In retrospect, I wish I had started this miniseries with the worst-case scenario first. It’s a total buzz-kill to go from all the good vibes in yesterday’s article to today’s article’s rampant cynicism, but it is what it is. Let’s all put on a brave face and get through this together.
My worst-case scenario is 3-9. I guess the good news is that we, in all likelihood, will win at least a few games this season. But it will be a long and painful road. And no, we aren’t just going to get blown out nine times – that’s too easy. Too painless. No, the Jackets will make it close; these nine games will extract every last ounce of hope and optimism from your being, week-in and week-out, before ultimately stomping it all into the dirt with an ice cold, steel-toed, hob-nailed boot.
You think it’s reasonable to expect great things from this team after everything that’s happened to this roster in the past few months? We’ve lost more players this offseason than I can even count – transfers, suspensions, dismissals, you name it. Not only do all these departures affect our depth, it also changes the atmosphere in the locker room. This team is ailing right now. And it shows in week one, when all of the behind-the-scenes dissonance that’s been building during fall camp rears its ugly head to the general public.
Tech wins its opener against Wofford, but by an unimpressive score of 31-14. A late turnover by the Terriers seals it for the Jackets, but the fans leave Bobby Dodd feeling dejected and confused by the debacle it just witnessed. The next week, the Jackets travel to Tulane and are caught off-guard by a team that is simply hungrier for the win, and 17 points is all it takes to satisfy their appetite (Tech manages just 10). Justin Thomas goes down to an injury that will hold him out of action for at least three to four weeks.
Tim Byerly brings an already-reeling Jackets squad back to Atlanta, where they meet yet another team that is playing to make a statement – the Jackets have no incentive in beating Georgia Southern, but they get by on pure strength. Tim Byerly can’t be stopped by the Eagles, and Tech wins 28-21 in a squeaker.
That’s the last game Tech will win until early November.
The Jackets inexplicably lose to the Hokies yet again – this time, the Hokies have a hot first half and go up 24-7 early. The Jackets fight back valiantly in the second half to make it 24-22 by way of five field goals, but Butker’s sixth attempt on the day falls just short at the buzzer.
Duke Johnson and Miami exploit a porous and depleted Tech defense in a 42-17 romp the next week. It doesn’t matter that Miami lost several of the key components of its passing game in the offseason – they run the ball for 85% of the snaps in this game and rack up big yards even with their second- and third-stringers. Everyone is left remembering the year georgia couldn’t do anything on offense except hand it off up the middle but still beat us.
Duke turns out to not be a pretender, either. Cutcliffe is one of the best coaches in the nation, and a masterfully executed game plan leads to a close 21-17 win for the Devils. At that point, the Jackets are 2-4, with "we lost to Duke" ringing in everyone’s heads.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Jackets with back-to-back away games at North Carolina and Pittsburgh due up. UNC comes back from a 21-0 first-half deficit to win 31-28 in what will go down in history as one of the worst halves of football ever played by a Jackets team. The next week, Pittsburgh is favored to win by a touchdown and they do, in a cold and rainy noon game up north. The slippery conditions lead to at least two more significant/season-ending injuries.
Thankfully, Justin Thomas has finally been cleared to play and he suits up for Homecoming against Virginia. Byerly has done a respectable job running the offense for the most part, but a combination of turnovers and bad luck has taken its toll on Tech’s record, which sits at 2-6. Not counting the Miami disaster, Tech has lost four of its games by a total of 16 points. Also, I forgot to mention: due to an unfortunate miscommunication, Russell accidentally shipped the bubble wrap uniforms from 2012 instead of the throwbacks from 2013, and the Jackets have been wearing them ever since.
With the return of Thomas just in time for Homecoming, the Jackets’ offense returns to multidimensionality with a 42-6 clobbering of Virginia. Overall it's a great Homecoming day, and with just one home game left (which doesn’t appear to be winnable), a largely-disinterested fan base assumes an air of apathy towards the upcoming road game at NC State. The Jackets fall in a 45-42 shootout, despite leading by ten with only five minutes remaining. No one seems to notice except for the most diehard of fans, who have a difficult time lamenting the loss.
Tech fans across the nation gulp nervously when they check their football schedule magnets the next Monday (since they’ve almost forgotten who Tech has left on the schedule by this point). Back-to-back rivalry games are due up. Losing to schools like NC State and Pittsburgh isn’t that big of a deal is one thing – does anyone even know anyone who went there? But in a workforce saturated by Clemson and georgia grads, Tech fans in the southeast are headed towards a fairly unpleasant next few weeks.
The name-spelling, purple-wearing, hat-slamming Clemson faithful take Bobby Dodd by storm and fill up more than 50% of the seats in the stands, since not many Jackets faithful want to witness what is about to happen. There are even a few annoying Clemson students that somehow manage to weasel their way into the student section and piss everyone off. Clemson rolls, and I don’t even care to guess what the score is. My new hobby of watching paint dry has taken the place of my fanhood because it is more interesting and less painful to watch by this point.
But at last, an end is in sight. All that’s left is a trip to the cesspool, and then we can begin focusing on basketball or baseball or just about anything else. We see a game similar to the 2012 game in Athens, where a disinterested Tech squad just doesn’t seem to care. Tech finishes 3-9 on the season. We breathe a sigh of relief – it’s over. It’s finally over.
PHEW, that was rough. Writing that was rough. But we made it through, and if you come back tomorrow I promise I’ll have something a little more uplifting for you in the final installment of this miniseries, the Expected Scenario.
What do you think? Can you imagine a worst case scenario even worse than this one? 0-12 doesn’t count, because that’s too easy.