The story of Georgia Tech's season can essentially be boiled down to the story of its head coach's career, a guy who has made a habit of proving others wrong by trusting his system and getting the proper pieces in place to buy into his brand of football.
For years now, the heat had been turning up on Paul Johnson, on his triple-option offense, on the Yellow Jackets' ability to compete for ACC championships.
Georgia Tech entered 2014 having lost more than a dozen non-seniors to a number of different factors. The Jackets had dropped five straight to in-state rival Georgia. They were picked to finish fifth in the ACC's Coastal Division in the league's preseason media poll.
Then they went out and won the division, beat the Bulldogs in Athens and routed Mississippi State of the once-vaunted SEC West to win the Capital One Orange Bowl and cap one of the more surprising 11-3 seasons in recent memory.
And yes, Johnson was handsomely compensated for this resurgence, winning ACC coach of the year honors and earning a four-year contract extension from athletic director Mike Bobinski.
Johnson and his Jackets stayed the course across 2014, despite all of the heat facing them as the season approached. In a preseason ESPN.com poll, 55 percent of fans said something needed to change around the program — and the voters were given three options.
The only thing that changed was the result of this season, one Georgia Tech accomplished by doing it Johnson's way. He was well-aware of the talk around his program, saying this offseason that the tone in the Atlanta area was too negative.
A close call early in the season against Georgia Southern did little to initially quell that talk, but week after week, it became apparent that Georgia Tech was onto something special. A 5-0 start here. Another five-game winning streak there. All the while, its quarterback — an unsung underclassman entering the season — continued to blossom.
Justin Thomas was thrust into the starter's role this summer on a whim, following the surprising departure of Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. Lee would have been the lone ESPN 150 recruit on the roster — and yes, even the recruiting came under fire this year, intentionally or not, in the form of an off-hand comment from David Cutcliffe about the triple-option that made for an entertaining back and forth leading up to Georgia Tech's matchup with Duke.
Thomas ended up at Georgia Tech after home-state power Alabama wanted him as a defensive back. At quarterback, the redshirt sophomore grew into his role, earning team captain recognition in the season's first month and making a national statement in the finale with a number of nifty moves that confounded Mississippi State defenders. Thomas proved to be the best quarterback of the seven-year Johnson era at Georgia Tech, finishing the season with 1,719 passing yards, 1,086 rushing yards, 26 total touchdowns and just six interceptions.
It often did not seem to matter who was near him running the ball, as the Jackets overcame stretches without Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins to remain dominant in the run game, with Synjyn Days in particular stepping to the forefront in his senior year. Georgia Tech finished second nationally in rushing yards (342.1 ypg). All the while the defense continued to create opportunities for the offense, tying for 17th nationally in turnovers forced, with 29.
Georgia Tech's final four games came against teams that were ranked in the College Football Playoff selection committee's top 20 at the time of their matchups. The Jackets finished 3-1, with the lone defeat a two-point loss to defending national champion Florida State in the ACC title game.
Whereas that could have slowed down the talk about Johnson's redemption, he instead got his team ready for a team that spent the earlier part of the season ranked No. 1 -- heavily favored Mississippi State. The result? A 49-34 domination that washed away tired narratives about the program.
Georgia Tech finished ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll and No. 7 in the final coaches' poll. All of a sudden next season cannot come soon enough in Atlanta.