As we exit the period of college football purgatory and enter the home stretch before the first game, the Yellow Jackets have several factors that could line them up for an opportunity to make the College football Playoff. We'll look at many of the unknowns, such as the impact of certain freshmen, who's ready to take steps forward, Tech's biggest competition for the ACC and national perception.
Before Georgia Tech kicks off on Thursday against the Alcorn State Braves, fans have mentally kept key players in an air-tight container and surrounded them by soft pillows and 3-inch thick plexi-glass. But ladies and gentlemen, it is now time to Break the Glass!!
1. The Jackets' defense looks to be better than "just better" in 2015
Depth is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Georgia Tech's defense in 2015. Not only do the Jackets have size, but a lot of athleticism on their four-man front. Speed on the edges and size in the middle brings a very experienced group on the defensive line, not to mention an agile, impatient Jabari Hunt-Days who'll be twitching on the sideline awaiting his opportunity to get back on the field.
Tech's secondary could possibly be the best in Paul Johnson's tenure. Also returning are a handful of athletic linebackers. As a whole, Ted Roof's squad will no longer be learning and adjusting and instead will hopefully be reacting. Though the offense has performed well, the Jackets will only make the playoffs if the defense can intimidate and inflict pain consistently.
2. Huge expectations await Clemson, Notre Dame, FSU and uga
I understand that national powers will always garner recognition, but three of these four teams are replacing starting quarterbacks and a huge number of high-level talent. Clemson is not replacing a quarterback, but has its faith in a second-year player Deshaun Watson who didn't stay healthy in 2014. The Tigers also lost their top offensive lineman to the supplemental draft and two off the defensive line.
Notre Dame struggled mightily in the second half of the season. After a heart-breaking loss to Florida State, the Fighting Irish went 1-4 down the stretch, losing games to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.
Skill-wise, Florida State may be as talented as ever. The Seminoles lose several experienced playmakers on offense and defense. I think of the four teams mentioned, they will have the best season and possibly be the biggest challenge to the Yellow Jackets' push towards the College Football Playoffs. Florida State also replaces its high-performing quarterback who bailed them out of several tough situations, including late comebacks against Louisville, Notre Dame and Clemson.
The expectations on uga are the most unfair. Not that the dawgs couldn't overcome the high expectations, but Georgia finding a new starting quarterback is just the beginning. Georgia also does not have a lot of experience on the perimeter. Potentially losing Justin Scott-Wesley could weaken an already thin group of receivers. On defense, Georgia will again rely on a lot of freshmen and inexperienced underclassmen. They could all rise to the occasion and win the east, or they could drop five or six games this year. It just looks to me they have too many question marks for such high expectations.
3. The B-Backs will have a huge impact in 2015
Speaking of the dawgs... we have watched the past several recruiting classes take an unexpected turn. Though Sony Michel was the top recruit, local product Nick Chubb instantly became a household name. Before these two, Keith Marshall was the highly-touted running back coming out of North Carolina, when some guy named Todd Gurley stole the show.
I honestly think the Yellow Jackets have a special player in Marcus Marshall. Though Mikell Lands-Davis was the top recruit at the B-Back position, Marshall's explosiveness, vision and balance will help him become a household name by the end of the year. Patrick Skov becomes the perfect complement in the ‘thunder-and-lighting cliché' for Georgia Tech. Much like Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey a year ago... these two backs will gain confidence and get better with each explosive cut.
4. The Jackets' schedule is perfectly setup for a playoff run.
Because of the four teams I previously mentioned, Georgia Tech will have at least the opportunity to move into the top four. Sometimes as fans, we want easier schedules for our teams to have success... but other times, a team needs to prove itself on the big stage. Not only do you have to play a potent schedule, but you also have to have the teams you play and ultimately defeat, also have a strong season.
2015 sets up to be that opportunity. No one knows how good Notre Dame is or will be. Nonetheless, the Jackets get them early in the season. If they can pull off a victory in South Bend, the Irish may right the ship later in the year... which strengthens Georgia Tech's schedule. If Notre Dame goes in the tank, at least they beat them when they were highly ranked.
The October 24 matchup against Florida State will be huge. I expect the Seminoles to rectify any issues they had going into the season by that date and start making their late-season push. But if the Jackets take care of their business as well, both teams will be held in high regard nationally.
There are a number of teams who match up well and could get a win over the Yellow Jackets'. At the same, there is no team on the schedule that is flat out better than Georgia Tech... and they have every capability of going 1-0 each week.
5. The national perception of the Yellow Jackets is 2014 was a good season, but they are not a good program.
Contrary to popular opinion, being just outside the national spotlight will be a tremendous help to the Jackets in 2015. Because Georgia Tech is usually disregarded, players think little of them as an opponent. I don't think any coach has, nor ever will underestimate a Paul Johnson-coached team... but the coaches don't play.
National analyst view 2014 as a great season, but don't regard Georgia Tech as a strong team or program. So the Jackets start the season lower than many of the teams they overtook during 2014. In some circles, the Jackets are still being picked to finish behind the likes of North Carolina, Miami and Pittsburgh in the coastal. But that's totally fine. Even though Tech will be favored by small margins in some of their games, they will be the underdogs in the four big games scheduled.
This sets up for a perfect scenario if the Jackets can get on a roll. There will be times when different facets of Paul Johnson's squad will have to step up to secure a victory. One game, the team will have to rely on its passing game, or dominate defensively, or return a kick for a touchdown.
One of the biggest assets this season is that the national pundits have never heard of certain players who will make huge plays throughout the 2015 campaign. They've heard of Justin Thomas, Jamal Golden and Adam Gotsis... but are not as familiar with Jabri Hunt-Days' quickness off the snap, Marcus Marshall's ability to explode through a hole with one cut, nor the play-making abilities of D.J. White and Broderick Snoddy.
I'm not saying Georgia Tech will go undefeated in 2015. In fact, I think with the lack of experience in certain positions, some setbacks could be expected. The main point is Tech's level of talent matches up well with everyone on their schedule. Is it as deep as Alabama or Ohio State? Probably not... but these ultra-talented teams can only play 11 guys at a time. And I think 11-on-11, the Jackets can compete with anyone in the country.
What are your thoughts?