COLUMN: After Duke debacle, Virginia Tech's season hangs in the balance

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) -- There was little argument before this 2019 season began that Virginia Tech had one of the easiest schedules, if not the easiest schedule in the ACC.

Avoiding top teams in the Atlantic division such as Syracuse and the defending national champions in Clemson, Tech drew Boston College and Wake Forest in addition to its typical slate of Coastal foes.

Throw in non-conference opponents such as Old Dominion, Furman and Rhode Island, and you can see why there was very real optimism that the Hokies could do something special with even a small improvement over 2018.

Yet, here the Hokies stand: 2-2 through what you could argue is the easiest four-game stretch this schedule will provide this season. A close, yet sloppy loss at Boston College preceded two uninspiring wins over the aforementioned Monarchs and Paladins.

And then there was Friday night: a 45-10 drubbing in primetime at the hands of the visiting Duke Blue Devils -- a program that previously boasted just two wins over the Hokies since the latter joined the ACC in 2004.

It was an anemic showing, particularly from Tech's offense, which managed to cross midfield only four times, and just once in the second half. Starting quarterback Ryan Willis completed only 7 of his 18 attempts, and 72 of his 112 passing yards came on one play--a touchdown pass to Damon Hazelton that was Tech's sole appearance in the end zone.

"I would say, like any good offense, you have to have an identity, and we're struggling to find that identity," head coach Justin Fuente said. "We're inconsistent in the run game and inconsistent in the pass game. It's a culmination of all of those things that we have got to find a way to get a handle on."

As ugly as Friday's loss was, it is, indeed, early. There is time for Fuente and Co. to turn things around before things get worse. But now, a quick glance at that same schedule once thought to favor the Hokies now yields very few promising chances at victory.

Next week, Tech travels to Miami, where the Hokies have lost in three of their last four trips to South Beach.

Then, they return home for a matchup with Rhode Island. Bowl eligibility rules allow for only one FCS win to count toward the requisite six, meaning even if Tech beats URI, it won't help VT's bowl chances since it already defeated Furman.

Looking at the rest of the home schedule shows three more games against North Carolina, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh.

The Tar Heels looked impressive in season-opening wins over South Carolina and Miami, but have faltered against Wake Forest and Appalachian State the past two weeks.

Wake Forest is 4-0, and while its schedule hasn't quite heated up yet, the Demon Deacons are playing well for head coach Dave Clawson and were the first team out of last week's AP Top 25.

Pitt played No. 17 Penn State tight, losing by just a touchdown, before upsetting No. 15 UCF the very next week. The Panthers also handed VT its most lopsided loss last season, walloping the Hokies 52-22 in the Steel City.

Besides Miami, Tech goes on the road to face Notre Dame (currently ranked 10th), Georgia Tech and, lastly, Virginia (currently ranked 18th).

As it stands, the Hokies need four wins over teams not named Rhode Island to extend their nation-long bowl appearance streak to 27 in a row.

It's not impossible but, at this point, it also doesn't seem likely. Inconsistent play in all facets of the game, on both sides of the ball, have put this year's Virginia Tech team in a tougher spot than even last year's, which had to rattle off wins over UVA and Marshall at the end of the season to keep the bowl streak alive.

With eight games left, the wins need to come soon, but unlike just a few weeks ago, there's now no telling if they’ll even come at all.

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