BOSTON — There were times in 2015 when it seemed like the end of the season couldn’t arrive fast enough for Georgia Tech and Boston College.
The Yellow Jackets stumbled to a 3-9 finish just a season removed from an ACC title and Orange Bowl victory. The Eagles matched that 3-9 record last year, while going winless in conference play.
So it makes sense that the 2016 campaign for both teams will begin far away from those memories.
Saturday’s matchup in Dublin, Ireland, will be the Eagles’ third time playing abroad. They beat Army 38-24 at the old Lansdowne Road stadium in 1988 during the first American football game played in Europe. They also left the country in 1978 to play Temple in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo.
Georgia Tech is playing its first game off of American soil as it enters the program’s 124th season.
It will be the first step in what coach Paul Johnson hopes will steady a program that may have gotten overconfident after the 2014 run.
“To finish 3-9 last year surprised me but I wasn’t surprised at all that we weren’t as good as everybody thought; I knew that in practice, I said it all along,” Johnson said. “I think this year is better but we’ve got to go play.”
This offseason has been a mix of healing and adjustments for the Eagles.
They have five new assistants, including two new coordinators. Scot Loeffler replaces Todd Fitch as offensive coordinator, and on defense Jim Reid takes over for Don Brown, who left for Michigan.
BC also brought in graduate transfer quarterback Patrick Towles to compete with sophomore Darius Wade. Wade returns after breaking his left ankle in the third game last season.
Coach Steve Addazio has remained coy this week about who will be the starter, but did say he didn’t anticipate having a two-quarterback system. Towles has impressed this preseason and would seem to have an advantage is a more pass active offense.
“He’s fit in great,” Addazio said of Towles. “You feel like he’s been here his whole career.”
Here are some more things to watch for on Saturday:
RISE AND SHINE
Along with the travel logistics of playing on foreign soil, both teams will be adjusting to a much earlier start time. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 a.m. EDT. Neither team has a kickoff before noon the remainder of the season.
Johnson said his team has dealt with the different variables as best it could by having a strict itinerary. “You’d hope that they’re going to be mature enough and experienced enough to understand the importance of the game,” Johnson said.
“We’ve talked a great deal about it but until you get over there and play, you just don’t know.”
The Eagles will likely throw the ball more in Loeffler’s offense, but they still have lots of options to run as well. Most notably, running back Jon Hilliman returns from a broken foot to help a unit that rushed for just 164.4 yards per game last year. If the Eagles’ offensive line can fix its issues, the sophomore could have a big season.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE
Despite BC’s struggles, one unit that didn’t last season was its defense. BC returns eight starters from a unit that allowed the fewest yards per game in the FBS (254.3). There doesn’t appear to be many tweaks on the horizon after the arrival of Reid and new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni. “We haven’t changed anything,” Addazio said.
A total of 16 Yellow Jackets players combined to miss more than 80 games with injuries last season. A healthier roster should help out a team whose nine defeats came by eight points or less.
Georgia Tech is 86-33-4 all-time in season openers, including a 7-1 record in openers under Johnson. The Yellow Jackets also hold a 6-2 edge in head-to-head meetings with the Eagles.