Duke hauls a three-game slide into its game at Virginia on Saturday, and since the calendar turned to November the Blue Devils have looked nothing like the Coastal Division contenders they were the last two years.
Yet they carry a modest level of disappointment compared with the program on the other side of the field.
The Cavaliers (3-7, 2-4 ACC) clinched their fourth consecutive losing season with last week’s loss at Louisville. Coach Mike London owns a 26-45 mark in six years and appears highly unlikely to see a seventh.
And Virginia, which not all that long ago was one of the ACC’s reliably steady programs, continues to muddle along as the weakest link over the last five years in a division without a dominant figure.
The Cavaliers simply have not coped well in the conference’s expansion era. Virginia has four bowl bids since the league added Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004, the same number as Syracuse (albeit mostly in the Big East) and Wake Forest and two fewer than N.C. State. Duke (three) is the only ACC member with fewer bowl appearances in that span, and the Blue Devils (6-4, 3-3) will wind up somewhere this year to draw even.
Compare that with the previous dozen seasons (1992-2003), when Virginia made nine bowl games. Of the current ACC membership, only Florida State (12), Virginia Tech (11), Miami (10) and Clemson (nine) did the same.
So what ails the Cavaliers? For starters, they don’t have a coach ticketed for the College Football Hall of Fame, like they did in the 1980s and 1990s with George Welsh. But while some of the decadelong malaise (eight losing seasons in 10 years) should be pinned on London and his predecessor, Al Groh, that probably doesn’t offer a full explanation.
Virginia Tech’s entry into the league, creating an even starker in-state comparison between the schools, certainly didn’t help. And unnecessarily ambitious scheduling (seriously, what was this team doing playing Boise State, Notre Dame and UCLA in the opening month this season?) is a self-inflicted obstacle the Cavaliers don’t need.
It also isn’t a departmentwide problem. Virginia has become a men’s basketball power in recent years, and it has won more ACC team titles over all sports in the expansion era than anyone. That only amplifies the football conundrum.
Nothing symbolizes the Cavaliers’ decline like their six losses in seven years to Duke, a sort of bizarre passing of the torch for Coastal Division doormat status. Virginia has made 18 bowl games in its history and gone 16-2 against the Blue Devils in years it reached the postseason.
The amiable London probably has two more games before the task of turning around the Cavaliers becomes someone else’s problem. Whoever it is will inherit a more talented roster than the one London took over after the 2009 season.
But there’s also 10 years of inertia created by forgettable, subpar play. Finding someone to solve the riddle of how to restore Virginia football figures to be scrutinized plenty in Charlottesville – and might be one of the most riveting offseason subplots in the conference this year.
Retiring Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will lead the Hokies at Lane Stadium for the final time Saturday when North Carolina visits Blacksburg, Va. Which three schools have Beamer’s teams defeated more often than any other?
Low tide for Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech (3-7, 1-6) will miss a bowl game for the first time since 1996, and its striking how the Yellow Jackets have gone from Orange Bowl champs to below .500: by seeing their vaunted running game sputter.
Georgia Tech mustered 161 yards on the ground in last week’s 23-21 loss to Virginia Tech, solid numbers for most teams but subpar for a team that regularly lands in the top five nationally in rushing offense. Combined with a 144-yard showing at Virginia on Oct. 31, it marked the first time the Yellow Jackets failed to crack 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games under Johnson.
How unusual are the struggles? Georgia Tech was held to less than 200 yards rushing on four occasions in 2008, Johnson’s first year in Atlanta (it didn’t stop the Yellow Jackets from going 9-4). Over the next six seasons, Georgia Tech would rush for less than 200 yards on only eight occasions. But this year, the Yellow Jackets already have four such games.
The three schools Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech teams have defeated the most in his 29-year tenure are Virginia (19), Boston College (16) and Miami (13). Beamer can still add to his total against Virginia when the Hokies visit Charlottesville on Nov. 28.