Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a revamped ACC schedule, the Seminoles and Yellow Jackets will kick things off against one another on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium. For FSU, head coach Mike Norvell will be making his debut after leading Memphis to a New Year's Six appearance last season. Georgia Tech's Geoff Collins will be looking to build on a 3-9 campaign in his first season in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech has won the last three regular-season matchups between the teams. That includes a thriller in Atlanta five years ago when the Yellow Jackets returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown as time expired to stun the Seminoles, 22-16. Sandwiched in between those three Georgia Tech victories are a pair of wins for FSU over the Yellow Jackets in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.
Georgia Tech at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida State -12.5
When Georgia Tech Has the Ball
Under Collins, Georgia Tech made the move last season from Paul Johnson's triple-option attack to the more modern spread. The Yellow Jackets return most of their key skill players from last season, including leading rusher Jordan Mason. Mason rushed for nearly 900 yards last season and seven touchdowns on a respectable 5.2 yards per carry. Overall, however, Georgia Tech ranked last in the ACC in both scoring and total offense in 2019.
The Yellow Jackets are keeping quiet about who will start under center. James Graham got the majority of the snaps for Georgia Tech a season ago, but Jacksonville native Jeff Sims has really made an impression on the staff during his short time in Atlanta. Once an FSU commit, it's entirely possible that Sims makes his collegiate debut at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday.
The strength for the Seminoles defensively is up front. Marvin Wilson and Cory Durden make for one of the best interior combinations in the country. Robert Cooper will add depth in the middle while Janarius Robinson and Joshua Kaindoh are big and experienced on the edge. Kaindoh is returning from a season-ending injury.
The FSU defense has underachieved in recent years and linebacker play is a big reason for that. FSU has a decent amount of experience at the position, but the results just haven't been there. Emmett Rice and Amari Gainer showed flashes last year. The secondary has underperformed but is deep and talented. Leading tackler Hamsah Nasirildeen will miss the opener, but Asante Samuel Jr., Akeem Dent, Jaiden Lars-Woodbey and Florida Atlantic transfer Meiko Dotson are all very good. Dotson led the nation in interceptions last season at FAU.
When Florida State Has the Ball
For the second straight year, James Blackman will open the season under center for the Seminoles. Blackman has experience and a big arm but has been inconsistent throughout his career. Senior Tamorrion Terry is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC. Last season, Terry became the first FSU receiver since Rashad Greene in 2014 to tally 1,000 yards. In the backfield, Texas A&M transfer Jashaun Corbin and junior college transfer La'Damian Webb will have the unenviable task of trying to replace Cam Akers.
The FSU offense won't be very good unless the offensive line can make significant improvements. That has been a sore spot for the Seminoles for nearly a decade, but there is hope that things can get better. Darius Washington, Dontae Lucas, and Maurice Smith are promising young players. Devontay Love-Taylor comes over from Florida International to provide experience at the position.
Georgia Tech was better defensively than offensively last season, but not much. The good news is it does return leading tackler David Curry. Curry totaled 97 stops last season for the Yellow Jackets. As a team, Georgia Tech managed just 17 sacks all last season — the fewest in the ACC. Sophomore Ja'Quon Griffin may be the most promising player up front. He led the Yellow Jackets with 2.5 sacks last season.
The best player on the Georgia Tech defense plays in the secondary. At 6-foot and 205 pounds, junior Tre Swilling is a physical cornerback, who locked down opposing receivers last season. Safety Kaleb Oliver led Georgia Tech with two interceptions last season. With four juniors and senior Tariq Carpenter set to see a lot of playing time, the secondary may be the strength of the Georgia Tech defense in 2020.
Given that spring was shortened and in-person contact was minimal, the transition under a first-year head coach probably won’t be an easy one for Florida State, but Norvell is a high-energy coach with great attention to detail. Georgia Tech can improve on a 3-9 finish in 2019, but in terms of raw talent, FSU has a decided advantage in this one. That will be the difference on Saturday.
Prediction: Florida State 34, Georgia Tech 17
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.