Predicting Georgia Tech’s season, game by game

Sept. 3, vs. Boston College (Dublin, Ireland), 7:30 a.m.: Boston College has 15 returning starters. But is that a good thing or a bad thing when you went 0-8 in conference the year before and averaged 9.1 points per game? (Trivia: B.C. was first school in ACC history to go winless in both football and basketball in the conference. Fortunately, nobody in Boston noticed.) The Eagles can be tough on defense, but I doubt they can score enough points to keep pace. Yellow Jackets win.

Sept. 10, vs. Mercer, 3 p.m.: The ACC is considering moving to an “8+2” scheduling format that mandates each team play at least two non-conference games against Power Five conference schools. But there will always be room for gimmes like Mercer, which dropped football during World War II and re-started it in 2013. Why, nobody knows. Jackets win.

Sept. 17, vs. Vanderbilt, 12:30 p.m.: Derek Mason is entering his third season since accepting the unenviable task of replacing James Franklin, who made Vandy football relevant. Going 0-8 and 2-6 in the SEC is not the kind of “throwback” the Commodores were looking for. But their defense should be solid, and Ralph Webb probably is the SEC’s best running back not named Leonard Fournette or Nick Chubb. This probably won’t be an easy one. But: Jackets win.

Sept. 22 (Thursday), vs. Clemson, 7:30 p.m.: The term “Clemsoning” was put to bed in 2015 when the Tigers went 14-1 and won the ACC title, losing only to Alabama for the national title. But Clemson still has to prove it can win on The Flats. No, seriously. The Tigers have lost in their past five trips to Bobby Dodd Stadium, the last win coming in 2003. Tech’s two big hurdles: Containing Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (not happening) and facing one of the nation’s best teams in a short week (bad timing). Jackets lose.

Oct. 1, vs. Miami: Mark Richt makes his return to Georgia. Or at least, Atlanta. Winning at Tech wasn’t a problem for him as Bulldogs coach, but having that kind of dominance at Miami might be a problem. I understand Richt’s desire to resuscitate his alma mater, but he takes over a program that has finished in the rankings only once in the past 10 years. Early expectations should be tempered. Going against the grain here. Jackets win.

Oct. 8, at Pittsburgh: If the Jackets need any extra motivation, Pitt declared them their opponent for homecoming. The Panthers won a number of close ACC games last season and went 6-2, but the record fuels perceptions that they’re better than they really are. Tech’s defensive line will be tested this week against Pitt’s offensive line. This could be a swing game in the Coastal. Jackets win.

Oct. 15, vs. Georgia Southern: When Tech played their option offense/junior selves in 2014, they blew a 35-10 halftime lead and needed a Justin Thomas touchdown pass — pass — with 23 seconds left to win (42-38). I’m guessing that will come up in one of Paul Johnson’s game-week meetings. Georgia Southern is 14-2 in its first two seasons in the Sun Belt, so it’s good enough to pull an upset. But the Jackets will be better prepared this time. Jackets win.

Oct. 29, vs. Duke: For David Cutcliffe to coach Duke to a 27-13 record (15-9 in the ACC) in the past three years might be the greatest human accomplishment since Orville and Wilbur managed liftoff. All Johnson knows is Tech has lost to Duke the past two seasons, and if I pick the Jackets to win this meeting it’s only because I can’t get my head around three straight. The Jackets had too many offensive hiccups in last year’s meeting (34-20 loss). I suspect they’ll be better this time. Jackets win.

Nov. 5, at North Carolina: The Tar Heels had a really nice season last year (8-0 ACC, 11-3 overall), but they’re getting a little too much love, having benefited from not playing Clemson (until the ACC title game) or Florida State, and their only win over a ranked team was Pittsburgh. But they probably have the best offensive line in the conference, can score a ton of points and should be better on defense. And so: Jackets lose.

Nov. 12, at Virginia Tech: The Hokies lost more games in the past four years in the ACC (16-16) than they did in the first eight (53-11, four ACC titles), which is why Frank Beamer made the wise decision to retire. Enter Justin Fuente, who won at Memphis, but winning in the ACC will be more difficult, especially with a schedule includes Tennessee, North Carolina, Miami and Notre Dame. But this one they’ll win. Jackets lose.

Nov. 19, vs. Virginia: After losing in Charlottesville last season — the week after stunning Florida State — I doubt Tech will fumble this one. The Cavaliers will have played North Carolina, Louisville and Miami in the previous four weeks, so there may not be much left of them by this game, and it remains to be seen how their defense will adjust to the 3-4 under new coach Bronco Mendenhall. Jackets win.

Nov. 26, at Georgia: In Johnson’s first year at Tech, he went into Athens and pulled an upset. Can he pull of the same feat in Kirby Smart’s first season? Sure. It’s a rivalry game often filled with unexpected moments. The Bulldogs may have depth issues on the defensive line, but Smart’s defense likely will be solid on the second and level and have some speed on the outside, which will be key to containing the running game. (See, sometimes I get serious.) Jackets lose.

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