Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Middle Tennessee (2-10)
At Georgia (10-4)
ACC home games
ACC road games
At Virginia Tech
At North Carolina
Gut-check time: Day one. Right off the bat we’ll find out what the Jackets are made of, as they have to travel to Blacksburg for a Labor Day opener against Virginia Tech. This game has historically decided the winner of the Coastal Division, and it should again carry such lofty implications. For those who say it will be an advantage for Virginia Tech’s defense to have the whole summer to prepare for Paul Johnson’s spread option offense, I don’t completely buy that as a game-changing advantage because Al Groh has just as much time to prepare his defense for Logan Thomas. Sure, it’s better to have more than a regular game week to prepare for a scheme you don’t see on a regular basis, but Georgia Tech has the entire summer, too. Virginia Tech will have the better quarterback, the better defense and a true home-field advantage. Georgia Tech will have the better offensive line and most likely running backs.
Trap game: Nov. 10 at North Carolina. Groh’s defense better be ready for this one. First-year coach Larry Fedora will have his offense moving quickly, and by November, quarterback Bryn Renner and his teammates should be executing it fairly smoothly. At this point in the season, the Jackets could very well be leading the Coastal Division standings. Will they lose their grip to a team that can’t even compete in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions?
Snoozer: Presbyterian. Next, please …
Defining stretch: Sept. 1-Sept. 22. It’s kind of difficult to pinpoint a "defining stretch" for Georgia Tech because its most important games are spread out through the course of the season. With three Coastal Division opponents in the first four weeks of the season, though, we’ll know early on where Georgia Tech stands in the conference race. Don’t forget that last year, after an impressive 6-0 start to the season, Georgia Tech lost back-to-back games against Virginia and Miami, both on the road. The Jackets certainly didn’t forget. Depending on what happens in the season opener, Georgia Tech could be looking at a 5-0 start heading into Death Valley on Oct. 6. At the very least, it could have some significant momentum.
Final analysis: It all goes back to how Georgia Tech plays in the season opener against Virginia Tech. It’s an important game that will affect the division race, but because it’s the first game of the season, there is margin for error for both teams. In order to unseat the Hokies, though, they’ve got to beat the Hokies. The road trip to Clemson will be the next biggest challenge. If the Jackets can get to their bye week at least 3-1 in the ACC, they should be good enough to get to Charlotte this year. Of course, that means avoiding an upset in the second half of the season. Beating Georgia in the regular-season finale would be a bonus, but at this point, it doesn’t seem likely.