FSU Head Coach Mike Norvell (photo: Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)

Predicting the first week of college football in 2020 is likely a fool's errand. This is already a season unlike any other, and Bowl Championship Subdivision (BCS) teams have yet to lace 'em up and play a game.

Adding mystery to intrigue is Georgia Tech's week 1 foe, Florida State. If you were to draw two random teams out of a hat with the goal of finding the biggest questions marks heading into the season, you'd likely do no better than the Jackets and Seminoles.

Georgia Tech's unknowns are well documented. We have a coaching staff that has been together at the BCS level for three years. The first two at Temple provided a small lens into their likelihood to succeed at Georgia Tech, with Head Coach Geoff Collins going 7-6 and 8-4 in two consecutive seasons at the helm.

That short tenure, combined with a 3-9 start in year 1 at Georgia Tech following the transition from the under center spread option, has only widened the array of prognostications for future success. Jackets' fans don't need another prediction from yours truly to inform their opinion. They need real data in the form of wins and losses in 2020, as well as signs of measurable statistical improvement on the field and in the overall program, to be swayed.

If we counted the number of variables in play for Georgia Tech in week 1, we'd have enough talking points to fill the 3.5 hours of television for the talking heads. Now add in Florida State, a media favorite going through their own coaching transition, and the output is a national TV spot on ABC, September 12, 3:30pm ET.

Head Coach Mike Norvell's transition from Memphis to Tallahassee has been, let's just say, interesting. Mostly heralded as a great hire, his first offseason has garnered the type of attention that Florida State fans were hoping had passed. Despite the coaching changes from Jimbo Fisher to Willie Taggart to Mike Norvell, drama continues to infest the Florida State program. Norvell was accused publicly by his inherited players of lying to the media in June. Then, his players publicly alleged nontransparency and concerns around Covid-19 testing safety in August. Strike 1 and 2?

Norvell can quickly push those stories to back burner through success on the field in year 1. The challenge is, given Florida State's on-field dysfunction in 2019 and a coaching transition in 2020, where do you set the bar?

An oft-cited data point to measure a coach's ability is to look at their relative performance via strength-adjusted metrics. Football Outsiders has long provided this trove of information, so let's peel back the onion on Norvell's tenure at Memphis, which stretched from 2016-2019.

Ignoring year 1 as his own transition year there, here's how Norvell's Tigers performed in his final three years.

For the sake of brevity, I'm going to assume that Georgia Tech fans have a baseline understanding of FEI as it's an oft-cited metric.

So what's the takeaway? In Norvell's final three years at Memphis, his teams performed admirably overall, finishing around 32 overall and in the top 25 on offense and special teams. FEI is strength-adjusted, essentially meaning you can't inflate your ranking by beating up on patsies, and more credit is earned through your performance against top teams.

Florida State floundered last year by its historical standards, finishing with an overall FEI of 49. Especially poignant was their performance in the phases where Norvell has historically excelled, finishing with an FEI strength-adjusted ranking of Offense on 67 and Special Teams on 87. The defense finished at a respectable but far from elite, 39.

So we have a chance, right? Yes, absolutely. But if we're being fair, we have a long road to hoe to match Florida State's performance of last year.

Here's how the Jackets fared last year, with Collins' first two years as a FBS head coach thrown in for added context.

If you were to calculate an average in apples to apples fashion, I would have to discount 2017 (year 1 at Temple) and 2019 (year 1 at Georgia Tech) as I did with Norvell's average at Memphis. That leaves 2018 as a barometer, and one-year averages don't mean a whole lot.

So what do I make of the data? At a minimum, I'm comfortable concluding that Collins' and Offensive Coordinator Dave Patenaude's offense at Temple improved after a troubling first year. That first year was apparently a lot like last year's painful experience for Tech fans, which yields a healthy dose of optimism for this year. Likewise, defense has rarely been a question mark for Collins, who fielded salty defenses as a coordinator before accentuating that as his strength in Philadelphia.

In the end, there are question marks everywhere for both teams. Ev. Er. Y. Where. And with Covid-19, we should probably expect the unexpected with respect to ongoing roster attrition even in week 1. Based on 2019 performance and data, Florida State has the head start. Based on familiarity with a new system and "team cohesion", the edge goes to Georgia Tech.

Florida State, playing at home, rightfully has the edge publicly and via the eyes of Vegas (11.5 point favorites). But as 2020 has proven, anything can happen.

Video courtesy of Under The Radar Sports Media

ATLANTA, GA - Head coach Geoff Collins and his band of passionate, energetic staff members effectively slammed the book shut on the 2020 class in absolutely dominating fashion. The staff danced away the recruiting cycle and subsequent 3-9 season with the signing of Rivals100 elite All Purpose Back, Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs was the keystone player in this 2020 class and it couldn’t be more obvious, as we watched the stoic and reserved legendary Tech linebacker Marco Coleman do a shimmy and shake, as every coach and Graduate Assistant embraced in brotherly love and happiness.

Often, Tech fans dread hat shows, but this one had a different feeling. As Dalton High School Catamounts head football coach Matt Land spoke eloquently about each player who signed to play at the next level, it was hard to ignore the cameras that were fixated on Gibbs, who sat quietly in a navy Polo pullover that inconspicuously donned a yellow, ahem gold, horse and jockey. The packed high school theater was filled with supporters of all the players, but Gibbs was the main event. Surrounded by his family, Gibbs time had come to finally make a decision that was nearly a year in the making. In no particular order, three hats were laid out in front of him. The University of Florida, Louisiana State University and Georgia Tech. Gibbs being a man of few words wasted no time in making his 40 year decision and overwhelming a fan base that has been starved of star power and national recognition for quite some time.

The hype and optimism surrounding this program is palpable and it’s obvious that all the fresh, new changes have caught the eye of prominent recruits across the country, but specifically in the Southeast. With all the bright and shiny changes in all phases of this historic program, expectations are certainly being raised. The product on the field must match the intensity and passion that Collins and Co. have established during his first full year on The Flats. Coach Collins vision is becoming clearer by the day and the fans who might’ve lagged behind, or been resistant to change, have slowly begun coming around to the idea that this team can be for real, they’re playing for keeps and they make no mistake about their identity as a unique program for unique athletes.

While The Boys of the 404 have a ways to go until they can match or exceed the firepower of Atlantic Division rivals and four time participants of the College Football Playoff, Clemson Tigers, the Coastal Division is as wide open as it can get. A division that has seen seven different champions over the span of seven years seems ripe to be dominated. Can the Yellow Jackets take the top spot in 2020? It is certainly possible, and only time will tell as we trudge through the dead period of college football in utter anticipation of Toe Meets Leather.

Until The Boys of Fall tee it up again at Bobby Dodd Stadium and we’re all able to raise a toast and sing that beautiful fight song, let us look forward to the process, progression and celebration of the team that is so near and dear to us all.

#5 Moses Wright finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds vs. Syracuse(photo credit: ramblinwreck.com)

ATLANTA, GA – There’s no sugarcoating Saturday’s ACC home opener vs. Syracuse.  The Jackets laid an absolute goose egg in more ways than one can comfortably count in a 97-63 loss to the Orange.

No energy.  Slow offensive execution versus the 2-3 zone.  Poor scout and/or poor recognition on defense.  Anemic free throw shooting.  Outrebounded by 10 against a team who just ten days ago was outrebounded by the Nittany Lions of Penn State by 29.

The list goes on.  Others will dissect it.  I will not.  At the end of the day, enough others will do it for us and we’ll end up more frustrated than McCamish Pavilion rims following a charity stripe attempt by the home team.

Speaking of charity, this post mortem will try to make lemonade out of today’s performance. To do so though, this forager requires ingredients from beyond December 7, 2019.  In other words, let’s interpret this game in broader context than a single, isolated data point.

Coming in to today, Georgia Tech’s KenPom adjusted defense was ranked #24 in the country.  Following today’s performance?  Double it, #48 in the country.  Today’s defensive performance was an aberration when compared to the Jackets’ whole body of work.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize how lethargic the Jackets battled on the defensive end today.  That said, effort has rarely been an issue for this squad.  Put me in the corner that believes effort won’t be an issue going forward, either.

How about the offensive end?  What gives?  Tech shot just 38.7% from the field versus the Orange today.  This is materially below a season average of 45.2% in their first six games. Mike Devoe was held to 2 of 12 from the field for 7 total points, well below his season average of 23.8% per game.  This was a decidedly poor offensive performance, but it’s not a sign of things to come.

Some might say the offensive output was due to the Orange’s 2-3 zone, the likes of which teams rarely encounter.  While the Jackets and Orange have engaged in several pry-your-eyes-out battles on the hardwood, there isn’t a clear pattern of performance.  Prior to today, Josh Pastner was 3-1 versus Jim Boeheim.  In Tech’s last game versus the 2-3 in January 2019, the closest game we have to the current roster mix of both squads, the Jackets tickled the twine at the Carrier Dome to the tune of 59.5% on their way to a 73-59 road ACC win.  That performance was a role reversal and surprise to many, including Vegas.

One of the key contributors in that game was Tech point guard Jose Alvarado, unavailable today.  He notched 19 points and proved to be a smooth operator inside the zone.  He along with Jordan Usher are two of the most important pieces to this year’s roster, and neither were available today. At a minimum, both are certain to be a helpful, and hopefully incessant, injection of energy that this team and the fan base needs.  The upside?  TBD, but the evidence suggests Jose is the straw that stirs the drink, and Usher is arguably the best athlete on the team.  With regards to how the full roster projects against the Orange, we get to test the theory when the Jackets pay a return visit to Syracuse in February.

Bottom line is the Jackets have to find a way to claw their way out of another year of postseason purgatory.  Today’s loss is likely meaningful in a bad way for the Jackets’ NCAA tournament resume.  Barring a dramatic turnaround, the Orange are destined for the ACC’s bottom tier this year.  That makes today’s result a “bad loss” in the eyes of the selection committee.

Thankfully, in recent years the bubble has been littered with teams who have proven they can lose to anybody.  The difference between those selected for The Dance versus those who were not often boiled down to “who did you beat?”  The good news for this year’s squad is there is a lot of runway remaining to stack big wins and prove they can play with the best.  Their first opportunity for a big win is one week from today, when the Jackets look to rebound (pun intended) and make a statement in the Bluegrass State against the top 10 ranked Kentucky Wildcats.  Go Jackets!