Paul Johnson hopes the media projected things right for once. No kidding. Johnson has made a habit at Georgia Tech of exceeding preseason expectations, perhaps never more than last season, when he took a Yellow Jackets team that was voted No. 5 in the Coastal Division in the preseason poll to an 11-win, Orange Bowl-championship season. Johnson earned himself an extension, his quarterback burst onto the national scene and now no one is overlooking this team, which is the preseason Coastal favorite for the first time.
Best-case scenario: Justin Thomas builds off his breakout campaign from a year ago, emerging as a Heisman contender while orchestrating one of the nation's most efficient offensive attacks. Patrick Skov and Broderick Snoddy pick up in the backfield where Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins left off before them. Micheal Summers and Ricky Jeune prove to be reliable threats in the passing game, while an experienced defense takes some necessary steps. Georgia Tech goes 11-1 in the regular season, wins the ACC title game and, on the strength of its schedule, makes the College Football Playoff.
Worst-case scenario: Now the hunted instead of the hunter, the Jackets fold under the pressure and under the tough schedule in front of them, which includes games at Notre Dame, Duke and Clemson, in addition to home tilts with Florida State and Georgia. Thomas plays well, but the backfield losses from last year end up stinging more than anticipated, despite the experienced offensive line. No threats in the passing game emerge to replace DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, and the defense fails to take the necessary steps forward -- while also lacking some of the turnover luck it received last season. Georgia Tech goes just 7-5.
Most important player: Thomas. The redshirt junior is the ideal QB to run Johnson's option attack. He was playing as well as anyone in the country by the end of last season and, with a few more steps and consistently strong performances throughout the fall, could play his way into the argument for best signal-caller in the country. On top of that, his experience will be counted on more than ever early on in the season, as Georgia Tech adjusts to life with a handful of new starters in the backfield and among the receiving corps. As Thomas goes, so go the Jackets.
Breakout player: Jabari Hunt-Days. The former linebacker is now a defensive tackle, back for his fifth and final season after being academically ineligible in 2014. The 6-foot-3, 261-pounder had started 21 of 27 games in 2012 and 2013, tallying 129 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, two picks and two forced fumbles. The team spoke highly of his scout-team work last season, and on a deep Tech defensive line, the opportunities should be there for Hunt-Days to take the next step and emerge as a star.
Most important game: Oct. 24 against FSU. The Week 3 visit to a Notre Dame team that has struggled in recent years to defend the option will be a great early barometer for Georgia Tech, but there are so many others down the line as well, with conference implications. The home tilt with the Seminoles is a rematch of two of the last three ACC title games, both of which Tech lost. Last year the Jackets gave the playoff-bound Noles all they could handle in a 37-35 defeat. This year's FSU team is more of a mystery, and the game comes before a tough November stretch for Tech that includes games against Virginia Tech, at Miami and against rival Georgia.
Class of 2015 signee to watch: Four-star Christian Philpott. Is it crazy to pick a wide receiver as the signee to watch due to the Georgia Tech offensive scheme? Not really when considering the Yellow Jackets return very little experience at the position, and there is not a receiver on the roster with the size and speed combination of Philpott. -- Gerry Hamilton
Class of 2016 storyline: With a class expected to have 18-20 signees, the Yellow Jackets have to be calculated and are not in a position to take many pure upside prospects. Offensive line is a key position in the class with the secondary and defensive line being key on defense, especially when looking at the linemen set to graduate following the 2016 season. ESPN 300 guard/center target Parker Braun is the brother of Georgia Tech senior guard Trey Braun. -- Gerry Hamilton