In what will be the third and final part of this miniseries, we will now take a look at how I expect the 2014 season to actually play out. Just as a disclaimer, this "expected-case scenario" is not nearly as drastic as the milk-and-honey/fire-and-brimstone predictions forecasted in my previous two case analyses. It’s actually almost at the exact average of the two predictions – I guess that would make it milk-and-brimstone? But anyway, I do think it will surprise a good few of you. Before you write this prediction off, read the article and at least hear what I have to say.
Let's take a step back and calm down for a minute. It's going to be okay.
First off, don’t let that decimal point freak you out – I don’t actually expect Tech to play half a game. 3.5 losses means if we play 13 games we’ll lose three and if we play 14 games we’ll lose four. And I’ll tell you why I think that, if you hear me out.
Ten wins is a tall order. But it's not unfounded; it’s the schedule. We have one of the most favorable schedules we’ve had in recent memory. And with a team that will likely be reverting to simplified offensive schemes similar to 2008/2009, I think we will do better than most people expect.
The first three games of the season have most of the Tech fanbase more than a little worried – on the road at Tulane and home vs. Georgia Southern are two big, big trap games. Both opponents will be playing to prove something and will likely come out firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately for them, emotion can only get you so far in a game of football, and Tech’s superior athletes, scheme, and coaches will be too much for either opponent to come close to winning. Expect the Jackets to win these three games handily.
The road game at Virginia Tech is where we hit our first bump in the road. Let’s face it, the Hokies have had our number since 2009. And while one can argue that their past four wins against us have been extremely flukey (a broken arm, a punch in the head, a 45 second drive to tie it up, every opportunity in the world missed by our offense), history doesn’t lie. Sure, the Hokies don’t have Logan Thomas or Kyle Fuller anymore, but I don’t feel good about this game. Jackets lose in a close one, although I’m not sure how – something along the lines of Justin Thomas getting pulled over by a Virginia State Trooper for speeding on a long would-be-game-winning touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
One reason I think Tech will win ten games is because of the favorable placement of its bye weeks. Getting a week off before the Miami game will be huge, and I think it will show when this young Tech squad takes the field on October 4 against the Hurricanes. It will be a whiteout, and depending on what else is going on in the conference that day, it may very well be a night game. Miami has Duke Johnson, but I don’t think they have a passing game to support him. If the defensive line can clog up the middle, I think Miami will be largely ineffectual on offense. This is one of my more controversial picks, but I think Tech will rout Miami somewhere in the ballpark of 35-13.
Duke comes to Atlanta the next week, and it should be business as usual. I’m not buying the preseason Duke media hype. They played a great game against Texas A&M to end last season, but that was last season and things are completely different. Duke hasn’t shown it can stop the Tech offense yet. The Jackets will roll in this game too and win by three touchdowns.
The next two weeks are the hairiest part of the schedule to me. This stretch will define Tech’s season – will it be a great success or a disappointing failure? In Chapel Hill, I expect the Jackets to face a good bit of resistance. UNC typically plays hard in this game, and I don’t doubt they are tired of being little brother. That’s what they are to us, though, at least in football. We’ll take this game in this fourth quarter, but it will be close. 24-21 seems about right.
Pittsburgh is my official head-scratcher for the season. Historically, Tech has played poorly in road games up north, and this one will be no exception. While we will be favored to win by 7-10 points, we will lose by as many due to the team simply not showing up to play. I’ve seen it too many times to call this game a win in good conscience. We will all be left wondering, how did that happen?
At this point, the Jackets are likely 6-2 and possibly ranked in the top 25 as they return to Atlanta for Homecoming against Virginia, which is the conference game I am the least worried about. Despite a strong recruiting class, Virginia lacks an identity even at this point late in the season. This should be a feel good game for the white and gold, as I expect a big win by 20+. It will be key because it will keep us in the chase for the Coastal title.
The Jackets will head to Raleigh the next weekend for their third road trip in the past four weeks to face NC State. Tech will be clicking on offense by this point in the season as we see Justin turn the page in his understanding of the offense – the light will come on and he will "stop thinking and start reacting", as both Joshua Nesbitt and Tevin Washington said happened to them. Justin will reach a new level of understanding, one that Vad Lee never reached because he never bought in. Jackets tame the Wolfpack in this one.
Tech is 8-2, and the offense is starting to look scary. Similar to in 2008, we see the level of offensive production skyrocket in the last three or four games of the season as the young players on the team begin to fully understand their roles within Paul Johnson’s system. Justin and Tim Byerly are one of the top quarterback tandems in the nation, operating as perfect foils of each other and smashing to pieces the idea that "if you have two quarterbacks, you have none".
That’s why when Clemson comes to town, they run smack into a Tech squad that’s barreling full steam ahead towards its two biggest rivals with revenge on its mind. History is not on the Tigers’ side; the last time they won in Atlanta was 2003, and no matter how much they are favored to win by, they can’t seem to beat the Jackets in Bobby Dodd. Clemson without Tajh and Sammy is just another middle-of-the-road ACC team that can’t get out of the road in time to avoid getting run over by the Ramblin’ Wreck. Tech by two touchdowns.
Like I said before, bye weeks are key, and the off-week before the georgia game will prove to be crucial. At 9-2, the Jackets will be hungry to see the field again by the time Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate rolls around. Refreshed from the bye week and with a victory over Clemson in its back pocket, this team will show up in Athens with a new swagger and confidence that will be clearly visible from the stands. In these rivalry games, team stats almost go out the window – for those of you who play the Madden/NCAA Football video games, it’s like enabling the "even teams" option. It’s all about who wants it more. And if you think that you as a fan want to beat georgia, imagine how the players will be feeling after last year’s atrocity. Further, UGA’s new defensive coordinator has never faced Paul Johnson – another undeniable wildcard that likely will play into Tech’s favor. The good guys will win in a barn-burner thanks to its offense.
Depending on whether or not Tech can win the division at 6-2 in the conference, the Jackets may or may not be facing Florida State in Charlotte. If they do make it to the title game, Florida State will be the best team Tech has faced this season by far. Tech will keep it close for three quarters but future double-Heisman winner Jameis Winston will prove to be too much for the Tech secondary. FSU takes this one 42-28.
The bowl game will really be a tossup. Taking history into account yet again (which is a flawed methodology for predicting college football games, but is unfortunately all we have), I’d have to err on the side of caution and call this another loss. I could very well be wrong, and I hope I am, but it will likely be against a top-15 team in late December/early January, and I’m not sure Paul Johnson has the right mindset towards preparing for a bowl game to win a competitive game in the postseason.
I am well-aware of the possibility that this season prediction dissertation is way off. But taking into account our schedule, the fact that one of the fastest players in the nation is lining up under center for us, and the sheer volume of question marks we have at nearly every position, it’s not entirely out of the question to believe this team can win 10 games.
How do you think the Jackets will do this season? What do you think the odds are that we win 10 games?