Year three in a college football head coach's tenure is pivotal. By that point, a program should have been established and there should be enough of that coach's recruits on the roster that his system should function smoothly. If you look throughout the annals of college football, year three is usually a good predictor of future success.
That's what made the 6-7 record of Justin Fuente's third Virginia Tech team so alarming. Yes, he had success in his first two seasons, but year three should never be a significant step backward.
The excuses were there and so were the reasons for optimism entering this fall. Numerous veteran players were dissatisfied and left the program. Those that came back for 2019 wanted to be there and would play hard for one another. Plus, defensive coordinator Bud Foster had 10 starters back and would not let what happened to his unit occur again in his final season. I bought in hard, predicting the Hokies to go 10-2 in Athlon's preseason game-by-game picks.
That's not going to happen and now the rumblings concerning Fuente's job security have begun. With games at Miami, vs. North Carolina, at Notre Dame, and home against Wake Forest looming between now and mid-November, and a trip to Charlottesville to close the year, the potential for this season to spin out of control is a real possibility. And if that happens, the rumblings may be too hard for the Virginia Tech administration to ignore.
Those that run the athletic department certainly don't want to move off of Fuente. He seems to be a likable guy that came in and embraced the traditions and legacy of legendary head coach Frank Beamer. He built the Memphis program and he won a lot of games in his first two years in Blacksburg. Plus, there's that $15 million buyout that comes with dismissing Fuente right now.
But the problems are more than just the 6-9 record beginning with the Old Dominion debacle of last September. The margin of defeats is eye-opening. Five of those nine losses were by 21 points or more and four of those came at Lane Stadium. The losses to Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh last year along with the 45-10 whitewashing by Duke this past Friday night were complete embarrassments. They struggled to put away Old Dominion this year despite the motivation of last year's meltdown and backed that up by just squeezing by FCS Furman.
Fuente also has to take some blame for last year's discontent. While the attitudes of those players may have left something to be desired, Fuente could do nothing to right the ship. Whether or not the 2019 team is happier is irrelevant. The lackluster play has continued and it only appears to be getting worse.
Virginia Tech has the nation's longest bowl streak at 26. Extending that to 27 would be nice but Fuente has to have a shorter-term focus. He has to start by getting his team to play inspired for 60 minutes every week. If that doesn't happen, the bowl streak will end and so will Fuente's time as Virginia Tech's head coach.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.