The Legacy of Justin Thomas
We are back again for another round of the Upper North Perspective. It is the week of the QB as I wrote our QB position preview this week, and Justin Thomas was named to the Maxwell Award watch list the very next day. This forced me to consider his chances of actually winning the Maxwell. We all know the national awards are not designed for a QB from an offense like ours, but that does not mean it is impossible. It was not that long ago that we were talking Joshua Nesbitt’s hopes of national awards with a half-hearted Heisman campaign.
Long story short, this snowballed into me considering Smoove’s lasting legacy here at Georgia Tech and if there were any chances that Justin could catch Lil’ Joe on the QB big board.
Blasphemy, right? Honestly, it could happen. Stay with me here.
The Current Legacy
Let’s go back one year to start this off. I think we were all head over heels in love with what Justin Thomas had done for our program in one year as the starter. He simply played the position well, and he made it look easy as he was doing it. We were all discussing where his place would be at the end of his tenure on our hypothetical greatest of all-time list. That 2014 season for Justin Thomas was THAT magical.
The national media noticed as well. The Orange Bowl victory, or maybe better known as the Justin Thomas show, was a day of reckoning for the national media. He put everyone in the nation on notice that he was one of the most dangerous people in the college game today. Even Kirk Herbstreit named Justin Thomas the most exciting player in college football to enter the 2015 season.
Fast forward to today. GT finished the 2015 season at 3-9, and there were times last year where Justin looked lost. He was not the same person we saw the prior year. He did not have the control over the scheme that we had seen before. He did not have the chemistry with the players around him like 2014. It almost seemed like he only trusted himself to get the job done. He became a one man team, and we were not getting anywhere that way. Even with this rough year, Justin is still known as one of the toughest players in the ACC to prepare for.
The current legacy is wishy-washy. Do we have the most exciting player in college football? Do we have the man who is the perfect fit for our system? Do we have a guy that did not fully trust those around him, and in turn, looked lost? This year will go a long way in determining what we have here in Justin Thomas.
Let’s start by looking at what it would take for Justin Thomas to be considered for the Maxwell trophy and the Heisman trophy. We all know that it would take a truly Herculean effort to get Thomas in this spot, but he is on the watch list for a reason. The stats from 2014 put Justin in the spotlight. He threw for 1719 yards with a completion percentage of 51.3% and 18 touchdowns. In addition to the passing stats, JT5 ran for 1086 yards and eight more TDs. His adjusted QBR and passer rating were among the top in the country. There is no denying how terrific of a year Justin had, but this was not quite enough to put him on the award level.
For comparison’s sake, Marcus Mariota had 4454 yards passing, 770 rushing yards, and 58 TDs in his Heisman season. Deshaun Watson lost out on the Maxwell and Heisman, but he totaled 4104 passing yards, 1105 rushing yards, and 47 TDs. We all know the passing stats are not going to happen, so we have to evaluate in a different way. The QBR and passer rating need to be back among the top in the country for a chance at major awards. The passing yards need to touch the 2000 yard mark and rushing surely has to be over 1000. He needs to account for over 30 TDs, and I still do not know if that is enough.
An important factor will be directing the offense to be one of the best in the country in yardage and scoring efficiency. GT needs to be the dominant and dynamic threat that the 2014 offense was that made Tech one of the hottest teams in the country. The most important factor will be for Georgia Tech to be at least 10-2 with zero bad losses. Our losses must be seen as strong losses with Justin performing well in those games. Beating Georgia and ending the year on a high note with a win in the ACC Championship with a shot at the playoff could do it.
This is asking a lot of Justin Thomas and the 2016 Yellow Jackets, but we were not that far from accomplishing these goals in 2014.
Chasing Lil’ Joe
Ask most Georgia Tech fans who the standard is at QB for Tech, and the answer is almost assured to be Joe Hamilton. Joe Hamilton was the starter from 1996 to 1999 and is Tech’s leader in total offense with 10,640 yards. Hamilton won the Davey O’Brien award in 1999 and finished second behind Ron Dayne in the Heisman. Hamilton compiled a total record of 29-17 as a starter at Tech and finished his career on an 18-5 run. Joe was also 2-2 as a starter against Georgia and took us to three consecutive bowl games.
Joe Hamilton reinvigorated Georgia Tech and helped to start the bowl streak here. Joe became one of the singularly most successful players to put on the white and gold. He also led a couple of the best teams for Georgia Tech since the days of Dodd by fielding an offense that gave the Jackets a chance every time they were on the field.
Could Justin have the type of year to compare him, or even catapult him above, to Joe’s levels?
Is it Realistic?
I see Justin Thomas having a major bounce back season. I am a believer in Justin. He gave this team a strength and steadiness in 2014 that was needed. It was the same team essentially from 2013, but he took them to new heights. I remember the Georgia Southern game where he delivered a victory when it did not seem possible. He did this again against Virginia Tech. He delivered for us week in and week out when we needed it the most. Even during a game against Georgia where he did not play his best ball, he came up with a clutch scramble to put us in range for Harrison to kick that beautiful field goal to send us to overtime. We do not have to mention the brilliance of the ACC Championship or the Orange Bowl victory.
I know Justin had a rough 2015, but frankly, everyone on the team did, coaches included. Justin pressed a little too much and only trusted his own playmaking ability, and it hurt us as a team and him as a player. I am willing to bet that Justin knows these things better than every single one of us, and a competitor like him will be determined to make it right.
Let’s assume Justin has the type of year that puts him and Tech in discussion for national awards, conference championships, and playoff hopes. That would roughly give Justin a career record that compares to Hamilton’s career mark. He would have a comparable argument for total statistical brilliance on the Flats. If he simply has the same year statistically that he did in 2014, it would still warrant attention. If he beats Georgia, he would have a 2-1 record as a starter over the in-state rival and the same amount of wins against them as Joe. He would also have lead two of the most dynamic offenses in Tech history. Sound familiar? All of these things would compare favorably to what Joe did in his career.
Are the national awards likely? Probably not, but they are not impossible. The right year at the right time with his own personal big moments can put Justin in the conversation.
Would this type of year force everyone to debate whether or not he catapulted himself above Hamilton? Even with 2015, that answer is yes, and this could be Justin’s legacy at Tech. He does not have to pass Joe but putting himself in the same conversation is what he can do with the right year here. Simply being talked about in the same breath as Hamilton is a major accomplishment. That type of year is possible for Justin. That would be a legacy to be proud of and something that Tech fans would love to debate this time next year. I know Justin is the right man to do it.
What would it take for you to see Justin Thomas in this light, or is it even possible at this point? Are these goals for Justin reachable? Sound off, and let me know what you think.