By Don Stone, Georgia Tech Express

       Georgia Tech heads to Tallahassee to finally open the strange 2020 season on Saturday against Florida State.

        For awhile, it looked like college football wouldn’t happen this season. And for most schools, that’s the case including the Big 10 and Pac 12. But, the ACC along with the SEC and Big 12 chose to play. For the Atlantic Coast Conference, it was decided to temporarily have the Coastal and Atlantic Divisions merge into a 15 team conference adding Notre Dame to the mix.

     They will play a 10 game all conference schedule with one plus out of conference game. For Georgia Tech, that extra match will be in week two at home with UCF. Their first opponent, Florida State, has Jacksonville State.

     Seminole fans will be allowed this weekend in Doak Campbell Stadium, but they’ll be social distanced to around 16,000. The mask required students will occupy about 20 percent of capacity. They also have prohibited tailgaiting, at least for the opener.

     ACC media members picked FSU to finish 7th and GT last. And the Jackets’ tough schedule includes six of the top eight ranked teams.

     All teams will be dealing with a big bunch of unknowns, most centered around Covid-19 and how it will affect how they prepare and play on the field. 

     Another bit of uncertainty is in planning against the Seminoles, who have a new coaching staff headed by Mike Norvell, who joined the team in December from a very good run in Memphis. Tech head coach Geoff Collins and Coach Norvell were both in the American Athletic Conference when Collins coached at Temple, but they never faced each other. But each coach is familiar with each others’ styles having seen tape of the other’s programs when scouting common opponents.

     The two teams haven’t faced each other since 2015. Also different for FSU is the fact that they haven’t hosted an ACC Coastal opponent since 2009.

     “You start with the personnel first,” coach Collins said in describing how he prepares for a team he hasn’t faced, especially one with a new coaching staff.

     “Then you look at where the coordinators have come from, what they’ve done at other places.

     I didn’t coach against Coach Norvell. But I was always impressed with how hard they played. Obviously, there are some unknowns.

     Coach Norvell expects Tech to improve on their 3-9 record from a year ago with home wins against USF and N.C. State and on the road at Miami. He named James Blackman as the starting quarterback in what should be a pro style offense with quick tempo.

     “They’re in the second year of the transition that we’re in,” said coach Norvell..”The physical development, the confidence of what those guys have planted….they had some good wins last year and you know that confidence they’re going to bring into year 2 with what their expectation is, is something that they’re going to come out and they’re going to start fast.”

     The Jackets have upgraded their personnel with a top-25 recruiting class and several high-profile transfers like Miami receiver Marquez Ezzard, Florida DL Antonneous Clayton, Notre Dame DB Derrik Allen and Tennessee OL Ryan Johnson. All were four-star prospects coming out of high school except Clayton, who was a five-star.

     The Noles’ 6-7 season last year caused the coaching change. But they have their share of talent.

     “The first thing that pops off is tremendous athleticism…size, speed. Their skill positions are some of the finest in the country,” said Collins. “The defensive lineman (Marvin Wilson) is one of the best players in America.

     Players to keep an eye on are WR Tamorrion Terry on offense and Wilson, safety Hamsah Nasirildeen and CB Asante Samuel, Jr. on defense.

     A good defense will keep Georgia Tech in most games leaving it up to the offense make things more competetive. The Jackets should be better on offense, ranked at the bottom of the ACC in 2019. A big part of that improvement should come at running back with junior Jordan Mason, who led the team, sophomore Jamious Grififn, and freshman Jahmyr Gibbs.

     “I’m not trading anybody for our top three guys,” said offensive coordinator Dave Patenaudee.

     Kickoff is Saturday at 3:30pm with the game televised on ABC.