Notre Dame 2021 Schedule Countdown: No. 6, Virginia Tech
This is the seventh in our 12-part series where we count down Notre Dame’s 2021 strength of schedule by how we view the degree of difficulty, from 12 to 1. At No. 6 is the visit to Virginia Tech on Oct. 9.
Head Coach: Justin Fuente — 64-49 (.566) overall in nine seasons
Entering 6th year at Virginia Tech, where he is 38-26 (.594).
Prior to accepting the Virginia Tech post in 2016, Fuente was 26-23 (.531) in four seasons at Memphis (2012-15).
Recruiting Rankings: 2017-21
2017 (28th), 2018 (22nd), 2019 (25th), 2020 (85th), 2021 (45th)
2020 Record: 5-6
For the first time in 27 years, Virginia Tech did not participate in a bowl game, thus ending the longest streak in the nation at the time.
Following a 4-2 start in which the Hokies averaged 37.7 points per game, they hit a tailspin with consecutive losses to Liberty (38-35), Miami (25-24), Pitt (47-14) and Clemson (45-10).
What had to be their “bowl” was ending the season with a 33-15 defeat of arch rival Virginia, the 16th time in the last 17 years they knocked off the Cavaliers.
Did You Know …
For all the hype about the “Enter Sandman” theme and the electricity of a Virginia Tech home game, the Hokies since 2010 (or head coach Brian Kelly’s first year at Notre Dame) are 1-11 at home against ranked teams.
This included losses at home last year to No. 25 Liberty (38-35), No. 9 Miami (25-24) and No. 4 Clemson (45-10). No. 6-ranked Notre Dame also recorded a 45-23 conquest at Lane Stadium in 2018. The lone Virginia Tech victory occurred in 2019 versus No. 22 Wake Forest, 36-17.
Virginia Tech has proven to be more dangerous on the road, going 12-14 in that same span versus ranked foes (including neutral sites). One of the losses came in the closing seconds at Notre Dame in 2019 (21-20).
2021 Capsule Summary
Roster upheaval has been dramatic the past few months. Six players left for the NFL before their eligibility expired, notably standout left tackle Clarence Darrisaw and game-breaking running back Khalil Herbert, who averaged 7.6 yards per carry while rushing for 1,183 yards last year.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker transferred to Tennessee, but it appeared the Hokies were ready to make the transition to Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister. He started the finale last year versus Virginia and completed 15 of 22 passes for 212 yards and a score in the 33-15 win, and added seven carries for 36 yards.
Burmeister will have a veteran and balanced corps of targets with wideouts Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner and tight end James Mitchell, whose 26 receptions averaged 16.7 yards last year and included four touchdowns. Rebuilding the offensive line will be pivotal, as it will at Notre Dame in 2021.
Four transfers were brought in to restock the cupboard, most notably 6-4, 310-pound nose tackle Jordan Williams, who started for Clemson against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game last December. He and 6-6 end Amare Barno, who recorded 16 tackles for loss with 6.5 sacks in 2020, lead the front. The return of safety Devin Taylor also provides a huge boost on that side of the ball.
Why No. 6 In Countdown
This team fits right in the middle because of its Jekyll-Hyde personality, which is what makes the sixth year for head coach Fuente perhaps make or break.
Five years ago Fuente was one of the hottest young commodities in coaching by debuting at Virginia Tech with a Coastal Division crown, a 34-31 win at Notre Dame and No. 16 final ranking in the AP poll. He followed with a 9-4 mark and another top-25 finish.
But over the past three years he is only 15-17 versus FBS teams, and losses to both Old Dominion (2018) and Liberty (2020) have seen his stock drop — although he did flirt with the vacated Baylor job in the winter of 2020. The Hokies had no losing season in the 25 years from 1993-2017, but now suddenly have two in the past three.
There is a lot of individual talent here, but how it meshes as one is the unknown. Some early 2021 setbacks might create a point of no return for Fuente.
What puts this game above others such as Notre Dame’s road trips to Stanford and Virginia is this falls right around mid-term week at Notre Dame, plus the Irish will be coming off consecutive games against potentially top 15-rated opponents Wisconsin (Sept. 25) and Cincinnati (Oct. 2). Sustaining an emotional high three straight weeks will be a challenge.
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