How teams have historically fared after losing to FCS opponents

As Georgia Tech prepares for its fourth game of the season, a testy road trip to Temple, the Yellow Jackets will try to put to rest the frustration of their loss to The Citadel.

On the one hand, the upset defeat could be written off as a forgettable early-season performance, which it was. On the other hand, the history of power-conference teams who lost to FCS opponents, while not a large sample, does not portend a rosy path for the Jackets’ over their final nine games of the regular season.

Between 1999 and 2018, a span of 20 seasons, there have been 36 power-conference teams that have lost to FCS opponents. Of the 36, 22 went on to win three games or fewer.

Were Tech to follow suit, it would rate among the least successful in many years. Since the retirement of Bobby Dodd after the 1966 season, Tech has won three games or fewer seven times, five of those seasons occurring in the 1980’s.

Such a season, however would not rate as a surprise for many. Before the season, the Jackets were picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division, and bookmakers set their over/under win total at four, a total that almost certainly counted on a win over The Citadel. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects the Jackets to have no better than a 32 percent chance to win any of its remaining games, the most likely win being Saturday’s matchup at Temple (32.4 percent).

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.