Geoff Collins is a proud graduate of Western Carolina University. That, however, isn’t the reason why the Georgia Tech football coach probably has the Week 2 matchup against his alma mater circled on his master schedule.

More than just the memories, the game against the Football Championship Subdivision’s Catamounts represents the only time this season Collins’ Yellow Jackets are guaranteed to be favored.

That’s not necessarily a knock against his effort to rebuild a program in desperate need of an extreme makeover, although after 3 straight 3-win seasons his coaching seat might be hotter than a noon start on artificial turf during early September.

It’s just that with the brutal schedule Georgia Tech must face, the realistic chance of showing any kind of improvement in the win column falls somewhere in the gray area between slim and none.

It’s a gauntlet that will start with a nationally televised Labor Day night game against preseason ACC favorite Clemson at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and will end with the annual rivalry showdown against reigning national champion Georgia in Athens.

In between, the Yellow Jackets can look forward to nonconference dates against No. 24 Ole Miss at home, at Central Florida, which finished just outside of the preseason coaches rankings and at reigning ACC champ Pittsburgh during the first 5 weeks.

Then after 2 potential tossups against ACC Coastal Division rivals Duke and Virginia, the season will wrap up with 4 road games during the final 5 weeks – a not-so-home stretch that will include trips to Tallahassee, Fla.; Blacksburg, Va.; and Chapel Hill, N.C., before finishing between the hedges.

It’s not the kind of schedule that breeds waves of optimism, either from fans in public or a coach behind closed doors.

That might explain why Collins spent so much time talking about things such as “process” and “preparation” rather than high hopes for the season at the ACC’s preseason kickoff event in Charlotte last month.

“The big thing is just teaching the guys the process, how we do things, how we go about our preparation, how we go about our work,” he said when asked specifically about the tangible positives he sees heading into the year.

“One of the biggest things and the benefits of the leadership in the program is staying true to the process and improving the process even though results aren’t showing on the field. The commitment from the leadership in our program, the coaches, to continue to find ways to improve every single day has been the whole focus.”

Improvement has come slowly for Collins and the Yellow Jackets in the 4 years since the native of Conyers, Ga., returned to Atlanta following a successful, though short, run at Temple.
But that was to be expected.

While some programs have to be torn down in order to be built back up by a new coach and staff, Collins needed to implode the roster he inherited like a skyscraper that had outlived its usefulness.

It was understood from the beginning – or at least it should have been – that the transition from former coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack to a more traditional, modern offense was going to take a slow cooker rather than a microwave to complete.

Not only did Collins have to find a quarterback to run the new scheme, but he also had to recruit an entire corps of wide receivers and a collection of offensive linemen skilled at doing more than just cut blocking.

The COVID-19 pandemic that limited in-home visits for a full year only complicated the process.

At the same time, it’s not unreasonable for the expectation heading into Year 4 to be higher than just 9 wins in 3 seasons, with the immediate prospect for the coming season being more of the same.

To that end, Collins has pinned the Yellow Jackets’ hopes and perhaps his coaching future on virtually an entire team of newcomers since the end of spring practice.

Twenty-seven new players, by his own count, including 13 veterans off the NCAA transfer portal. That group includes 2 players each from heavyweights Clemson (quarterback Taisun Phommachanh and offensive lineman Paul Tchio), 2 from Auburn (defensive backs Eric Reed Jr. and Ahmari Harvey) and Notre Dame (defensive backs K.J. Wallace and Khari Gee), along with Alabama offensive lineman Pierce Quick.

Collins also completely revamped his staff with new additions on both sides of the ball, among them 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke to work with incumbent starter Jeff Sims and the two transfers in the quarterback room.

“I’m just excited about the guys that we’ve been able to add to the organization, whether that be coaches, whether that be players,” the head Yellow Jacket said. “The big focus since the end of last season is how we can play the best brand of Georgia Tech football on college football Saturdays. That’s been the focus of everything that we’ve done, all the changes that we’ve made, all the deep introspection on how we do things and why we do things.”

It’s good that Collins is excited about something heading into the 2022 season. Because other than that circled date against Western Carolina, there isn’t much else to evoke optimism.