Countdown to Kickoff: 94 Days
Coming off a 3-9 season that every Jacket fan desperately wants to forget, Tech fans probably should not be holding their breath in anticipation of being picked highly by the ACC media. Most preseason predictions have the Jackets in the lower half of the league and the basement of the division. However, what does this mean for the Jackets actual 2016 performance? Probably nothing, given the Coastal division's notoriety for consistently turning out differently than everyone expects.
|Season||GT Preseason Pick||GT Actual Finish||Coastal Media Pick||Coastal Champion|
The chart above breaks down the Coastal division in every season Paul Johnson has been at Georgia Tech. In his first seven years here, the Jackets were never picked to win the league, but they never finished lower than the media slotted them to, winning three Coastal titles along the way. When the Jackets were picked to finish first last season, they seemed as sure a bet as any to keep that trend going. No one foresaw the last place finish that was in their future. However, that is exactly what makes predicting the Coastal division so difficult. While the Atlantic division is dominated each season by Clemson and Florida State, the Coastal division can be won by any team in any given season (four different teams in the last five years). The last two seasons, the Coastal's preseason pick to win the division has finished in last (GT & Miami). And the year before? The Coastal's preseason pick to finish last in the division finished first (Duke).
There was a time when the Coastal division was dominated by the two Tech schools. In each season from 2005 (first year of the ACC championship) until 2012, either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech represented the Coastal division in the ACC championship game. Those days appear to be in the past, with other Coastal teams stepping up, making the division one of the most balanced in call of college football. Since conference expansion in 2013, the Coastal has become even more competitive, with seven teams capable of winning the division each year. As if the Coastal was not hard enough to predict already, the division added three new coaches for next year. Miami's Mark Richt, VT's Justin Fuente, and UVA's Bronco Mendenhall should all provide a boost to their programs. Taking everything into account, this season might be the hardest one to predict yet.
In 2016, the Jacket's will have plenty of roster turnover, losing almost half of the starting lineup on offense and defense. There are plenty of younger players who have been learning and waiting for their chance to step up and next year will be the opportunity for many of them. Justin Thomas has the potential to be one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the ACC, if not the country. What to expect from him in 2016 is anyone's guess and could largely depend on the play of the offensive line. Tech needs him to step up in order to have success this year. Some new coaches, including special teams and offensive line, could lead to early struggles, but could also lead to a new system and improved performance. Finally, improvement at the B-Back position will be necessary for the Jackets to get back on track.
Tech will certainly have the potential to return to greatness in 2016, but the pieces will all need to come together. This uncertainty, combined with the unpredictability of the Coastal division, means that predicting how the season will play out is almost certain to be an exercise in futility.