Paul Johnson hasn't ever put stock in preseason rankings, and for good reason. Each year, teams tumble from the top and have terrible seasons, while other teams rise from nothing into the national landscape. That said, there is some merit to analyzing a team based on past performance and the off-season. While it is nearly impossible to pinpoint exactly how a team's season will go, it is possible to define a reasonable ceiling and floor. Today we'll be taking a look at the ceiling, broken down game by game. How much can the team build on last year's success with such a tough schedule?
Game 1: Alcorn State
A preseason tune up, nothing much to see here.
Georgia Tech 70, Alcorn State 10
Game 2: Tulane
I have to say, I like how the second game is a step up in difficulty from the first. This will give the young guys a better look, but the game should still be an easy one for the Jackets. Tulane was troublesome during the first half last year, but don't expect a repeat performance with an improved Tech defense. They do have a pretty cool hype video though.
Georgia Tech 42, Tulane 17
Game 3: Notre Dame
Here begins the big test. This game may very well define the season for the Jackets, and will be key to building confidence in the young players. Notre Dame has good size across the board, especially on offense, but they've struggled to defend the option for several consecutive years. In this scenario, new QB Malik Zaire still hasn't fully adjusted to his role as the starting QB and turns the ball over a few times. It's close, but the defense gets just enough stops to pull out a win.
Georgia Tech 35, Notre Dame 31
Game 4: Duke
Some feel that this is a trap game, but I disagree. In a vacuum, one would expect a letdown after an emotional win against a highly ranked Notre Dame team on national television, but the events of last year's loss to the Blue Devils will prevent that from happening again. This is still an early game in the season, and the Jackets will take advantage of some critical mistakes by new Duke QB Thomas Sirk to take an early lead. From there, Coach Johnson will be sure to keep his foot firmly on the gas until the clock hits 0:00 in the 4th quarter. Barring some more ankle twisting from the Duke defense, the Jackets should beat Duke down in a statement game for Coach Johnson.
Georgia Tech 49, Duke 24
Game 5: North Carolina
This is the real trap game in my opinion. UNC brings back most of a team that beat the Jackets in 2014, and that could spell trouble after 2 big, emotional wins. To make things worse, this is the week before the big game against ACC favorite Clemson. The Tar Heels bring back QB Marquise Williams, who was unstoppable against Georgia Tech last year. They also return the defense, which was terrible. This game will be a shootout. At home this year, the Jackets are able to cut down on mistakes and the offense will simply be unstoppable.
Georgia Tech 50, North Carolina 42
Game 6: Clemson
This stretch of games is simply brutal, and this is just the midpoint. Paul Johnson hasn't won in Clemson since 2008, but don't let that discourage you. While many major media outlets have been hyping this team as the ACC favorite, they have a lot of holes to fill. This week the defense got even thinner when DJ Reader announced that he would be stepping away from football. Everyone is drooling over Deshaun Watson, but ignoring the fact that last year's #2 ranked Defense has to be almost completely replaced this year. Not to mention, it's never a good thing when the Offensive Line protecting a fragile QB has to be replaced too. The Jackets will move the ball much better this year against a rebuilding Clemson stop unit. Watson will make plays and score points, but will endure a lot of pressure behind an inexperienced line. A couple of turnovers and key sacks decide this one.
Georgia Tech 35, Clemson 24
Game 7: Pittsburgh
Even in this Best-Case scenario for this season, don't expect the Pitt game to go like it did last year. Pitt's 5 fumbles in the first quarter last year were ridiculous, even comical. Pitt returns some talented players, but wasn't able to stop the Georgia Tech offense last year. This game is another shootout (expect a few of those). The difference will be depth. Pitt has some great offensive players, but if they have to ride them for a full season, they'll wear down. Georgia Tech staying fresh during this shootout is the difference, and they pull away late.
Georgia Tech 45, Pitt 35
Game 8: Florida State
Quite possibly the biggest test of 2015 will come to town in the form of the 'Noles, who will be looking to stay ahead of Clemson in the Atlantic Division race. FSU will have Dalvin Cook this year, as he was found not guilty of his battery charge. FSU had a lot of success running Cook in last year's ACC Championship, but FSU will have to replace the offensive line that blocked for him last year. Don't expect him to be quite as successful this year. The Jackets scrap their way to a win at Grant Field, and remain undefeated.
Georgia Tech 38, Florida State 34
Game 9: Virginia
The last game in the long stretch before the bye week should be easier than the ones that came before it. The Virginia offense struggled to score against the Tech defense last year, though the defense did perform admirably against the Jackets' attack. That Virginia defense lost some key pieces from last season, like Eli Harold. Georgia Tech cruises.
Georgia Tech 42, Virginia 20
Game 10: Virginia Tech
After a long stretch containing several offensive shootouts, Georgia Tech is faced with its first true defensive battle of the season. The Hokies have failed to have any semblance of an identity on offense for years, but have been stellar on defense. Justin Thomas and the Tech offense will have to play a tough game against Bud Foster's defense, but the Georgia Tech defense should regain some confidence against a weak Hokie offense. VT QB Michael Brewer makes bad decisions again, Georgia Tech wins again.
Georgia Tech 24, Virginia Tech 17
Game 11: Miami
Miami lost a lot of talent to the NFL draft this year. Two starters on offense were selected in the first round of the draft, which will hamper Brad Kaaya's development. Miami also loses a lot of experience defending the option in LB Denzel Perryman. To top it off, Al Golden is on the hottest of hot seats, and may not even be the coach at this point in the season. Our very own Joey Weaver has stated before that if the team struggles early and Golden is fired, they could give up by the time the Jackets roll into town in November. In this scenario, that's exactly what happens, and Georgia Tech wins easily.
Georgia Tech 35, Miami 14
Game 12: georgia
It's been a while since Georgia Tech as won this game at home, and it's about time it finally happened. The team from Athens will bring a formidable rushing attack headlined by Nick Chubb, but at this point he will have had to carry the load for the entire season. With a questionable passing attack, georgia will rely on Chubb too much this season, and he wears down for this game. The Tech defense is able to stop him like they did in the second half of last year's game, and rolls over a questionable georgia run defense.
Georgia Tech 38, georgia 34
It's important to remember that this is the absolute BEST CASE scenario for the season, the absolute ceiling of what the Jackets can accomplish. Simply put, there is no ceiling. There is no limit to what this team can do. Taking a look at the schdule, there isn't a single team I look at and say "there is no way we can beat them" or "Chalk that one up as a loss." As difficult as this schedule is, it's entirely possible for the team to run the table this year.
That said, it's not likely that the season will play out this way. When a team has no ceiling, it's easy for fans to soar high above the clouds and forget that the floor exists. Tomorrow we'll turn our heads downward and take a sobering look at how the season could turn out if it all goes wrong.