It is a reflection of Tech’s status as a team in the midst of a coaching transition and one that finds itself thin and inexperienced along the offensive and defensive lines, places where no team wants to be short-handed.
There is some hope for the most optimistic Tech fans. Of the 36 teams visited by FCS defeat, eight still managed to make bowl games in the same season. The shining model is Virginia Tech in 2010, which lost to James Madison (the Hokies were playing on short rest after losing to Boise State on Labor Day night) before going on to win the ACC and playing in the Orange Bowl. (Apologies to Jackets fans who would rather not look to Blacksburg, Va., for inspiration.)
However, it is interesting to note that the coaches of all eight of those teams were well into successful tenures at their schools (including Michigan’s Lloyd Carr, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Washington State’s Mike Leach) and most faced elite FCS opponents, suggesting the results were indeed blips. Tech’s situation does not include the former and does not appear to include the latter.
For most of the 36, better days were not too far off. Of the 28 teams that did not make bowl games that year, 12 made bowls or were at least bowl-eligible the following season, though some did so with new coaches.
Two recent examples that might offer some encouragement are Virginia and Iowa State. On Sept. 3, 2016, when both Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall and Cyclones coach Matt Campbell made their coaching debuts with their respective teams, Virginia lost to Richmond and Iowa State fell to Northern Iowa.
The Cyclones finished 3-9 and the Cavaliers were a game behind at 2-10. Iowa State followed up with eight-win seasons in 2017 and 2018 and was ranked in the top 25 during both seasons. Virginia made a bowl game in 2017, improved to 8-5 in 2018 and is now 4-0 and ranked No. 18, the only other ACC team in the top 25 besides No. 1 Clemson.