 2014 (hey, I never said we can’t match it, just that we can’t eclipse it). There’s definitely a non-zero probability that we’ll start 4-0 and I will rescind every word I’ve said here. But hey,
”The thought of being a lunatic [does] not greatly trouble [me]; the horror [is] that [I] might also be wrong.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is that everything has to peak eventually, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you don’t want it to be. Look back on 2014 fondly for what it is: an amazing, fun, and glorious season of our past. It’s not sad. It’s not defeatist. It doesn’t lessen your fandom. I’m as emotionally invested in the wins and losses as they come. Tech will probably never play in a National Championship game in my lifetime, but you can bet your bottom dollar that if by some miracle they do I will spend all my money on a ticket and lose my voice screaming the fight song. Because that’s really what fandom is: being an idiot for the things you love.
But it was alright,
everything was alright,
the struggle was finished.
He had won the victory over himself.
He loved [Tech].