The College Football season is almost upon us. This week I have for you my season preview for Georgia Tech. Next week I will put out a preview for UGA.
This preview contains: Brief recap of last season; 2016 Schedule; 3 most important players; 3 most important games; and prediction for the season.
Before the 2015 season began, at the 2015 ACC kickoff, Georgia Tech was selected by the media to repeat as Coastal Division champs and face Clemson in the ACC championship game in December (well, as least they got one right). The Yellow Jackets selection was certainly reasonable (they also received more than twice as many first place votes to win the division that any other team in the Coastal; 2nd was Virginia Tech and North Carolina, the eventual winners of the division, were picked 5th). Quarterback and dark-horse Heisman candidate Justin Thomas led the team in 2014, in his first season as the starting quarterback, to an 11-3 record with a loss to Florida State in the ACC championship and then a 15-point victory over Mississippi State in the Capital One Bowl. Picking Tech to win the division was a pretty easy choice (I personally picked them to win the conference heading into last season…whoops).
Well, not only did Tech not win the division, they did not even qualify to make a bowl game (nor were they even close to doing so). The Yellow Jackets won just three games. Two were against Alcorn State and Tulane to begin the season, and amazingly, their other win was against Florida State (by far and away the highlight of the season for the team, and it contained one of the best highlights in college football for the season). They completed their improbable upset of #9 FSU when they blocked all-world kicker Roberto Aguayo‘s 56-yard field goal attempt in a tied game with just six seconds remaining. Aguayo, who left college for the NFL after just his junior season and was selected in the 2nd round (SECOND ROUND!, a kicker!) of last year’s draft and had won the Lou Groza award (award for best kicker in college football) in 2013 as a freshman, had never missed a kick in the fourth quarter in his career. That is until the Yellow Jackets blocked his attempt at the end of the game and returned it for a touchdown as time had expired to win the game. FSU would go one to play in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game that season. Tech would go on to finish the season 3-9 and be selected to come in 6th place in the Coastal Division for this upcoming season. Only Virginia is projected by the media to have a worse season than Georgia Tech this season.
Week 1: Saturday, September 3 vs. Boston College in Dublin, Ireland (@ 7:30 am on ESPN2)
Week 2: Saturday, September 10 vs. Mercer @ Bobby Dodd (@ 3:30 pm on ESPN3)
Week 3: Saturday, September 17 vs. Vanderbilt @ Bobby Dodd (@ 12:30 pm on ACCN/ESPN3)
Week 4: Thursday, September 22 vs. Clemson @ Bobby Dodd (@ 7:30 pm on ESPN)
Week 5: Saturday, October 1 vs. Miami (FL) @ Bobby Dodd (time and channel not yet released)
Week 6: Saturday, October 8 @ Pittsburgh @ Heinz Field (N/A)
Week 7: Saturday, October 15 vs. Georgia Southern @ Bobby Dodd (N/A)
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Saturday, October 29 vs. Duke @ Bobby Dodd (N/A) (Homecoming)
Week 10: Saturday, November 5 @ North Carolina @ Kenan Memorial Stadium (N/A)
Week 11: Saturday, November 12 @ Virginia Tech @ Lane Stadium (N/A)
Week 12: Saturday, November 19 vs. Virginia @ Bobby Dodd (N/A)
Week 13: Saturday, November 26 @ Georgia @ Sanford Stadium (N/A)
*Schedule from fbschedules.com
3 Most Important Players
- QB Sr. Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas is the unquestioned leader of the team, as this will be Thomas’ third year as the starting quarterback in Atlanta. Thomas had a lot of preseason hype last year, as did Tech, but he, nor the team, lived up to it. Although the hype was warranted, Thomas was selected third in the preseason for ACC player of the year, and he really struggled. He completed only 42% of his passes (compared to 51% in 2014) for only 1,300 yards (1,700 in 2014) with just 13 TDs (2014: 18) but with eight INTs (only 6 in 2014). He also failed to eclipse 500 yards rushing (nearly 1,100 in 2014) and only ran for six TDs (8 in 2014). Thomas needs a bounce back year this year if Tech wants to have a good year.
- RB So. Marcus Marshall
Georgia Tech is well-known at this point for running the triple-option offense. So, the other important offensive player, other than Thomas, is the running back; or in Tech’s case, back(s). Marcus Marshall is expected to be the leader of that group of backs, as he ran for over 650 yards (leading the team) with four TDs last season while averaging over seven yards a carry. Fellow running backs Clinton Lynch and Isiah Willis will also be important to the team, but Marshall has the most talent and is expected to be more of the workhorse in comparison to the others.
We obviously can’t expect every game for Marshall to be like the game he had against Alcorn State in week 1 last season (8 car., 184 yards, 2 TDs) or against Pittsburgh in week 7 (10 car., 159 yards, 2 TDs), but it is certainly nice to know that he has the capability.
- LB Sr. P.J. Davis
P.J. Davis is expected to be the leader of the defense. Last season, he led the team in total tackles and was second in solo tackles. He also tied for the team lead in tackles for a loss (6.5) and had two sacks along with a forced fumble. Even in today’s high-power offensive football, the saying “defense wins championships” still rings true (see: 2016 Super Bowl Champions Denver Broncos).
For the Yellow Jackets to have a successful season, which seems to happen when no one is expecting them too (much like this season…), Davis will need to continue to lead the team on defense while also continuing to better himself as a defender and make those around him better.
Thomas also needs to revert back to playing the way he did in 2014, and Marshall needs to continue to develop into the stud back he has shown flashes of being for Tech to compete for a chance to win the Coastal Division.
3 Most Important Games for the 2016 Season
Week 1: vs. Boston College 9/3 in Dublin, Ireland @ 7:30 am on ESPN2
Last school year (2015-16) Boston College became the first team in ACC history to not win a single game in conference play in both football and basketball. So why would I put this game as one of the three most important?
Well, Tech won all of 1 conference game last year in football (the previously mentioned epic win over FSU). So, getting off to a good start (with a conference victory) is always important.
Oh, and the game is being played in Dublin, Ireland! Just the sheer fact that they are playing in a different country (one that is merely 4,000 miles away!) is really cool. Do not get me wrong, all of these American sports teams playing in games in other countries is getting a little ridiculous, but I actually really like this one. Being a college kid and getting to go play a relevant football game in Europe seems like it would really be awesome.
Week 10: @ North Carolina 11/5 in Chapel Hill, NC (time and channel N/A yet)
North Carolina is the reigning Coastal Division champion, so naturally this a big one. The Tar Heels were projected by the media to repeat as champs in the division, and by a huge margin. So, if Tech is still in the hunt at this point in the season, this will be a must-win game. North Carolina comes into this season expecting to repeat as well, and will be led by RB Elijah Hood, a popular dark-horse candidate to at least compete with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson for ACC player of the year.
Week 13: @ Georgia 11/26 in Athens, GA (time and channel N/A)
The Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry really does not need much of an explanation as to why it is important. They are the two power colleges in Georgia and every year puts out a good game. In the last 12 years, back to 2004, nine of the 12 games have been one-score games. That being said, UGA is 10-2 in the span, and leads the all-time series against their ACC rival 65-40-5. Both teams have a lot of questions coming into this season. No one knows if Tech can bounce back from a rough season a year ago, and UGA has a new head coach in Kirby Smart for the first time since 2001 when Mark Richt took over.
- Honorable Mention-Week 4: vs. Clemson 9/22 in Atlanta, GA @ 7:30 pm on ESPN
The reason I did not put this game in the top 3 is because I feel the three previously mentioned games have a chance to at least be good games and will either have the most importance for the fan base (biggest rival in UGA and reigning division champ in UNC) or I just think is a neat game. But Tech has no chance in their matchup against Clemson (barring a devastating injury). Clemson is the reigning National Runner-Up, reigning ACC champion and brings back A LOT of talent. Good luck to the Yellow Jackets in this one.
The way I see it, Tech has 3 definite wins (Boston College, Mercer and Virginia) and really only one definite loss (Clemson). That being said, I see the Yellow Jackets finishing the season 6-6, 3-5 in ACC play with wins against aforementioned BC and Virginia along with a win at home against Duke. I also think they will be able to beat Vandy at home in week 4 (as long as Tech isn’t already overly confident and looking ahead to the Clemson game the following week). I actually do believe that Vandy will be a much improved team this year (same goes for Virginia Tech, by the way, under new head coach Justin Fuente and Miami (much, much better) now being run by former UGA coach Richt), but I also think Tech will be better as well. The other win I gave to the Yellow Jackets is their matchup against Georgia Southern.
While Tech only has to leave the state of Georgia four times (one of which is on another continent and the farthest of the other three being in Pittsburgh), I really feel like this season does not set up to well for head coach Paul Johnson and his Yellow Jackets. Too many tough matchups with improved ACC teams. Thankfully, for Tech’s sake, their non-conference schedule is pretty manageable, other than UGA that is. I also feel that if Tech only wins six games (and UGA not being one of them), the heat of Johnson’s chair will be rather hot.
*All stats courtesy of SR/College Football