Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records):
Alabama A&M (7-4)
ACC home games
ACC road games
Gut-check time: Sept. 26, Virginia Tech. This game is part of the defining three-game stretch of the season for the Jackets (read more below) and absolutely crucial for this team when you consider it comes on a very short week after playing North Carolina. You understand why coach Paul Johnson was not too pleased when this schedule was released. Until last season, the winner of the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game made it to the ACC title game every single year. Georgia Tech has lost three straight in the series, and five of the past six meetings.
Trap game: Sept. 14 at Duke. The Jackets get the resurgent Blue Devils after opening with an FCS opponent and before a huge three-game stretch against the three teams folks believe will contend with the Jackets for the Coastal Division title. Duke played Georgia Tech really tough last season, and will be looking to prove it can be a consistent winner. This is going to be a tough game.
Snoozer: Nov. 23, Alabama A&M. Two FCS games on the schedule, and this one stuck between Clemson and Georgia? I'll pass.
Defining stretch: Sept. 21-Oct. 5 (North Carolina, Virginia Tech, at Miami). Incredible that a defining stretch comes so early in the season, but the ACC schedule makers did the Jackets absolutely no favors this season by putting its three toughest divisional games in back-to-back-to-back weeks. No other team plays four conference games in the first five weeks of the season, either. As mentioned above, there is a short week for the Virginia Tech game following North Carolina. The Hokies have a short week, too, but they get Marshall (not nearly as tough as a conference game as the Heels). Georgia Tech went 1-2 against these three teams last season. The Jackets will need to do better to make it back to the ACC title game, especially since Miami and North Carolina will not be serving postseason bans.
Final analysis: Georgia Tech faces one of the tougher conference schedules this season -- Clemson also is on the slate later in the year -- and also has two very tough nonconference games at BYU and home to Georgia. This is not an easy schedule, but the Jackets do return 15 starters, believe in new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, and might end up getting an upgrade at quarterback with Vad Lee. If the Jackets can survive their big early tests in September, they will be in good position to win the Coastal once again.