On September 8, 2012 a younger, more naive version of me made the short walk from my tiny dorm room in Smith Hall over to Bobby Dodd Stadium for the very first time. I remember just how awestruck I was that I lived just a few hundred feet from a Division I stadium. I met my buddy outside of Brittain Dining Hall, and together we walked into Gate 7, giddy with excitement as the security guard checked our student section wristbands. Now, this was a fairly different me at the time. I hadn’t yet begun my relationship with Tech football or even college football in general. I also wasn’t yet mentally calloused and indurated by our great academic Institute, nor was I yet bitten by the inconsistent passions of her athletic endeavours. I didn’t care much about college football throughout my childhood, but that changed at 7:00 that night. That night, I was witness and participant to my first night game on the Flats. I was hooked. It was a 59-3 romp against Presbyterian, and by the time the game was over I had sung the fight song so many times that the lyrics were seared into my brain. As I walked back to my lowly dorm room, my mind was pulsating with excitement and promise. I was filled with wonder and anticipation, eager to see where my new passion would take me. We would go on to beat USC in the Sun Bowl later that year and along the way I found my heart committed to riding the ebbs and flows of this team.
Five and half long, grueling, relentless years later on November 25, 2017, I walked out of Bobby Dodd for the last time as a student with a 31 point loss against uga permeating the air and suffocating my lofty sense of nostalgia and romance that had thought maybe, just maybe I could bookend my time at this school that I poured myself into with two wins. I was wrong. Instead, I finished a season of what-ifs and shortcomings with the worst home loss I’d ever seen to the team I hated the most. I saw a lot of things between those two games. Great wins, terrible losses, field stormings, history making plays, suffocating heat, pouring rain, horrible injuries, rivalry wins, all-time players, overtime wins, overtime losses. The full gamut of emotions and results that college football can throw at a team and a fan base.
One of the things that has always struck me about the seasons I witnessed as a student is how diverse they were. No two were really alike. Not many other other fanbases can claim the diversity of results and trajectories that we can. In a weird way, I’m kind of proud of it. I firmly hate Dickens, but we truly have lived through the best of times and the worst of times. We’ve seen one of the greatest seasons of our modern era followed by one of the worst. We’ve seen great wins against larger-than-life opponents and shameful losses against unworthy ones. We’ve felt the euphoria of historic plays as well as the despairs of those against us. In short, we’ve experienced just about everything the college football gods can muster. 2018 will be more of the same. That is, it will be completely different from anything before it.
We went from nothingness in 2012 and 2013 to being on top of the world in 2014, at the very bottom of it in 2015, on our way back up in 2016, then left sitting alone in the hot Miami rain somewhere in the middle in 2017. We’ve been terrible, good, bad, mediocre, and great in a nonsensical random ordering. What’s more, there aren’t even real watershed moments to stand these results up against. We didn’t suddenly go up or down in recruiting. We didn’t get a new coach. We didn’t change our offense. We didn’t spend any more or less money. We just existed, and that existence brought neverending change.
Even within seasons we’ve been pretty unpredictable. Remember losing to BYU but taking uga to 2OT in 2013? Remember losing to Duke and UNC in 2014? Remember beating FSU (obligatory) in 2015? Remember beating VT sandwiched in between losing to Virginia and getting blown out by Duke in 2017? We. Don’t. Make. Sense.
I think there are two things that somewhat explain why we are so consistently weird and inconsistent. First, we play in the wheel of fortune ACC Coastal. The Coastal is weird, and we’re weird for being in it. You’ve got the “traditional” or “historic” (definitions unclear) teams like us and Miami, a true “football school” in Virginia Tech, the teams that are randomly good some years like Duke, UNC, and Pitt, and then you’ve got whatever the hell Virginia is. It’s a weird mixture of teams and programs that don’t really have a consistent identity or culture (honestly this is a microcosm of the ACC itself in that respect too). That is in stark contrast to, say, the Big 10 or the SEC where the programs (more or less) have a fairly cohesive identity. Now, the thing that ACC Coastal teams are close in is win potential. Of the seven Coastal teams, six have a legitimate shot at ending up champion (lol kick rocks Virginia) almost every year. It’s practically the wild west, only with less [Styx]-loads of dimes and more [Springsteen]-loads of nickel[-back]s.
It’s true in 2018 just as it has been true in previous years. I think it’s generally agreed upon that Miami and Virginia Tech are Tier 1, Virginia is Tier 3, and the rest of us are in an amorphous Tier 2. At the same time though, no one would call you crazy for predicting us to beat Miami this year, or for Duke to beat VT at home. Literally anything can happen. If we have an identity as a division it’s chaos.
Second, we live and die by our offense more than most teams (fingers crossed this changes with Woody). For the past six (and more) seasons, we haven’t really had a defense to count on. Everything has been controlled by the offense and how it is playing that day. And if the defense is playing poorly? No chance. Without a consistent balance of power on both sides of the ball, we’re at the whims of an already whimsical division. We also walk an extremely thin line between being one-dimensional and being juuuust unique and disciplined enough for it not to matter. I don’t think I have to explain how few P5 teams run an offense like ours. Sometimes that works in our favor and we can surprise opponents, but sometimes we can’t. Sometimes everything goes right and the blocking lines up perfectly, but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a problem faced by every offensive style but it always feels more apparent and pressing in ours.
Put these two factors together and you have a recipe for white and gold wack-o-ness. In 2014, an unstoppable offense combined with a weak division (only us and Duke were above .500 in the regular season) to produce something special. In 2015, a decline of one yard/play and one TD/game combined with a stronger division (4 teams finished with 8 wins) to produce something ugly. In 2016, an offense with a lower scoring rate than 2015’s squad outperformed in a strong Coastal (teams combined for 50 total wins). In 2017, an offense with better stats than 2016’s struggled in a Coastal where teams only combined for 45 total wins. The more you look at the numbers the less they make sense.
2018 won’t be anything like any of the previous seasons because repetition isn’t something we really do around here. Plain and simple, we’re the definition of inconsistent. I don’t really mean to use the word “inconsistent” in a bad way here either. I just mean to say that we’re different every year and it’s who we are. How many other programs can say they beat a top ten team in the middle of one of the worst seasons in team history? How many other programs can say they lost to Middle Tennessee and BYU and two years later won the Orange Bowl? We are unique and weird and we always have been. We’re an enigma, a wildcard. A perpetual bamboozlement on the college football landscape. And that’s kinda fun.
2018 will be different because it has to be. We won’t repeat our history, and we won’t see anything like we’ve seen before. It’s always been like this. In a weird way, it’s what makes being a fan fun. You get to start every season like I did in 2012, with wonder and unknowingness, unsure of where the next few months will take you and what they’ll put you through. It’s human curiosity at its purest. It’s not about the regular and the predictable, it’s about enjoying the journey for what it is: unknown and ready to be experienced.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of [Justin Thomas], it was the age of [Vad Lee],
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of
Light 2014, it was the season of Darkness 2015,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of [JESUS CHRIST MIDDLE TENNESSEE ARE YOU SERIOUS],
we had everything before us, we had [Ted Roof’s soft coverage] before us,
we were all going direct to [the Orange Bowl], we were all going direct the other way
—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.