A look at Georgia Tech’s 12-game regular-season schedule, starting with a historic game in a new stadium.
Sept. 4, Tennessee (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), 8 p.m.
Tech’s first appearance in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game will be played before a sold-out crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Tech has sold 35,000 tickets for the game, more than Tennessee, and figures to have a slight advantage in fan support. The Yellow Jackets will try for their fourth consecutive win over an SEC opponent after going 3-0 against Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky. With no other football game being played that night, the Jackets will have a sizable opportunity to demonstrate who they are to a national audience.
Sept. 9, Jacksonville State, 12:30 p.m.
Yes, it’s an FCS opponent, and yes, Tech has not lost to an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) opponent since 1983. But, this one may not be a cakewalk. Tech will be playing five days after playing a late Monday night in a potentially physically and emotionally draining game against Tennessee, while Jacksonville State will have two weeks to prepare. Jacksonville State is ranked No. 6 in the FCS preseason after finishing last season 10-2. A loss would still be a surprise, but a win that is more uncomfortable than fans would prefer would not.
Sept. 16, at Central Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Call this one the Stansbury Bowl. When Tech and UCF scheduled this home-and-home series in 2015, the Knights’ athletic director at the time was none other than Todd Stansbury, who about a year and a half later accepted the same job at Tech, his alma mater. That’s not the only thing that has changed. Part of the reason the game held appeal was that UCF was then coached by former Tech coach George O’Leary, but he retired in October 2015 in the middle of his 12th season at the school. The game figures to be one of contrasts. UCF averaged 75 plays per game last season, while Tech averaged 59.
Sept. 23, Pittsburgh, TBA
In the four years that Pitt has been a part of the ACC, this series has delivered some quality matchups. Three of the four games have been decided in the final minutes, the past two in the final minute. There’s been no shortage of offense, either – 56-28 (Tech) in 2014, 31-28 (Pitt) in 2015 and 37-34 (Pitt) in 2016. The Panthers, at least, may have trouble putting up points the way they have in the past, having lost 2014 ACC player of the year James Conner to the draft and offensive coordinator Matt Canada to LSU.
Sept. 30, North Carolina, TBA
Tech may have a new nemesis in the Tar Heels. After beating North Carolina eight of nine times between 2005 and 2013, the Jackets have lost to the Tar Heels three consecutive years, the first time that has happened since 1992-94 in the Bill Lewis era. In last year’s 48-20 defeat, Tech gave up 636 yards of offense, the second highest total for an opponent in school history. Chances are this year’s meeting won’t be quite so yard-rich. North Carolina lost quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the NFL draft’s No. 2 pick, its top four rushers and four of its top five receivers.
Oct. 12, at Miami (Thursday), 8 p.m.
This could be a season-defining matchup. The Hurricanes were picked as the favorite to win the Coastal Division, so the Jackets’ chances to win the division may not rest upon their ability to win in Hard Rock Stadium (the renovated stadium formerly known as Joe Robbie Stadium, among many other names), but it would help. Tech has lost four consecutive road games to Miami, all during Paul Johnson’s tenure. The Jackets’ record against Miami coach Mark Richt, dating to his days at Georgia, isn’t much better.
Oct. 21, Wake Forest, TBA
Tech has not played Wake Forest since 2010, the longest active stretch that it has gone without playing an ACC opponent with the exception of Louisville, which joined the league in 2014. Wake Forest will have two weeks to prepare for the Jackets while Tech will be coming off its Thursday night game at Miami. The Demon Deacons are one of two teams to enjoy this rest advantage, continuing the pattern of rest discrepancies that have often favored Jackets’ opponents in recent seasons. The ACC, however, has addressed the issue, thanks in no small part to Johnson’s complaints.
Oct. 28, at Clemson, TBA
As noted above, the defending national champions not only will be at home for the Jackets, but will have extra time to get ready for Tech and its spread-option offense. Clemson has won four of the past five against Tech, and the Jackets have had a tough go against defensive coordinator Brent Venables and his array of future draft picks. Tech gained 71 rushing yards in a 43-24 loss in 2015 and accumulated only 124 yards of total offense – both the lowest totals in Johnson’s tenure in those categories – in its 26-7 loss last season.
Nov. 4, at Virginia, TBA
The Cavaliers, in their second season with coach Bronco Mendenhall, were picked to finish last in the Coastal, and with good reason. Virginia was 2-10 in 2016, 119th in average yards per play on offense and 108th on defense and lost its best offensive player, running back Taquan Mizzell. However, Mendenhall was adept at slowing Tech at BYU, and the Cavaliers did some things last year, as well. While winning 31-17, Tech scored 24 points on offense and was 2-for-10 on third downs. The Jackets benefited from three big plays, scoring runs of 60 and 67 yards and a touchdown pass of 54 yards.
Nov. 11, Virginia Tech, TBA
The Hokies undoubtedly will be itching for payback after Tech’s 30-20 upset last year in Blacksburg, Va. Another low-scoring struggle pitting Johnson and Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster could well ensue. The respectful rivalry between the two coaches has been a fascinating component of the Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech series that has dominated the Coastal Division. In the 12 seasons with the two-division format, either the Jackets or Hokies have represented the Coastal. Odd fact: This game was played Nov. 12 in 2015 and Nov. 11 in 2016.
Nov. 18, at Duke, TBA
Tech will gets its first look at the Blue Devils’ renovated stadium, whose full name is now Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke is the rarity in the Coastal in that the Blue Devils bring back their starting quarterback, Daniel Jones, something only they and Virginia can claim in the division. In an injury-wracked season, Duke was 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the ACC, ending its unprecedented four-year bowl run. The Blue Devils are no longer the pushovers they once were, and a tough matchup in Durham, N.C., seems likely.
Nov. 25, Georgia, TBA
After winning two in a row in Athens for just the second time since the ’50s, Tech now has the chance to end a run that rankles Jackets fans. Georgia has won the past eight games at Bobby Dodd Stadium, all under the direction of former Richt. Tech has not won three games in four years against Georgia since the three-game winning streak from 1998-2000. Before that, it was the three-year win streak between 1961-63. A win over the Bulldogs would be a significant achievement for Johnson at the end of his 10th season at Tech.