Were the Jackets playing better, the Coastal would seem ripe for picking. Consider the landscape of Tech’s remaining conference opponents.
Virginia Tech made waves with a 24-3 win over Florida State in the season opener, but that result may have been a statement more about the floundering Seminoles than the Hokies, who lost to Old Dominion on Saturday despite playing as 28-point favorites. Further, quarterback Josh Jackson is out indefinitely with a fractured tibia and Hokies coach Justin Fuente dismissed one of the team’s best players, defensive end Trevon Hill.
Virginia turned heads with a 27-3 win over Louisville on Saturday and appears improved, particularly on offense. But the Cavaliers lost their toughest test, at Indiana, and are No. 49 in the Sagarin ratings. Also, Tech plays Virginia at home. (Adding to the reasons making Tech’s path more manageable, the Jackets’ rotational Atlantic opponent is the same Cardinals whom the Cavaliers just trounced.)
North Carolina (1-2) appears to be going through a down year, having lost 41-19 to East Carolina, although the Tar Heels are returning players who were suspended for selling team-issued sneakers.
Duke is 4-0 and in the AP top 25 for the first time since 2015 (also the last time the Jackets were ranked). Although the Blue Devils do appear legitimate, they also play Clemson and they come to Tech (October 13).
After four games, No. 16 Miami (3-1) may be the favorite, but the Hurricanes floundered in their only game against a power-conference team, a 33-17 loss to LSU. Further, Tech could well have beaten the Hurricanes last season, and the game is likewise a home game for the Jackets.
In short, if Tech were playing as well at this point as many had expected the Jackets to, and especially if its league record were 1-1 and not 0-2, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that a 6-2 finish was within reach. This being a season where 6-2 could be good enough to win the Coastal, as it has been three of the past five seasons, that would mean a shot (with some help) at representing the Coastal in the ACC championship game on December 1 in Charlotte, N.C.
But, at the least, the Jackets have squandered their best shot at such an achievement, first by not being more ready to play at a high level at the season’s start, and second by failing to seize opportunities to win the Pitt game. (Beating Clemson was a much taller order to begin with, but the Jackets did not represent themselves well in that game, either.)
It bears mention that a 6-2 finish is still possible. But, obviously, that means running the table, which at this point doesn’t look like a likely result, as the Jackets have to improve in multiple areas just to win a single conference game. Against Clemson, the defense had trouble even with seemingly simple matters such as lining up correctly. The offense has been plagued by mental errors, including seven false-start penalties through four games, not including one on the field-goal unit.
According to the win probabilities assigned by ESPN’s Football Power Index, Tech has about a 1-in-200 chance of sweeping through its remaining ACC games.
For coaches and players, who work year-round for 12 games to proves themselves, to say nothing of a life’s work to get into this position, it must be a wholly aggravating position, particularly given their own responsibility in reaching this point. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall may have put it best Saturday after the 49-21 loss to the Tigers.
“I’m tired of losing,” he said. “I’m ready to get another ‘W’ on the board so we can get things turned around. I mean, this sucks.”