Media experts picked Georgia Tech to finish fourth in the expanded seven-team Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
This is very good news for the Yellow Jackets’ title chances.
No program has more consistently befuddled prognostication than the Ramblin’ Wreck through the years. Not once in the eight seasons since the ACC expanded and split into divisions has Georgia Tech been picked to finish first in its division, yet four times the Jackets have finished at least tied for the Coastal’s best record. Three times they’ve reached the league’s championship game.
While Virginia Tech gets all the recognition as the ACC’s power program in that half of the conference – being predicted to finish first in seven of the previous eight years – it’s the Yellow Jackets who actually have the best average finish in the Coastal since Paul Johnson took over as head coach in 2008. In the five seasons since Johnson came to Atlanta, Georgia Tech’s average final standing in the division is 1.6 compared to Virginia Tech’s 1.8. The Jackets have equaled or bettered their predicted finish each year.
No program other than the two Techs has ever represented the Coastal in the ACC Championship.
So why don’t the Jackets inspire much love every preseason despite a streak of 16 consecutive bowl appearances? Is the triple-option not sexy enough to engender support?
Johnson’s response – who cares?
“I don’t pay attention to those type of things – whether we’re picked first or last, it doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “I like this team. It’s our oldest team, with guys who have played a lot of football. We’ll see how it goes.”
Whatever the reason, Johnson and the Jackets are out to prove the doubters wrong once again.
“We set goals at camp – the goals don’t change a great deal from year to year,” Johnson said. “Clearly our goal will be to win the Coastal Division and get to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game. I think we’re good enough. This year it’s to try to get back and win it.”
A year after rallying to reach the championship against Florida State and then earning its first bowl victory since 2004, Georgia Tech returns 15 starters yet brings a lot of new things into 2013 as well. Tevin Washington is gone at quarterback, leaving the reins to sophomore Vad Lee. Mike Bobinski enters his first football season as director of athletics after Dan Radakovich abandoned his post to go to rival Clemson.
But most significantly, alumnus Ted Roof returns to The Flats to take over from Al Groh as defensive coordinator.
Just imagine how good Georgia Tech might be if it actually played decent defense. It’s been a major issue since ... well, pretty much since Roof left as George O’Leary’s defensive coordinator after 2001.
Roof has reinstalled a 4-3 defensive scheme, allowing the Yellow Jackets’ best player, Jeremiah Attaochu, to move to defensive end where he can try to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
“Ted brings a lot of intensity and energy to the program,” Johnson said. “Hopefully we can improve on that side of the ball.”
Improved defense could actually make the Yellow Jackets one of the most complete teams in the conference. The offense should prosper in Lee’s hands behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. Lee isn’t exactly green, having played extensively the second half of last season including two 100-yard rushing performances.
The schedule poses some concerns, with road trips to both Clemson and Miami. But Virginia Tech, North Carolina and conference newcomers Syracuse and Pittsburgh all come to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Georgia Tech faces Coastal foes Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami in consecutive weeks through Oct. 5, so the team’s championship trajectory will be decided early.
“That’s the way the schedule falls,” Johnson said. “Some teams we’ve had better success than others. To win the Coastal Division we’re going to need to beat Virginia Tech and Miami.”
A quick start and the Yellow Jackets will once again refute a lot of critics and perhaps siphon a small piece of the regional attention being heaped upon perceived top-10 programs Georgia, South Carolina and Clemson.
The Yellow Jackets received only six votes from the national sportswriters in the preseason AP poll.
But before anyone claims it’s a media conspiracy against them, Georgia Tech got zero votes in the coaches’ survey.
Johnson might not pay attention to such things, but the players do. It’s an annual cycle of low esteem they’ve come to relish.
“We definitely recognize the lack of respect,” Attaochu said. “The underdog persona is one we take on every time we play. We like it.”