Virginia: A G5 state in a P5 world
Why does the state have two Group of 5 teams with a combined 20-0 record while UVA and Virginia Tech struggle in the middle and bottom of the ACC?
We’re heading into the biggest weekend ever for Group of 5 football in the state of Virginia. James Madison is one of the toasts of the sport, sitting on a 10-0 record, hosting College GameDay, and enjoying national sympathy because of its (apparently doomed) fight with the NCAA over postseason eligibility. Liberty is Liberty, but the Flames are good, too. They have torn up an overmatched Conference USA and jumped to their own 10-0 mark. The lack of high-end competition in that league is going to keep Liberty from getting as much national respect as it would prefer, but still: That’s a solid team with a quality quarterback, Kaidon Salter, and coach, Jamey Chadwell.
The state’s two ACC schools are not doing as well. Virginia Tech has had a promising rebound after a brutal few years and might make a bowl game, but the Hokies have a long road back to conference contention. UVA is rarely good at football and is struggling again this year, although most of us agree that the 2023 Hoos deserve lots of grace. Those players and staff have carried a lot of unfair weight. UVA’s season includes a come-from-ahead loss to the unbeaten Dukes in Charlottesville.
Still, the dichotomy is interesting: Tech and UVA are struggling, but two schools that share their geographic footprint are thriving. It’s stark this year, but it’s not new. James Madison was the FCS national champion in 2016, a rare interruption to North Dakota state’s run, and a contender in other years. Liberty has fared well in six years since making its own FBS jump. Kudos to subscriber JJ M., who asked the question that got me thinking about this subject: “JMU and Liberty are the strongest programs in their respective conferences yet UVA and VT are perceived to have inherent disadvantages keeping them from ascending. What makes these ‘disadvantages’ exist only at the P5 level?”
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Why is Virginia a better state for mid-majors than the two biggest brands? The best answer is twofold.