Imagine this: you’re a track star, and you’re at the Olympic Trials. Your event is the mile, and you think you have a great chance to finish at the front of the pack and earn yourself a spot in the greatest spectacle in sports: the Olympic Games. You walk out onto the track with the other runners, taking in the electric atmosphere at historic Hayward Field and savoring a moment that you have spent so much time and energy preparing for.
You take a last sip from your water bottle and begin final preparations for your race, when suddenly you have an epiphany of sorts. You are still wearing your ankle weights that you use to help you train. You decide that you are going to wear them while you race, because you “like the challenge” and somehow believe that it won’t have an impact on your finishing position.
You cross the line minutes behind everyone else in the field, and you are distraught that you have missed out on a bid to the Olympics. You are eager to assess blame to things like the weather, your training, or that you “just didn’t have it today” and ignore the colossal disadvantage that you gave yourself by making the bone-headed decision to run with your ankle weights on. You tell yourself that next time you will beat the other runners, weights and all.
You are Georgia Tech football.
The Olympic Games in this metaphor can be anything you like, really. It can be an ACC Coastal title, a spot in a good bowl game, or even a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson has won double-digit games in each of the last eight years. Dabo’s bunch is an astonishing 58-4 in its last 62 games, with two of those four losses coming at the hands of Alabama. The Tigers have established themselves as one of the premier college football programs and have shown no signs of slowing down, on the field or on the recruiting trail. They have won two of the last three national championships and Georgia Tech is 2-7 in its last nine tries in the annual cross-division series against the Tigers.
Let’s look at the Virginia Tech Hokies for a moment. The Hokies face Boston College in their annual crossover game, a program that has not won more than seven games in a season since 2009 and missed a bowl game three times in the last eight seasons. VPI is 8-3 in its last 11 against the Eagles, meaning that Justin Fuente and staff can bank on that game as a likely win year in and year out. As it stands, the Hokies more or less have a free one game lead over Tech before the games are even played. I think a kindergartner could tell you: this isn’t fair.
Yes, I understand that the ACC, not Tech, decided on the current divisions and current setup. Yes, I really do understand that rivalries are important, and that Clemson and Georgia Tech have been playing for a long time. I get all of that. But we as a program have to look in the mirror and think about what our goals are.
Do we start every season with the goal of beating Clemson? While winning a rivalry game and beating the Tigers is something that we should take pride in as a program, I think the players and coaches would be the first to tell you that it doesn’t top the list of things they set out to do.
Do we start every season with the goal of winning an ACC title? Yes, yes we do. A conference title should be the number two goal behind a national championship at the outset of every single season.
Playing Clemson is the ankle weight that annually holds us back from an ACC Coastal division championship and a spot in the title game in Charlotte. If the ACC designed this format with the idea of keeping historical rivalries intact, I sure am glad that Virginia gets to renew its storied rivalry with Louisville every year. If the ACC designed this format with the idea of a level playing field for all teams in each division, the playing field is about as level as the side of Kennesaw Mountain. Either way, the current setup ain’t right.
Remember how upset we as a fanbase were by being passed over for numerous top tier bowl spots this past season? When the Belk Bowl chose UVA over us despite Tech having the same record AND a head-to-head win over the Wahoos? There’s a solution to that problem.
It lies in our non-conference schedules, which annually rank among the country’s toughest. We have two or more Power 5 opponents scheduled every year between 2020-2027 and heck, in 2020 we play georgia, Notre Dame, and UCF in the same year. That’s three teams who finished inside the top ten last season.
But here’s some food for thought: is it worth it? What are we trying to gain by playing these games out of our league when we already have to face eight ACC teams annually?
I hate the Preseason National Champions (TM) as much as you do, but the unfortunate truth is that the team out East has won double-digit games in seven of the last nine seasons and is beginning to have the makings of an annual contender under the guidance of Kirby “not-so” Smart. Moreover, our Yellow Jackets are 3-15 in the last 18 editions of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.
Are there good reasons to keep playing georgia every year and keep scheduling other powerful non-conference opponents? Sure. Those games excite our fanbase and give our program exposure on the national stage. But think back to my original metaphor. Let the Olympics be the CFP, the New Year’s Six, a top tier bowl game, or even any bowl game at all. Playing georgia, Notre Dame, and UCF is more or less the equivalent of strapping a 2,000 pound anvil to your ankle before running against the other teams in the ACC and around the country.
Going back to Virginia, the Cavs schedule only one power conference team out of league in most seasons, and apart from its mandatory Notre Dame games (more on those to come) they schedule mediocre teams like Indiana, Illinois, and Maryland. They fill out the rest of their schedule with two Group of 5 opponents and an FCS team, and the net result is a schedule that gives Bronco Mendenhall and his team a margin for error to still have a successful season even if they drop a few ACC games.
To be very clear, I’m not suggesting we drop georgia as an opponent. I’m merely suggesting that we as a fanbase should figure out where our priorities lie. Should we prioritize the fun and excitement of playing and occasionally beating our hated in-state rival? Or should we look to schedule more 2-for-1’s against Group of 5 teams, knowing that we will go to better bowl games in the long run?
I believe that we can have it both ways. We can continue to face the mutts every year as we have done for decades, and also schedule games that give us an advantage over our competitors when bowl selection rolls around.
But right now, we aren’t getting both sides. To quote the kids these days, chief called and he said this ain’t it. We could very likely lose to georgia, ND, and UCF in 2020. A 1-3 non-con record would mean that even if we go .500 in the ACC, we will not be playing when bowl season comes around. That’s three additional weeks of practice that can have a massive impact on future seasons gone. That’s a fun trip for the players, coaches, and fans down the drain. That’s a selling point in recruiting for Coach Collins and staff by the wayside. Do not underestimate the impact that a bowl bid can have on a program; or more accurately, the impact that missing one can have.
With that in mind, let’s look at one of the stupidest things that the ACC has done in a long time, and maybe ever. By allowing Notre Dame’s one foot in, one foot out position in football, John Swofford has forced all league members to play games nearly every other year against a perennial national power while simultaneously allowing the Irish to take bowl game slots and payout money away from true members of the league. It’s a lose-lose situation, especially when you consider that ND was already playing several ACC teams per year before the deal started and was not stealing our bowl game slots. Swoff has single-handedly handicapped every school in his league in the chase for national prominence; given them each an extra ankle weight, you could even say.
But we at Tech aren’t helping ourselves, either. We have georgia on the schedule every year and we have the outlandishly stupid ND series which is out of our control, but then we have gone and scheduled home-and-homes with power conference schools like Ole Miss and Colorado in addition to home-and-homes with premier Group of 5 teams like USF and UCF. These are not games that will excite our fans or improve our place in the national landscape of college football; they’re merely games that can damage our program’s standing and its chances of accomplishing the long term goals that it has. I am unabashedly against scheduling these sorts of home-and-home series and believe that we should be opting for more bankable wins to cushion the impact of an already very rigorous schedule and provide our team with some margin for error.
This was much longer than I anticipated it to be, but hopefully it did its job. Tech fans should be thinking about what our long term goals for the program are and whether we are scheduling games in a way that will help us accomplish those goals.
Or in other words, thinking about discarding our ankle weights BEFORE running the race.