Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Georgia Tech 2013 Football Schedule Analysis


By Matt Thompson

Editor's Note: Matt is making his debut on The ACC and SEC Blog with his reactions to Georgia Tech's 2013 football schedule released Monday. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter (@MattThompson87)

Paul Johnson’s Jackets will face another tough slate in 2013, highlighted by two Thursday night games against ACC foes, home dates with league newcomers Pittsburgh and Syracuse and, of course, the season finale with the hated Bulldogs at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

First, let’s dissect Tech’s schedule, then we’ll focus game-by-game and look at some other features of the inaugural 14 team ACC schedule.

Aug. 31 ELON
Sept. 7 Open Date
Sept.14 at Duke
Sept. 21 NORTH CAROLINA
Sept. 26 VIRGINIA TECH (Thurs.)
Oct. 5 at Miami
Oct. 12 at BYU
Oct. 19 SYRACUSE
Oct. 26 at Virginia
Nov. 2 PITTSBURGH
Nov. 9 Open Date
Nov. 14 at Clemson (Thurs.)
Nov. 23 ALABAMA A&M
Nov. 30 GEORGIA

 

Schedule News and Notes:

• Georgia Tech requested to the ACC office for its BYE weeks to be a September Saturday and Oct. 19 after a long road trip to high-altitude Provo, Utah. Well, they got 1 out of 2 fulfilled, but the BYE after Elon surely isn’t what GT brass had in mind.
• Tech will be forced to play 8 straight games after that, including a 4-game gauntlet in 21 days against its 3 toughest Coastal Division foes and get “rewarded” with a 1,900 mile trip to BYU to end the stretch. That’s daunting no matter who you are.
• The Jackets will play in the featured ESPN Thursday night primetime game for the 26th and 27th time in 2013. Tech will face Virginia Tech for the 5th time on a Thursday night (all since 2004), including the 4th time at home. The Nov. 14 date with Clemson will be the teams’ 3rd time meeting on Thurs. – the first since 2009 and the first in Death Valley since 1998.
  1. For what it’s worth, GT is 0-4 against the Hokies on Thursday night and 0-5 in non-Saturday games as ACC opponents. The teams last met on Saturday in 2009.
  2. 2. Tech is 2-0 against Clemson on Thursday, both wins coming by 3 points on late field goals.
• Tech will play two games against FCS opponents for the first time since 2008. The Jackets were left in a bit of a lurch when ACC members voted to move to 9 conference games then changed their minds back to 8 when Notre Dame entered the non-conference rotation. By virtue of this, Tech must win 7 games to be bowl eligible.
• GT will play 10 teams who won 6 or more games a year ago, among the toughest schedules in the ACC
 A quick look at each game and what each weeks means

 

Elon

The Phoenix were 3-8 in 2012 and should be relatively accommodating for Tech to break in a new quarterback. In its only game against an FBS opponent last season, Elon was trounced 62-0 in Larry Fedora’s UNC debut in Chapel Hill.

BYE Week #1

Boy does this come at an odd time! Tech would have loved to at least play one more game before an off week at this point, although the only other ACC game on the schedule this week is Wake at BC – neither of whom is on tech’s schedule this year anyway for a potential swap. In fairness to the ACC, with non-conference dates already signed, this may have been unavoidable, though certainly less than ideal.

At Duke

This is first time in recent memory Tech will open its ACC slate in Durham. The Devils haven’t won in the series since 2003, when GT Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof was the Duke head coach. This is the first of 4 straight home games for Duke, and the first of 4 straight Coastal Division opponents for Georgia Tech. This is a game the Jackets must win – albeit should win – given what follows over the next few weeks.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels will be coming off an Bye when these two meet, which seems to happen about 75% of the time the teams play. Still, the Jackets have dominated the series in recent years. UNC hasn’t won in Bobby Dodd Stadium since Mack Brown roamed the sidelines in 1997. The Bye hasn’t translated to much success for the Heels in the series, but you can bet Larry Fedora will be looking to erase the embarrassment of last season’s 68-50 defensive debacle, and without Gio Bernard to carry the load, will turn QB Bryn Renner loose on the Tech secondary. This feels like a toss-up to me.

Virginia Tech

As clutch and fortunate as Tech has been against UNC, you can argue the exact opposite in the series against VT. Georgia Tech hasn’t defeated the Hokies since 2009, although you could easily argue that Jackets could have or even should have won any of the last 3. Take away a Nesbitt injury, a late hit, and a 4th down conversion, and GT could be winners or 4 straight in this series. This is tough enough on full rest after a physical conference game. But on 5 days, this feels like another toss-up. Virginia Tech will play Marshall the week before, so it’ll be interesting to watch how long and intense their starters are forced to go. It’ll be a tall order for either team to pull out a win here and could decide the Coastal for the 9th straight year.

At Miami

The Canes have won 4 in a row in the series and continue to look better under coach Al Golden. On the night of October 5 – after 4 consecutive contest against division foes – Tech should know just where it stands in the Coastal race. Of course, it was around this time last year when Tech fell to 2-4 and was “eliminated” from ACC contention, so never rule out anything in the ACC. Miami, whose prior 3 weeks will be BYE, Savannah State, and South Florida, should be prepared and lying in wait when the Jackets come to town. A slight Miami lean here, maybe 60-40 Canes.

At BYU

The Cougars will return a decent core on a defense that finished 3rd in the nation in scoring defense (14.0 PPG) in 2012. Add to that a sophomore QB returning from injury and a running back who found the endzone 5 times last October in Bobby Dodd Stadium, and this is an uphill climb. Literally. Brigham Young sits over 4,500 feet in elevation. If that wasn’t enough, the placement of this game on the schedule is just a killer. With two grueling home games followed by a trip to Miami, this is the Jackets “reward?” It’s hard to be anything but a solid BYU lean here. I’ll give the Jackets 1 chance in 4 in Provo.

Syracuse

The Orange must replace head coach Doug Marrone and do-everything QB Ryan Nassib in 2013, but we should have an idea of who this Syracuse team is by October 19. Tech players and fans will be happy to be home after a juggernaut month, and the Orange will be coming off tough games with Clemson and at N.C. State. And when a team has to face Paul Johnson’s offense for the first time, despite the obvious chess match, advantage: Paul Johnson offense. Syracuse could be a bit of an enigma heading into the year, but this feels like a Tech W 60%-40%.

At Virginia

Georgia Tech playing in Charlottesville is always surrounded by a bit of pessimism given the Jacket’s recent success there. Only one Tech team ( Johnson’s 2009 ACC Champions) has escaped Scott Stadium with a win since 1990. The Cavs will have last year’s 56-20 thrashing fresh in their minds, but with a ton of staff turnover by Mike London this offseason, it’s anyone’s guess what this team will look like. This is the middle game in a 3 game homestand for UVA, and GT should be the more talented team, BUT it is Tech playing in Charlottesville after all, so how could this be anything other than a 50-50 tossup? For me, that’s exactly what it is.

Pittsburgh

Let’s get this out of the way first: Yes, Pitt plays Navy the week before they travel to Atlanta. Yes, the ACC could’ve scheduled this earlier in the year, but they put it right here, gift-wrapped, back-to-back with a date Pitt had already scheduled. There are two schools of thought here, one saying it helps prepare for the option in game speed, the other saying you get to see how their D will line up on film. Both are true, but getting to see the option 7 days earlier in game speed is invaluable. (Ask Georgia after they struggled to put away Georgia Southern, but manhandled Tech a week later.) Oh yes, back to this game. Navy isn’t near as talented as Navy was 3 or 4 years ago, and GT’s option will be a different animal. GT at home with better players gets about a 65%-35% win chance here from me.

BYE Week #2

Whew. After 8 straight weeks against FBS opponents, this will be a much welcomed week off. Last year’s bye came right in the middle of the season and helped resurrect Tech’s season. This one might just bring a sigh of relief, or if things have gone really well, could help set the table for a solid stretch run against arguably Tech’s two biggest rivals. We should just about know by now whether Tech will play for an ACC Championship, and the next ballgame could sow up a division title for one or both of these teams.

At Clemson

Tech will travel to Clemson for the 2nd year in a row in an effort to balance out its home schedule in odd an even years, an effort interestingly enough spearheaded by new Clemson AD Dan Radakovich. Clemson should be the most talented team in the league as of this writing and certainly has the horses to compete for a conference and possibly national title. Add to that the fact that this will be the Tigers’ first home game in nearly a month and will be ESPN Thursday primetime, and Tech could enter a double-digit underdog. Clemson hasn’t exactly figured out how to stop Paul Johnson’s offense over the years, but in a battle of two potent offenses, the home team gets the edge here. I put this with BYU at about 75%-25% for Clemson.

Alabama A&M

The reason for this game is twofold. First, the Jackets needed a 12th opponent when the ACC decided to abandon the 9 conference game model in favor of staying at 8, and Tech wanted a 7th winnable home game, considering Georgia and BYU were already on the daunting schedule. Plus, the game against these Bulldogs allow Tech to join the “Hey, let’s beat up on somebody the week before we play our rival” group that had previously been perfect by the SEC. GT, Clemson and FSU joined that club this year, and should have better success Thanksgiving weekend going forward if this is a model they continue to use. Alabama A&M did go 7-4 in the SWAC last year, but in their only game against an FBS team, lost 51-7 to Auburn. Tech wins and uses these Bulldogs to prepare for the more important Bulldogs.

Georgia

The bad guys have won 11 of 12 in the series, and the gap in talent between these two teams seems about as wide as ever. GT’s been close many times recently but have had gotten some bad breaks and inopportune turnovers at the wrong times. Tech can win this game, but it’ll need to be near flawless against one of the nation’s best offenses. Georgia’s young defense has to replace NFL talent at several positions, but by game 12, they should be clicking. Due to depth, Tech would have much more success if this were an early season game year-to-year, and likely would have won many more games in the series, but it’s hard to be an advocate of breaking the Thanksgiving weekend tradition. Because it’s a rivalry and because it’s home, I’ll bum up the odds a bit in this one. Let’s say 65%-35% to the Dogs, who simply should be the more talented team. Mark Richt has never lost in Bobby Dodd Stadium, and unfortunately, it’s hard to see it happening this year.

Overall

Given the way I leaned in previewing these games, it would seem to be about an 8-4 campaign on average. Maybe Tech wins at BYU or Miami, maybe the drop a close home contest to UNC or Virginia Tech. But those 4 games all in a row really makes it hard to think Tech can go on a huge run. But if Tech can go 3-1 or 4-0 in that stretch, you could be looking at a special season. 2-2 seems most likely, and the two stiff November tests make this an even bigger year if Tech can sneak into November with just a loss or two. Paul Johnson has navigated tough stretches before. In October 2009, the Jackets went 5-0 in a stretch of games at Mississippi State, at FSU, Virginia Tech, at Virginia and at Vanderbilt. At any rate, this should be fun to watch!

Other ACC scheduling notes:

• Maryland gets a real break in scheduling this year. They’ll play 4 games, get a BYE, play 4 more games, get a BYE, then play their final 4 games. Interesting that they get their schedule broken up into thirds. Why would the ACC schedule makers do them any favors in their final year in the league when they are forsaking tradition for a heavier wallet?
• Virginia will open the season with BYU and Oregon. They’ve also signed deals recently to play series with UCLA, Stanford and Bosie State. Add Notre Dame to that list one that scheduling agreement begins in 2014 and that is quite a slate for years to come. Credit UVA for stepping up the plate. The only way to be among the best is to play and beat the best, and the Cavaliers will certainly get a chance to do that over the next decade. It’ll be interesting to follow how ticket sales respond to this in Charlottesville.
• Clemson (vs. The Citadel) and Florida State (vs. Idaho) have joined Georgia Tech in playing a lesser out of conference prior to their big games against SEC rivals. It remains to be seen how this will affect those Thanksgiving weekend rivalries, but it should help preparation far more than a tough conference game would.
• Pitt and FSU will play on Labor Day this September, continuing a trend of getting a premier holiday game in primetime for the ACC. In recent years, the game has featured Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, Miami at Maryland and Miami at Florida State. It does create scheduling nightmares, but it’s a necessary evil if the ACC is to gain respect on a national stage.
• Also as part of ESPN’s contract with the ACC, there will now be select primetime games on Friday nights. Wake Forest will play at Boston College on Friday, Sept. 6 and Miami will play at Pitt on Friday, November 29. While this would never work for home games in the southeast due to rich high school football, it’s yet another way to get the ACC alone on TV on a big stage.
• Several ACC teams play huge non-conference games to open the year. UNC is at South Carolina, Virginia Tech gets Alabama at the GA Dome, Clemson hosts UGA, Virginia hosts BYU and Oregon, BC travels to Southern Cal. It’s important that the ACC starts to win some of these close games and at the very least look very competitive. A huge blow was dealt to the conference last November when league powerhouses Clemson and FSU lost to South Carolina and Florida, and Georgia Tech and Wake Forest were both run off the field by Georgia and Vanderbilt, respectively. If the ACC has a bad showing in the opening few weekends, it’ll really knock the interest level down for the rest of the season nationally. In a year in which it welcomes two new teams, Pitt and Syracuse, says goodbye to Maryland, and prepares to welcome Louisville and Notre Dame (on a 5 game non-conference basis) the following year, the ACC needs to have a solid year. And nothing would be better for that than
turning some heads the first few weekends of the season.

Again, make sure to follow Matt on Twitter (@MattThompson87)

Related: Ranking Georgia Tech's Schedule From The Easiest Game to the Toughest

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