Georgia Tech is coming off its first 11-win season in 24 years, when it won the national championship in 1990. The Yellow Jackets completed a great season by defeating in-state rival Georgia and then Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl to cap off an 11-3 campaign.
The Jackets return Justin Thomas, a quarterback who was tailor-made for Paul Johnson’s offense and the best play-caller he has had upon his arrival at Georgia Tech. With 12 other returning starters and the best offensive line in the ACC, Georgia Tech will look to defend its Coastal division title. It won’t be easy though. The Jackets are without seven of their eight leading rushers from 2014 and have a schedule that leaves little room for error.
Here are Georgia Tech’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 3 (Thursday) vs. Alcorn State
This will be the first meeting between the Yellow Jackets and the Braves. Alcorn State, on paper, looks to be a good opponent to open the season, as the Braves went 10-3 last year and won the SWAC title. Since 2001, Georgia Tech is 13-0 against FCS competition. Georgia Tech may need to work out some early-season kinks, but they will do it fairly easily.
11. Sept. 12 vs. Tulane
The Green Wave gave Georgia Tech first-half fits last year but then again a lot of teams kept it close against the Yellow Jackets. Tech should put this one away pretty early and start the season 2-0.
10. Oct. 31 at Virginia
Depending on how the first half of the season goes, Tech may need this win to secure a halfway decent bowl invitation. Tech cruised to an easy win last year and should do the same in 2015.
9. Oct. 17 vs. Pittsburgh
Last year Pittsburgh lost six fumbles in the game. I would be willing to bet that doesn’t happen again (although I would love to see a line where I could bet on that). The Panthers do return 15 starters but also have a new head coach in Pat Narduzzi. Tech should win this home game.
8. Nov. 21 at Miami
This will be Tech’s last ACC game of the year and it will have to make it count. Paul Johnson is 38-21 in ACC games. Miami is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 6-7 2014 showing and will ride sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya as far as he can take the team. Tech had lost five straight against the Hurricanes until last year.
7. Nov. 12 (Thursday) vs. Virginia Tech
Both Tech teams will be coming off a bye entering this Thursday night matchup. Georgia Tech barely escaped last year with a last-minute field goal to win 27-24. The Hokies are still taking applications for quarterbacks. The Yellow Jackets are 1-4 in their last five meetings against the Hokies.
6. Oct. 3 vs. North Carolina
The North Carolina game is nestled right between back-to-back away games against Duke and Clemson. In the last five seasons, these two teams have combined to score an average of 93.6 points per game. Larry Fedora hired former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik as his defensive coordinator and rest assured that Fedora is on a hot seat if he doesn’t start winning games. Tech can’t afford a home loss with so many tough road games.
5. Sept. 26 at Duke
Duke defeated Georgia Tech for the first time in 10 years last year and finished strong at 9-4. The Blue Devils return 13 starters and will have home-field advantage in this early-season matchup. Tech also will be coming off a road game against Notre Dame so it will be interesting to see how the team reacts to these back-to-back road trips.
4. Oct. 24 vs. Florida State
This will be a rematch of the 2014 ACC Championship Game and Tech will have revenge on its mind. What better revenge than a homecoming win against an ACC front-runner and College Football Playoff contender?
3. Nov. 28 vs. Georgia
Clean, Old-fashioned hate. Arguably the best nickname for a rivalry game in all of college football. Tech escaped last year with an overtime win, which led to an Orange Bowl invitation. This game means more to Tech fans and two in a row would add fuel to the fire.
2. Sept. 19 at Notre Dame
The Notre Dame visit will begin a brutal four-game series in which Tech travels away from Atlanta in three of those four games. Last time Tech defeated the Irish in South Bend was 2007. That also was the year the Naval Academy broke a 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame, led by head coach Paul Johnson. Also, Tech fans are still yelling that Rudy was offsides.
1. Oct. 10 at Clemson
When the Yellow Jackets travel to Death Valley, Tech will be battle-tested for sure. Best-case scenario, Tech enters 5-0, worse case 3-2. Either way, a win over Clemson would be a huge step in the right direction. Tech’s last win at Clemson came in 2008. This could be an early look at the ACC title game with Clemson and Tech both favored to win their divisions by the media. Will fatigue finally set in for Tech, in what will be their third road trip in four games, or can they run the gauntlet?
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails