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Georgia Tech Football: New Year, New Expectations

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Georgia Tech has had two years under Collins and it is now time to see the progress.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Georgia Tech Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

When Paul Johnson retired after the 2018 season Todd Stansbury made it known that he was searching for a coach who would bring in a more modern college offense. He wanted more than just an offense that would appeal to local recruits, Stansbury needed his first hire for a head football coach to bring a new appeal that would sell the brand of Georgia Tech Football.

Two years in, Coach Geoff Collins has hammered the branding and recruiting on a daily basis. Local and national media attention has grown and recruiting has seen some top in-state talent choose to be apart of the Yellow Jacket family.

The results on the field have been rough but most fans expected as much in the midst of a transition of two disparaging coaching philosophies. The second year may have been stalled on development due to limited practice caused by the pandemic. Freshman quarterback Jeff Sims showed flashes but could have really used the refinement of a spring camp.

The jury is still out on how normal things will be around Spring and Summer but there are hopes we could see a mostly normal sports world with the vaccine rolling out. With that in mind, we will base the expectations for the 2021 season on having a close to normal off-season.

The variables with this transition/rebuild have created a lot of opinions that mark success and where the program should currently stand. So I decided to ask myself and fellow FTRS writers what their opinion is for next season.

Let’s start off by wrapping up this season, is the program on track with where it should be, or are you disappointed thus far?

Jeff: The ability of this staff to scout out and bring in better talent has been a pleasant surprise so far. Gibbs is certainly the crown jewel but there have been other nice additions in both recruiting and the transfer portal. A large influx of transfers could add some nice depth this coming season. Results on the field have been a mixed bag though. There were some wins this year that were squandered away that could have been a nice indicator of progress. The regression of the secondary this year was concerning as well.

Chris: I’ll start by saying that I really expected more wins in 2020 than in 2019. I don’t necessarily consider it a failure that we’re at a 3-win plateau, but it’s not particularly impressive either. Still, there are definite signs of continued improvement. As Jeff said, Gibbs is a huge piece of the puzzle. Sims and others on the offense also showed some good promise so I’d say I’m at least content with where the offensive development is headed. Defensively is where I’d say we are certainly not on track. Collins markets himself and his staff as defensively-oriented and it’s a huge disappointment that for two years in a row we’ve had one of the worst defenses in the P5. As I’ve said before, getting “the little things” right was also a massive failure this season. Changing the culture needs to actually mean changing the culture for the better - we need to stop giving ourselves disadvantages.

Nishant: The others covered how I generally feel—optimistic about the offense and concerned about the defense. I’m confident in the future at quarterback and running back; Sims wasn’t half as bad as his interception tally would suggest, and running back is the strongest position group on the team. I think the line will improve next year with the additions of transfers Devin Cochran and Nick Pendley, plus Jordan Williams having an offseason to develop, so my biggest lingering concern on offense is the receivers. The wideouts need to get better at running routes, and one of the tight ends needs to emerge as a viable player to give Sims a safety valve, something he really could’ve used this year. As for defense... calling this year disappointing would be an understatement. It’s hard to justify returning nearly everyone on the two-deep and yet regressing badly, particularly in the secondary with all the talent stacked up there. I’m willing to give DC Andrew Thacker a mulligan due to this being a pandemic year, but there needs to be significant improvement next year, full stop.

Jake: The SP+ numbers that Akshay and I talked about on the podcast (here) show a big step forward, even if it didn’t translate in pure wins. The team also underperformed its expected wins by more than 1 win, so that shows we had opportunities, too. I’ll take it. I think 6 or so wins next year is both possible and expectable.

Say every position group performed the same as last year but one would take a major step forward. Which one would be the most important to improve?

Jeff: Linebackers without a doubt. They weren’t the worst unit last year but they could have the biggest impact if they became a strength. Tech had struggles in each part of the defense but the linebackers could help out each. Stopping the run was an issue and keeping teams from controlling the ball would help out everyone.

Chris: Agreed with Jeff, having a strong linebacker corp would be of great benefit to a struggling defense. Opposing offenses could do almost whatever they wanted to us all season (especially on the ground) and having a group that could lock down running backs would go a long ways to getting the defense off the field.

Nishant: I would love nothing more than for one of the young linebackers to emerge as a serious playmaker in the spring and take hold of the vacant middle linebacker job. That unit is in dire need of an impact player. My second answer would be safety, if only because it was alarming how much the safeties seemed to regress this year out of nowhere. At their best, Juanyeh Thomas and Tariq Carpenter can be one of the best safety tandems in the ACC, and I think a normal-ish offseason will help both of them round into form once more.

Jake: I’d take the OL. I think Sims could have stood to benefit a lot from having a more seasoned line, and I think him + experience + a good line would make for honestly a rather formidable offense next year.

Besides Sims and Gibbs, who are you most excited about going into next year?

Jeff: Jordan Williams, he was thrown into the fire as a freshman this year and could really benefit with a full off-season of reps. He got the experience of going against some tough pass rushers so he should know what he needs to work on. If he cleans up his game and continues to get stronger he will be a big factor on offense.

Chris: [Insert whoever wants to step up to be our leading receiver here]. With Brown and Camp gone we are going to desperately need someone to step up and be the go-to guy catching the ball. Sims needs someone dependable and dangerous to lean on, and Gibbs needs someone to take the pressure off of the run game. Malachi Carter and James BlackStrain are the two I’d probably look to right now.

Nishant: Out of returning players: defensive ends Kyle Kennard and Jared Ivey, who look ready to join Jordan Domineck in what’s looking like a pretty solid pass rush rotation. Out of the incoming freshmen: linebacker Trenilyas Tatum, who I think could emerge as an impact player before too long. And out of the transfers: left tackle Devin Cochran, who should be a massive boost to an offensive line that’s still working on getting the young guys ready.

Jake: The transfers have me excited. In particular, McGowan on offense and White on defense. Bringing in proven success I think will have a trickle down effect.

Coach Collins is locked in with 5 years left on his contract but who among the assistants needs to prove it this year?

Jeff: It has got to be receivers coach Kerry Dixon. Size and talent isn't an issue among the players and having Ahmarean Brown transfer out after a record year his freshman season isn't a good look. Some of that could be part of QB Sims learning on the fly but outside of Camp, the unit wasn’t very consistent. James Blackstrain and Jamal Haynes have a high ceiling coming and Dixon needs to make sure they are ready to see the field.

Chris: Thacker. The defense needs to start being a strength and not a glaring weakness, now.

Nishant: Secondary coaches Jeff Popovich and Nate Burton. With all the talent and experience in the secondary this year, it’s hard to point to anything other than subpar coaching to explain how much they regressed. All the key players are returning once again and the offseason should be less weird, so it’s up to the secondary coaches to show what they can do.

Jake: I’m with Chris. The defense was supposed to be vaunted, and I don’t think we’re quite close to that.

What is the bare minimum in terms of wins for next season?

Jeff: The out of conference schedule has Northern Illinois, Kennesaw State, Notre Dame, and our drunk uncles at the Thanksgiving dinner. Wins against NIU and KSU are a must. Losing to Kennesaw would be the 2nd FCS loss under Collins and let the local media have a field day. It can’t be allowed to happen. Duke, Virginia, and Virginia Tech are a bit of a mess in the Coastal right now too so give me 5-7 as the baseline.

Chris: Agreed with Jeff, I think 5 is the minimum. NIU and KSU are absolute must-wins. All of Duke, BC, Pitt, VT, or UVA should be beatable.

Nishant: I see the logic in calling 5-7 the minimum based on the schedule, but it’ll be hard for me to be satisfied with anything less than a bowl bid. At some point you have to stop talking about being in a rebuild and start winning games.

Jake: 5 at the minimum. KSU, NIU, plus three ACC wins. Anything less would be...bad. It seems like over 2/3rds of the roster has been signed by this staff by now. Time for the “rebuild” theme to start to become “results.”

Is there a reasonable, unexpected win on the schedule that could make you accept a lesser record?

Jeff: Beating uga? They are still a tough out despite burning through more QBs in a year than most coaching staffs go through in a decade. I’d truly say Miami or UNC. Both are the measuring stick of the Coastal and stealing one from them would show the team can beat teams who may have more talent.

Chris: I’m gonna go ahead and say that beating uga or clemson isn’t reasonable. I’d probably go with Notre Dame. Miami would be nice, but they tend to be disappointing by the time the season ends so a win against them isn’t worth a whole lot of confidence. ND is a solidly good team that is also beatable.

Nishant: Notre Dame for the reasons Chris described. I’d be very happy with a win over Miami regardless of when in the season it happens, but I don’t think Miami alone would be enough for me to overlook the team losing 8-9 games.

Jake: Chalk up another in the Notre Dame column.

Go ahead and give a way-too-early prediction!

Jeff: I was optimistic for this year and it came back to bite me. I’ll continue that trend though and say they just make a bowl game at 6-6. I mentioned NIU and KSU should be wins along with Duke, UVA, and VT. I say it is about time we beat Pitt again because I can’t take dealing with that much longer.

Chris: I’ll also go with 6-6 and say NIU, KSU, Duke, UVA, VT, and BC are the wins.

Nishant: Pass. Too superstitious to make predictions.

Jake: 5-7. NIU, KSU, Duke, VT, and Pitt.