Countdown to Kickoff: 22 Days
You've read about the best-case scenario for 2016 ... And you've read about the worst-case scenario for 2016 ... Now it's time to throw away the homer glasses and toss out the doomsday movies to get a grasp on the most likely outcome from the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets this season.
2016 Season Scenarios - Likely Case
To follow up with similar rules from the other two prediction stories written, these opinions don't bring any unpredictable and unfortunate occurrences into play. With the mindset that there will always be injuries and tough breaks during any football season, nothing extraordinary that would change the path of the season is considered when looking at the year realistically. Paul Johnson getting chop blocked on the sideline and having to coach the rest of the season from the press box would absolutely hurt the team, but let's avoid assuming the worst. On the other hand, Justin Thomas becoming Tom Brady from the pocket and Marcus Marshall becoming Jonathan Dwyer could also happen, but again, let's try to keep it realistic here.
The main thought I had when going through the games is that it can't get much worse than 2015. The luck has to turn around at some point, and it just wouldn't make sense for that many things to go completely wrong once again. Combined with that, the offensive line can only go up. I'm not kidding. It'd be nearly impossible for the blocking -- namely the pass protection -- to be as bad as last season. Johnson has seemed much more positive at times when talking about the blocking, so we can only assume it's not driving him insane like it did just one year ago.
Another improvement I think we all believe will happen is at the skill positions. It was known that it'd be an inexperienced unit last season, but I don't think we realized just how big of a difference it would make ... especially for Thomas. With Marshall coming back at B-Back and exciting many fans, and some more experience at A-Back and wide receiver, Thomas should have much more help around him this season. Trust is a huge deal when running the option, and there should be much more going around in 2016.
With that being said, let's get into the schedule.
Week One vs. Boston College
The one we've been waiting for ... the opener in Ireland. Traveling overseas to face a tough opponent wouldn't be a fun way to start out the season for a team that went 3-9 last season, but luckily for Tech, they'll be facing another team that went 3-9. It's hard to look at the Eagles with much optimism. While they brought in Kentucky QB transfer Patrick Towles and should have an improved offensive line, Boston College is still expected to be very weak offensively. Will they be better ... well, it'd be impossible not to. But it'll also be nearly impossible to be as good defensively as they lost their prized defensive coordinator and some key talent on that side of the ball. I'll chalk this one up as a win in a fairly low scoring and ugly opener for the Jackets.
Georgia Tech 20, Boston College 10
Week Two vs. Mercer
I'm not putting too much into this one and neither should you. It'll be great to see another smaller in-state school to come into Bobby Dodd and should be a fun atmosphere, but this isn't even a Georgia Southern caliber opponent. The Jackets should outmatch the Bears in every way and get the offense rolling after facing a tough defense the week before.
Georgia Tech 59, Mercer 14
Week Three vs. Vanderbilt
The Commodores won't be a pushover in 2016. One name you probably won't want to hear ever again after the week three matchup is linebacker Zach Cunningham. Manning the middle of the defense, Cunningham is one of the best linebackers in the nation and could single-handedly cause some issues for the Tech offense. While Vandy's defense is very strong, the offense is still a while away from being a true threat. Running back Ralph Webb is solid, but the Commodores will need more help than that to take off the Jackets at home. I'm expecting a similar game to Boston College with less sloppiness.
Georgia Tech 27, Vanderbilt 20
Week Four vs. Clemson
The Jackets are 3-0 going into a huge Thursday night matchup against the defending ACC Champions, the Clemson Tigers. Could it be? Will there be more magic against the Tigers at Bobby Dodd? Is Georgia Tech for real? Nope. Sorry. It's not going to happen. While a 4-0 start including a win against Clemson would immediately make people look at Georgia Tech, this isn't the year it'll happen. Unfortunately, the Tigers are as loaded as ever and have the best player in the country behind center. Throwing him up against an inexperienced secondary could spell for a really long night for the Tech defense. I have hope that it could remain respectable, but Clemson will remain undefeated and breeze through in this one.
Georgia Tech 21, Clemson 41
Week Five vs. Miami
To make matters worse after a beatdown against Clemson, Mark Richt will be strutting into Atlanta again on the first day of October ... this time wearing orange and green. As if Deshaun Watson wasn't enough last week, the emerging superstar Brad Kaaya will get the pleasure of giving the young Jackets' secondary problems in week five. Despite the Hurricanes airing it out all day, I expect the Tech offense to move the ball well and keep the game tight, but the home team will face a second straight defeat thanks to a late Miami touchdown.
Georgia Tech 30, Miami 34
Week Six at Pittsburgh
I seem to be the only one looking at this game as a win since both the best-case and worst-case have the Panthers coming out on top. The main key here is the Jackets coming off of two tough losses and facing a team that handed them a brutal defeat in 2015. That calls for some motivation. Pittsburgh will once again run the ball successfully thanks to a good offensive line and plethora of running backs, but the Tech defense will finally come up big with some turnovers to slow the attack. Justin Thomas will have a big day at Heinz Field to come up with a much-needed second conference win.
Georgia Tech 28, Pittsburgh 24
Week Seven vs. Georgia Southern
This may appear as me taking the Eagles lightly -- something no Georgia Tech fan should do -- but I've got the Jackets big in this one. As you may recall, this matchup was very one-sided in the early minutes two seasons ago, but something strange came down on Grant Field and allowed an improbable comeback for Southern. I don't see that happening again. Tech will still be angry about that near disaster and put away the Eagles promptly to get to 5-2 on the season.
Georgia Tech 48, Georgia Southern 24
Week Nine vs. Duke
Am I the only one that's just simply tired of the Blue Devils? I didn't think so. And I'm assuming Paul Johnson and the team feel the same way. We've been predicting that Johnson will unleash his wrath upon the Duke defense for years now, but it still hasn't happened. Let's just say this is the year. Feeling good off of a nice win against Southern and wanting to impress the Homecoming crowd, the Tech offense has a third consecutive great showing and pulls away in the second half to knock off the Blue Devils.
Georgia Tech 34, Duke 20
Week 10 at North Carolina
Marquise Williams is finally done terrorizing Georgia Tech, but unfortunately, the new man under center won't be much more fun to face. Mitch Trubisky is another duel-threat quarterback who put up some impressive numbers when he got the chance in 2015. Combine him with Elijah Hood at tailback and plenty of options out wide, and the Tar Heels are just as scary offensively in 2016. The defense probably won't be very good, but it'll be enough to keep the Jackets from revenging on the disastrous collapse last season in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech 31, North Carolina 38 (Yes, same score)
Week 11 at Virginia Tech
I already don't like the look of this game. Let's be honest ... the Jackets were basically handed a win in Blacksburg two seasons ago thanks to some incredibly bad quarterback play by Michael Brewer. It's hard to imagine Tech coming out with a win had a Hokies' quarterback just played bad instead of awful. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. I expect the Bud Foster-led defense to be as nasty as usual against the option while Justin Fuente's offense makes improvements from what we've seen in recent years at Virginia Tech. For the first time all year, Justin Thomas looks lost and hopeless as the Hokies' defense shuts down the option attack. Georgia Tech falls to 6-4 (3-4) on the season with two consecutive losses.
Georgia Tech 13, Virginia Tech 24
Week 12 vs. Virginia
I'm expecting this one to be the easiest conference win of the season for Georgia Tech. Coming off of two consecutive losses and having senior night against one of the worse teams in the conference should spell out a nice comfortable win for the Jackets. The Cavaliers have failed to find much in the first season under a new head coach and don't look in it from the very start.
Georgia Tech 35, Virginia 17
Week 13 at uga
Hoping to relive beautiful memories from two seasons ago, the Jackets head into Athens with seven wins. Unfortunately, I'm expecting Kirby Smart to have a solid first season with the bulldogs' ultra talented roster. Jacob Eason is permanently the starter, but he struggles a bit in his first look at the rivalry game. Saving him, the stout uga defense pushes the Tech offensive line around, causing Johnson and Thomas to force the passing game more than wanted. A few turnovers put the game away in Thomas' last shot at the bulldogs.
Georgia Tech 21, uga 24
Final Record after Bowl Game: 8-5 (4-4)
Thanks to a bowl win, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets manage a respectable 8-5 record to outdo 2015 by five wins. Though another loss to the bulldogs stings along with an 0-4 record against the "Big Four", the quick improvement should be enough to satisfy most of the fan base while giving cause for optimism looking forward.