Ding, dong, the Jameis is gone!
Never has their been such jubilee for a departure in sports since Michael Jordan took a vacation from the NBA. When Michael took his hiatus, the whole league became reminiscent of the wild west. Without a sheriff in place to squash all inferior enemies, the league was wide open for some bandit to steal the championship.
And like Hakeem Olajuwons' Rockets, Georgia Tech can seize the day. Now that Florida State is Winston-less, the ACC is more wide open than ever. Not since Georgia Tech had their ACC Championship vacated by the tyrannical NCAA has there been a better opportunity to win the conference championship. Who better to take back the championship than the Ramblin' Wreck?
After coming a drive away from winning the whole thing last year, Tech comes back with 13 starters (sixth most in the ACC). Eight starters come back on a defense that can go no where than up, while the offense returns arguably the best quarterback in the ACC. The road to the championship isn't as simple as returning starters though. It breaks down into hot seats, quarterback questions and much more. The ACC is for up for the taking! And Georgia Tech has everything falling into place for a conference championship season.
When a coach is on the "hot seat", teams respond one of two ways. They either A) come out firing on all cylinders or B) lie down to die slowly. Assuming most teams go towards reaction B, it favors Georgia Tech greatly.
The ACC is filled with coaches who's buns are roasting over a scorching hot fire of unemployment this season. The best part? Tech gets to play four of these coaches on the hot seat. Paul Johnson is just itching to brand someone's bare bottom with a "high school" offense that was near unstoppable last year. So who are these coaches weltering under the heat?
Al Golden is the obvious first choice. We've all heard the joke of Miami having more draft picks than wins in 2014, but his problems go a little deeper than some Twitter folly. History is not on Golden's side. He's 28-22 after four years, the exact same record as Randy Shannon after four years. Shannon was fired before the 2010 Sun Bowl, making Golden seem like a lame duck coming into 2015.
He's got Nebraska, Cincinnati, FSU, Virginia Tech and Clemson to start the season. There's a very good chance Miami comes out of that stretch 0-5. Miami limping into the Tech game in Atlanta is an easy win.
Second up is Mike London. He's coming off of three losing seasons and a fourth would certainly get him canned. The Cavs return 10 starters from a 5-7 team that was good on defense but far below average on offense. UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State make up three of their first four games and could make for a rough start for London. Tech gets them at home in week eight and can feast on what could be an already-rotting carcass.
The next head man on the hot seat is Larry Fedora. His name doesn't appear on many of these "hot seat" lists but a bad season could spell the end on his career in Chapel Hill. UNC's record has slowly declined in his three seasons, going 9-4 in 2012 to 7-6 in 2013 and 6-7 in 2014. The 'Heels return 17 starters, best in the ACC. But this team wasn't particularly good in any facet last season, so Tech could easily pounce on this unsuspecting group in an early-season ACC matchup.
The last one is a bit of a wild card. Brian Kelly is a prickly character on his good days, and his tenure with Notre Dame hasn't been the cleanest. Since the Irish's National Championship appearance in 2012, they've posted 9-4 and 8-5 records respectively. Notre Dame returns 19 starters and looks to have a bounce back season, but as our Bill Connelly chronicles, there's another potential 7-5 season on the horizon. Tech gets Notre Dame early, so the opportunity to catch them off guard with the option is very possible.
Of the three teams in the ACC who don't return starting quarterbacks, Tech gets two of them. The first of which is obvious: Florida State. Jameis's reign over the conference is over, and he is presumed to be replaced by the incoming graduate transfer Everett Golson. Golson is no sure thing, as he became a turnover machine in the latter half of 2014. Only four starters come back on offense, so it's not as if Golson would be inheriting a wealth of NFL players to help him like Winston did.
The Seminole defense should come back to be good once again with seven returning starters, but the good defense-bad offense formula in college football does not produce great results (See 2014 Virginia Tech, Virginia). Florida State comes to Atlanta on October 24th, and there's no doubt Tech is licking their chops for revenge after last year's ACC Championship game loss.
The other quarterback-less team is Duke. Duke has enjoyed unprecedented success the last three years, but with 12 starters coming back (only two in the front seven and three skill positions) there is a significant drop off to be expected this year. Cutcliffe is a noted quarterback guru, and replacing signal callers has never been a struggle for the 60-year-old boss. This season will be a big test for Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils to see if they can keep up their string of success.
The Duke game will be an admittedly tough spot for the Yellow Jackets. It'll be the latter of a back-to-back road trip starting with Notre Dame in the previous week, so Tech will need to make sure to be on high alert in Durham.
The teams you SHOULD worry about
There are three teams Tech should legitimately worry about in their quest for ACC dominance. Let's start with a surprise contender, Pitt.
It's true the Panthers are now on their fourth head coach in six seasons, but this head coach may be the best of the bunch. Pat Narduzzi made his name with stingy defenses at Michigan State and has doubled down on hiring a nice staff and inheriting 15 returning starters.
It's a sneaky good formula to make some noise in the Coastal Division. The good news for Tech is they'll play Pitt at Bobby Dodd stadium and last year's game wasn't exactly a thriller (Tech won 56-28 in Pittsburgh).
The other team in division to look real hard at is Virginia Tech. The only thing good about last season's Hokie team was this screen grab of Frank Beamer celebrating rocky style to a scoreless tie with Wake Forest. This Tech team should be much better than the one losing 6-3 overtime games to the Demon Deacons.
Virginia Tech returns eight starters on either side of the ball, and the offense that was, on it's best day, abysmal in 2014 has no where to go but up. Frank Beamer and company are due for a bounce back year after three years of .500-level football. Good news? Georgia Tech also gets the Hokies at home near the end of the season, right around where Georgia Tech hit their stride in 2014.
And finally, there's always the team up the road. Not Georgia, but a little further up the road: Clemson.
Clemson poses many questions marks. The defense by the advanced metrics was the best in the country. But that defense lost nine bodies to the NFL. You don't just replace nine NFL talents off the bat, especially when eight of those bodies came off the front seven. Also, their brilliant offensive coordinator Chad Morris is gone, filling a void that hasn't been open since 2010. Deshaun Watson is what pundits point to when making the argument Clemson will be good next season, and there is no doubting Watson's ability as a quarterback.
Georgia Tech does travel to Clemson, where Tech is 2-5 in their past seven meetings at Memorial Stadium. Georgia Tech won't have Cole Stoudt to throw them touchdown passes, so the Clemson game does prove to be a tough test for Tech in week six.
Even in those last three examples, it was never said Georgia Tech COULDN'T win any of these games. Every single ACC contest is a winnable game. This has not been a reality in the last five years. The road block of Jameis' Florida State is gone, Clemson is down their defense and offensive coordinator plus past division winners like Duke and Virginia Tech still have some question marks surrounding them preseason.
The ACC has never been this wide open! Why wouldn't this be Tech's year? You'll be hard-pressed to find a better combination of returning offensive line/quarterback combinations in the conference, plus there is only one other team that returns more starters on defense (Virginia Tech). The stars have aligned and there isn't a better year for Tech to win the conference and possibly, just maybe if everything goes right, represent the ACC in the College Football Playoff.
The question isn't will Georgia Tech win the ACC, it's why wouldn't Georgia Tech win the ACC?