Contender or pretender: Georgia Tech

If you’re just joining us, this series is categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders. Georgia Tech is up next ...

Why they’re a contender: Four starters return on the offensive line. Not bad for a team that finished No. 4 in the country in rushing offense at 311.21 yards per game. The Jackets welcome back left tackle Ray Beno, left guard Shaquille Mason, center Jay Finch, and right tackle Morgan Bailey. The biggest loss will, obviously, be All-ACC right guard Omoregie Uzzi, but overall it will be a veteran and experienced group that should again pave the way for one of the country’s best running games and help out first-year starting quarterback Vad Lee.

Why they’re a pretender: The schedule. Georgia Tech has two Thursday night games, including a road trip to Clemson on Nov. 14, and the Jackets have Virginia Tech at home on Thursday, Sept. 26. They also have back-to-back road trips to Miami and BYU. The good news is that Georgia Tech has a bye week to prepare for the trip to Death Valley. The bad news? That bye week won’t slow Clemson down.

Final verdict: Contender. Even at 5-3 -- and that should be the worst-case scenario, with losses to Virginia Tech, Miami and Clemson -- Georgia Tech is still in the mix. (If you follow the ACC regularly, you should know to never count out a 5-3 team.) The defense improved in the second half of the season in 2012, and it should take another step forward under coordinator Ted Roof. The Jackets should also get up an upgrade at quarterback with Lee. Overall, this team should be much better than it was last year -- and even last year, it somehow found a backdoor to the ACC title game.

More in this series