Georgia Tech has one more game to complete the 2016 season, the TaxSlayer Bowl against Kentucky Dec. 31 in Jacksonville, Fla.
After that, it’s just eight short months until the Yellow Jackets tee it up again, this time without familiar faces and names such as Justin Thomas, Freddie Burden, Patrick Gamble and Harrison Butker. The Jackets’ four non-conference games have been scheduled. Dates for the eight ACC games will likely be released in late January.
Sept. 4 – Tennessee
The Jackets will open the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game Labor Day night, Sept. 4 in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It will be Tech’s first appearance in the Atlanta kickoff game. Tech last played in a kickoff game in 2001 (vs. Syracuse at the Meadowlands), not counting the B.C. game in Ireland (which you can).
Tennessee finished the season 8-4 and, like Tech, will have to replace a quarterback who has started since his sophomore season, Joshua Dobbs.
Sept. 9 – Jacksonville State
After the Monday night season opener, the Yellow Jackets will have a short turnaround to face FCS Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks are not your garden-variety FCS team. They’ve won the Ohio Valley Conference three years in a row, reached the FCS championship game in 2015 as the No. 1 seed and were ranked No. 2 in the country this season before getting upset in the second round of the playoffs. You may recall that they took Auburn to overtime in 2015.
Sept. 16 – At Central Florida
When the game was announced in April 2015, former Tech coach George O’Leary was still on the Knights’ sidelines and the game offered a very obvious subplot. However, O’Leary retired in 2015 midway through a season that ended 0-12. There’s now another clear tie. Central Florida’s AD at the time the game was announced? Todd Stansbury.
The Knights were 6-6 this season and 4-4 in the American Athletic Conference. They’re coached by Scott Frost, who was once a quarterback at Nebraska and prior to UCF was the Oregon offensive coordinator.
UCF will come to Tech in 2020.
Nov. 25 – Georgia
After winning in their past two trips to Athens, the Yellow Jackets will try to beat Georgia in Bobby Dodd Stadium for the first time since 1999 (the Jasper Sanks/Luke Manget game). The Bulldogs’ dominance in Atlanta goes farther. They’re 12-1 in their past 13 visits to Grant Field.
Anticipation is already building after coach Paul Johnson’s tweaking of Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb’s comments that watching the Jackets waving their flag at midfield of Sanford Stadium after their 28-27 win influenced his decision to return.
Home ACC games – North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest.
The Wake Forest game stands as a little more intriguing than it did a week ago in the wake of Wakeylinks. Regardless, the Demon Deacons are on the rise, but they suffered a hit with the reported hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Elko by Notre Dame.
The Jackets will have a three-game losing streak against the Tar Heels to contend with, and the fact that North Carolina has had little difficulty scoring in those past three matchups. It will be interesting to see if the Tar Heels get an open date before playing Tech for the sixth time in 10 seasons.
After beating the Panthers with five recovered fumbles in the first quarter in 2014, Pitt has taken the past two games with a last-minute 56-yard field goal (2015) and a 31-yard field goal to end the game this season. Pitt does have to replace running back James Conner (declaring for the draft) and offensive coordinator Matt Canada (now at LSU).
With quarterback Jerod Evans returning, Virginia Tech looks like the team to beat in the Coastal in 2017. Now 5-9 against the Hokies all-time, the Jackets have yet to beat them in back-to-back meetings.
Away ACC games – Clemson, Duke, Miami, Virginia.
The Tigers may be losing quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman, but it would be a surprise if this isn’t Tech’s toughest game of the year. Duke will try to rebound from an injury-plagued year that ended its four-year bowl streak. The Blue Devils got a boost for 2017 when quarterback Thomas Sirk was granted a sixth year to complete his eligibility after tearing his Achilles in the preseason.
Miami continues to vex the Jackets, and 2016 was no different, as the 35-21 loss to the Hurricanes might have been the most frustrating loss for Tech this season. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya is reportedly leaning towards declaring for the NFL draft. Kaaya has fairly hammered Tech in three seasons (45-for-69, 786 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 169.5 passing efficiency rating); if he needs any advice on making the leap, Ted Roof would likely be happy to offer his encouragement.
After going 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the ACC, Virginia will likely be picked last in the division. Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall has proven himself adept at preparing his defenses to play Tech’s option offense, although UVA will lose three first-team All-ACC selections, two off the defense.
There will be one open date this season. Tech figures to be a candidate to play another Thursday night game; Virginia Tech and Clemson would seem likely options, as the Jackets have played multiple Thursday night games against both. It's possible, though, that since the Jackets are already playing one weeknight game, they may be relieved of playing another.
A Friday night ESPN game is also a possibility. It's part of the ACC's agreement with ESPN to have five per season. Given the importance of high schools playing on Friday nights, Tech likely would prefer to not play a Friday night game, particularly at home, but may not have much room to push back. Florida State played one this past season in Tallahassee, Fla.
Another quirk: Tech started its ACC schedule with both of its cross-division games, Boston College in Ireland and Clemson at home on a Thursday night. For better or worse, Jackets had played at least two division games to start league play 2012-2015, which can enable a team to take a commanding position in the division race early in the season or effectively knock itself out before November, depending on the outcomes.