I try not to change a prediction, however silly it might be looking. (As we know, many have looked utterly ridiculous .) My reasoning: I’d rather not be wrong twice. Sometimes, however, circumstances intervene. Back around Memorial Day, I picked Georgia Tech to go 9-3 and win the ACC Coastal. That forecast is hereby revised.
I picked Tech to win its division even though Justin Thomas, its best player, had completed his eligibility. If that was a reach, it was a considered one: Every other Coastal contender is also changing quarterbacks. I also figured that Dedrick Mills might well be the division’s best player. On Friday, Mills became an ex-Techie.
The most important positions in Paul Johnson’s offense (and therefore on Paul Johnson’s team) are quarterback and B-back. In the Yellow Jackets’ best seasons under this coach – 2008, 2009, 2014 and 2016 – they had big-time performers at both spots: First Joshua Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer, then Thomas and Zach Laskey/Synjyn Days, last year Thomas and Mills. With holes at both QB and BB, I no longer see a way this team can win nine games. I no longer believe it will take the Coastal.
Which isn't to say all hope is lost. Johnson is smart enough to think of something. There are still enough wins on this schedule to be bowl-eligible. As Tennessee coach Butch Jones has noted, the Jackets were unbeaten in the games Mills missed last season. (Counter-note: Three of those were against Mercer, Duke and Virginia, who were a collective 12-23.)
But enough back-and-forth. Here’s how I now see Tech’s season unfolding:
Sept. 4, Tennessee in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I’m not changing this pick, largely because I’ve sworn off Butch and his champions of life. The Volunteers have a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback. They also have the same head coach, who mightn’t be their head coach come January. Tech 20, Tennessee 17.
Sept. 9, Jacksonville State. I don’t bet, but I’d be tempted to lay a nickel that this is a close game for 2 1/2 quarters. The Gamecocks went 10-2 last season. Tech’s coming off a short week after facing an SEC brand name. It’s an early kickoff. Not saying this will be Middle Tennessee all over again, but don’t sleep on Jax. Tech 30, JSU 20.
Sept. 16, at Central Florida. Scott Frost, once Nebraska’s quarterback and more recently Oregon’s offensive coordinator, is the Knights’ coach. He went 6-7 in Year 1. His team is picked to finish second behind South Florida in the American Conference East. Coming on the road (and at night), this wouldn’t be a major upset. I’m still going with the Power 5 team, if only just. Tech 30, UCF 27 (OT).
Sept. 23, Pitt. The Jackets have lost wild games to the Panthers by a field goal each of the past two seasons. They’re due to win this year's shootout. Tech 31, Pitt 28.
Sept. 30, North Carolina. Larry Fedora is a strange case. He keeps getting mentioned for bigger jobs, not that UNC Chapel Hill is nowheresville, but only once in five years have his Tar Heels won as many as nine games. Gene Chizik, his defensive coordinator the past two seasons, resigned in February to spend more time with his family, which didn’t preclude him from taking an analyst’s job with the SEC Network. Last year’s quarterback was Mitch Trubisky, who became the most debated No. 2 NFL draft pick since Ryan Leaf. Tech 28, Carolina 20.
Oct. 12, at Miami. Another night game, this on a Thursday, in the state of Florida. Tech exits unbeaten no more. Miami 28, Tech 17.
Oct. 21, Wake Forest. Get-well game. Tech 35, Wake 14.
Oct. 28, at Clemson. Get-rocked-again game. Clemson 31, Tech 17.
Nov. 4, at Virginia. Stock-taking time: The Jackets are 6-2, which isn't at all bad, but they’re 3-2 in the ACC, which means they can’t lose another and hope to win the Coastal. They won’t lose this. Tech 24, Virginia 20.
Nov. 11, Virginia Tech. Biggest game of the year, Coastal-wise. G-Tech upset division-champ-to-be V-Tech in Blacksburg behind Matthew Jordan last year on a day when Mills didn’t play. With Mills, I’d have picked the Jackets. Without him, I’m not. V-Tech 24, G-Tech 21.
Nov. 18, at Duke. This gets Tech to eight wins and 5-3 in ACC play. Tech 27, Duke 23.
Nov. 25, Georgia. This keeps Tech stuck on eight. Georgia is again picked to win the SEC East, though I don’t believe it will. Each of Johnson’s three victories over the Bulldogs have come in Athens, and each featuring something fairly extraordinary. Minus Mills, I don’t foresee this bunch of Jackets as extraordinary. Well coached, yes. Hard-playing, yes. Tough to beat, yes. But not unbeatable. Georgia 30, Tech 23.