Countdown to Kickoff: 24 Days
As we enter the final quarter of our 100 Days to Kickoff series, we'll spend the rest of this week covering some season scenarios, mapping out where things could theoretically end up.
2016 Best-Case Scenario
First of all, the basis for the best-case scenario season is as follows:
- Justin Thomas stays healthy throughout the season and returns to his 2014 form in executing the offense.
- Matured playmakers in the backfield result in better offensive efficiency and more big plays.
- The offensive line becomes a far more effective and cohesive unit than in 2015, particularly in pass protection.
- The front 7 on defense sees the likes of Francis Kallon step up into a high-performing role, there is some sense of a pass rush, and the unit remains reasonably healthy.
- The secondary is able to counteract the big plays it allows by creating turnovers, particularly in key situations.
- The specialists remain fairly reliable when called upon.
Now, if all of those things happen, here's what we could see as a best-case result:
|September 3, 2016
|Boston College Eagles
|September 10, 2016
|September 17, 2016
|September 22, 2016
|Clemson Tigers (White Out)
|October 1, 2016
|Miami Hurricanes (Family Weekend)
|October 8, 2016
|October 15, 2016
|Georgia Southern Eagles (Hall of Fame Weekend)
|October 29, 2016
|Duke Blue Devils (Homecoming)
|November 5, 2016
|North Carolina Tar Heels
|Chapel Hill, NC
|November 12, 2016
|Virginia Tech Hokies
|November 19, 2016
|Virginia Cavaliers (Senior Day/Toy Drive)
|November 26, 2016
|December 3, 2016
|ACC Championship Game
|December 30, 2016
|Capital One Orange Bowl
|Miami Gardens, FL
Early games against Boston College and Vanderbilt are defensive struggles, as two stout defenses are a tough early challenge for an offense looking to redeem itself from last year. Both result in wins, although relatively low-scoring in nature. They sandwich a comfortable win over Mercer.
Georgia Tech's biggest challenge of the season comes at the end of September when the defending conference champions and national runners-up come to town for a Thursday night game under the lights at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Jackets are not intimidated by the accomplishments of the Tigers since their last meeting, and hang with Clemson the whole way. A few defensive slip-ups lead to big plays for Georgia Tech, and the game turns into a shoot out. A late turnover redeems someone in the secondary for a blown coverage earlier, and leads to the game-winning score. Clemson once again falls victim to Bobby Dodd Stadium, and Georgia Tech manages another huge upset in a night game at home.
Miami comes to Atlanta after the Jackets have a couple of extra rest days. Georgia Tech is not intimidated by new Miami coach Mark Richt, nor of QB Brad Kaaya, and hands with the highly-talented Hurricanes deep into the game. A film study-inspired turnover is the difference for the Yellow Jackets to hang on for a second straight big home victory.
After two emotionally and physically depleting wins in a row, Georgia Tech is dealt some disappointment on the road in Pittsburgh. The offense is somewhat stifled by a very talented and well-coached defense, and the defense is punished by a very physical offensive attack featuring a tandem of running backs. It's close, but Pittsburgh comes away with a win.
Georgia Tech returns home for its final two games of October, both home games against competition that is dangerous if overlooked. Luckily, the Jackets were humbled previously by Pittsburgh (not to mention Duke the previous two years, and the near-disaster against Georgia Southern in 2014) and take both games seriously -- especially the homecoming game against Duke. Both games are close early in the fourth quarter, before Georgia Tech manages to pull away late.
The following two contests are both road games, and have most nothing else in common. The first is in Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels. This is a shootout game, thanks to UNC's offensive firepower and a poor defensive output. A high-scoring fourth quarter sees Georgia Tech with the ball last, scoring in the final minute to win the game. The following week, Georgia Tech travels to Blacksburg’s Lane Stadium for a match-up with their long-time division rival Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Bud Foster’s defense is stifling as usual, but luckily for Georgia Tech, Justin Fuente’s new offense has struggled to really take hold in year one. The Yellow Jackets get out to a lead by halftime, but struggle to score in the second half. Luckily, the Hokies start slow and are not able to complete the comeback.
The Yellow Jackets return home for the final game on the Flats in the careers of Justin Thomas, Freddie Burden, Pat Gamble, and P.J. Davis (among others), and make sure to go out in a bang. They all participate in a total thrashing of Virginia, who in year one under Bronco Mendenhall is having major identity issues and struggling to make personnel fit. It’s an easy win for Georgia Tech as the seniors get subbed out with a few minutes left to one last ovation from their home crowd.
The regular season ends as it always does, with a match up against georgia in Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. The game happens in Athens, as the first Paul Johnson-Kirby Smart takes place. The bulldogs are struggling to diversify offensively, with an impressive rushing attack but an underwhelming passing attack as the torch is being sloppily passed from senior QB Greyson Lambert to freshman phenom Jacob Eason. Georgia Tech trails entering the fourth quarter, but a strong finish puts them over the top at Sanford Stadium for the third time under Paul Johnson.
At 7-1 in conference play, Georgia Tech represents the Coastal Division in Charlotte. Unfortunately, they run into the revived buzzsaw that is Florida State in 2016. Coming off of their own home win over Clemson, the Seminoles come in rolling with 11 regular season wins. Sadly, that roll continues, as the talent differential is too much for Georgia Tech to overcome. A late score makes it look close, but the Seminoles win the game and conference championship.
Still, at 11-2 and with wins over Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and georgia, the Yellow Jackets are once again invited to a New Year’s Six game. They return to the Orange Bowl looking for a repeat performance from 2014, and they get it. The Yellow Jackets once again roll in Miami behind several big plays on offense. They win their second Orange Bowl in three years, and finish with a strong 12-2 (7-1) record.
Please remember — this is a best case scenario. This is not meant to represent how I necessarily expect things to unfold — just how things may unfold.