Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey enters his third season in Atlanta.
The Yellow Jackets posted a 7-6 record in 2003, including a 4-4 mark in Atlantic Coast Conference play, and capped off the season with a 52-10 romp over Tulsa in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Here are five questions to ponder before the Yellow Jackets begin their season Sept. 4 against Samford:
1. Can Reggie Ball keep the momentum rolling?
As the first true freshman quarterback to start immediately in Yellow Jackets history, Ball was a pleasant surprise with both his athleticism and enthusiasm. He passed for 1,996 yards, 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. For all his poise and efficiency early, Ball looked a little too much like a freshman at times as the season wore on. He has to elevate his game for Georgia Tech to elevate its prospects.
2. Will P.J. Daniels (above) have room to roam?
Former seventh-string back proved to be a reliable workhorse, filling the void left by academic casualty Tony Hollings and becoming the ACC's leading rusher with 1,447 yards last season. He dominated the Humanitarian Bowl romp with 31 carries, 307 yards and four touchdowns. But without All-ACC linemen Hugh Reilly and Nat Dorsey and tight end John Paul Foschi, Daniels may have to fight harder to make holes.
3. Got linebackers?
The most proficient defensive unit last season with senior all-conference stars Keyaron Fox and Daryl Smith is now the most thin. With no depth, coaches will have to count on two converted veterans, former defensive end Gerris Wilkinson and safety Chris Reis. Wilkinson is a natural linebacker who proved effective on the end despite his size, posting four sacks and 12 tackles for loss last year. He's much more suited to play in the middle.
4. What is the biggest concern?
As tight as things might be in the brawnier ACC, Georgia Tech will need a capable kicking game to pull out the close games. That means redshirt placekicker Travis Bell will have to prove himself quickly to fill in for Dan Burnett. Punting might be a real mess, with so much inconsistency forcing coach Chan Gailey to hope freshman Kyle Belcher can step up to fill a vital role nobody else has been able to claim.
5. Can Georgia Tech break out of its 7-6 rut the past two seasons?
Along with Florida State, Georgia Tech helped force the issue of expansion. Now it has to live with it. After two seasons that were equal parts overachieving and disappointing, the Jackets will have to work that much harder to extend a seven-year bowl streak in a larger, tougher conference with no more bowl options. While enthusiasm is higher, winning seven games again might not be all that easy with a schedule that includes preseason ranked foes Miami, Georgia, Clemson, Maryland and Virginia.
- Scott Michaux