Georgia Tech season preview

Previewing the 2014 season for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who are looking to return to the ACC championship game.

Key returners: QB Justin Thomas, RB Zach Laskey, WR DeAndre Smelter, WR Darren Waller, OG Shaq Mason, OL Trey Braun, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Paul Davis, S Isaiah Johnson, S Jamal Golden, CB D.J. White.

Key losses: QB Vad Lee, RB David Sims, RB Robert Godhigh, OT Will Jackson, C Jay Finch, OT Ray Beno, DE Jeremy Attaochu, DE Jabari Hunt-Days, S Jemea Thomas.

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 20 at Virginia Tech, Oct. 4 vs. Miami, Oct. 11 vs. Duke, Nov. 15 vs. Clemson and Nov. 29 at Georgia.

Projected win percentage: 53.4 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 6.5 wins

Instant impact newcomers: He’s not quite a newcomer, but Johnson does return to Georgia Tech in 2014. He missed the entire 2013 season, but as a junior in 2012, he led the team with 87 tackles. He returned the one interception he grabbed as a junior for a touchdown, too. Golden also is a very good safety who missed a significant amount of time last season. He, too, is healthy. In the 2014 recruiting class, four-star Stepheny Durham is a big-time talent, but the Yellow Jackets have a good amount of talent in the secondary. It’s possible Durham could see the field much more by the end of the season. There is room at running back, though, which means four-star CJ Leggett could get a few dozen carries.

Best NFL prospects: Mason, the talented offensive lineman, is probably the Yellow Jackets' top NFL prospect. Mason is one of the best linemen in the conference and, with a strong final season, could be a second-round pick, possibly even pushing into the second half of the first round.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Georgia Tech has become a stagnant program over the past few seasons, which is a disappointing trend, considering Paul Johnson won 19 games and played in an Orange Bowl his first two seasons in Atlanta. Expectations might be at their lowest since Johnson took over the program in 2008, but the Coastal Division in the ACC is wide open. Georgia Tech isn't capable of going undefeated in the ACC, but there is certainly a chance the Yellow Jackets will win the division. A bid to play in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the ACC championship would be the best-case scenario.

Worst-case scenario: Georgia Tech should start 3-0, which could provide some good vibes in Atlanta through the early portion of the season. But the tide could quickly turn against Johnson by the end of October. The Yellow Jackets play Virginia Tech, Miami, Duke and North Carolina in a row, a stretch that could define the 2014 season. The Yellow Jackets end the season against Clemson and at Georgia, and if those both end with Georgia Tech getting blown out, Johnson will be squarely on the hot seat.