ATLANTA — Paul Johnson says a strong start would make it much easier for Georgia Tech to earn a repeat trip to the ACC Championship Game.
The Yellow Jackets won only one of their first four Atlantic Coast Conference games last season. They recovered to finish 5-3 in the league before losing to Florida State in the ACC title game in Charlotte, N.C.
A Sun Bowl win over Southern California capped the 7-7 season.
Georgia Tech opens with Elon and then plays four consecutive ACC games against Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami.
By Oct. 5, Johnson will know much more about his team’s chances for a return to Charlotte.
“We can set ourselves up to be in good shape early on or we can dig ourselves a hole like what happened last year,” Johnson said. “The start of the season is really important.”
The Yellow Jackets are switching to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Ted Roof. Quarterback Vad Lee, who saw significant time in 2012 behind Tevin Washington, is expected to start but could share time with redshirt freshman Justin Thomas.
Lee could develop into a more dangerous passer than Washington, who ran for 20 touchdowns last season in the spread-option offense.
The team has little experience at wide receiver, but Johnson’s offense always emphasizes the run. Georgia Tech finished fourth in the nation in rushing last season but had no player with more than 18 catches.
Running backs Zach Laskey, David Sims and Robert Godhigh return. Each ran for more than 400 yards last season.
The surprise of the preseason has been DeAndre Smelter, who has played baseball at Georgia Tech for three years and decided to give football a try. He may start at wide receiver, a development that says much about the void on the depth chart at the position.