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COVID-19 Creating Confounding Obstacles for Justin Fuente's 2020 Season

How will Justin Fuente be evaluated with the 2020 season in flux?

The coming Virginia Tech football experiment is coming ever closer to producing results that don’t mean much.

This season was supposed to be the ultimate test for Justin Fuente and his Blacksburg program. All the roster turnover, all of the recruits groomed and developed, all of the coaching changes — all of the confounding elements that have clouded Fuente’s success and failures over the past four seasons have been removed. This is Justin Fuente’s program now, from defensive coordinator all the way to the support staff.

Twenty-twenty was our chance to see what Fuente could accomplish when given just about everything he’s asked for. But with all that’s happened over the last several months, the 2020 season is quickly losing its legitimacy as the ultimate definition of what Fuente can do.

COVID-19 is expectedly forcing football programs to change the ways they do business. Virginia Tech is no different, as Fuente and his staff have altered the set-up of their weight room, changed workout norms to socially distance and help protect kids from catching the virus.

The Hokies have also lost valuable practice time when it comes to getting players ready for the season. Developmental drills, offensive and defensive installations and film study are all vital parts of season preparation. All of these have been affected and even with a slight delay in the start of the season, there’s still time that Virginia Tech won’t get back.

Losing your best player doesn’t help either. Caleb Farley’s decision to sit out this coming season, which has generated its own firestorm, has more impact on the field than it does off it.

If there was any position that Virginia Tech could afford to lose a starter at, it was cornerback. Jermaine Waller has been lauded for his play this entire offseason, thanks in large part to Pro Football Focus’ statistics. Brion Murray has also received some praise from PFF and Armani Chatman showed multiple times in 2019 that he’s capable.

However, none of those guys are Farley. Every gambling degenerate in America would bet on Farley being a first-round draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft and he’s viewed as such because of his size, athleticism and production. Nobody on Tech’s roster can match Farley in any of those categories and the Hokies will miss him on the field.

Given these obstacles, how can we correctly evaluate Virginia Tech’s 2020 season when it comes to Fuente’s job performance? If Virginia Tech struggles in 2020, and given the tougher schedule released by the ACC, that’s a serious possibility, how much of that failure can be laid at Fuente’s feet? With all of the problems that have popped up, to what extend would that absolve Fuente?

In reverse, what if Fuente’s team wins eight or nine of their conference games? Would that be enough to placate his critics?

Fuente’s entire tenure at Virginia Tech has been building up to this. He’s hand-picked every assistant on his coaching staff, has recruited almost every player on the roster — I’m looking at you Tyrell Smith — and has had four offseasons to implement his culture and his scheme. He had a marquee home game on the schedule to finally earn that landmark win and a successful ACC Coastal run would have satisfied all parties.

But the game has changed. Virginia Tech is entering perhaps the most important season in recent history without it’s best player, a tougher than anticipated schedule, less preparation time and an overall sense of uncertainty surrounding the season. 

Which begs the question, how much will this season really matter?