ATLANTA - Atlantic Coast Conference pundits talk fervently about the talent in a league they consider perennially underrated.
April's NFL Draft validated their claims. Twelve of the 32 first-round picks played for ACC teams, the most from one league in NFL history. The top overall pick, defensive end Mario Williams, starred at North Carolina State.
Those departures created a vacuum, however. Three weeks into this season, the sucking sound is drowning out all the pundits' talk.
North Carolina State lost to Akron and Southern Mississippi. North Carolina lost to Rutgers at home. Florida State rallied late to beat Troy and is averaging just 49 rushing yards per game.
Those struggles lead to the inevitable questions: Slow start? Or down year?
And what does the league's weakness mean to Georgia Tech?
"We definitely believe with the talent we have on our team we have a chance," Yellow Jacket fullback Mike Cox said. "With no one dominant team in the conference, we feel like this is our year."
The Yellow Jackets have been one of the few impressive ACC teams in the season's early weeks. The Jackets open conference play against Virginia on Thursday with a 2-1 record, their lone loss coming to No. 12 Notre Dame.
The difference between Georgia Tech and most of its ACC brethren is experience. The Yellow Jackets have veterans at every offensive position, on the defensive line and at linebacker.
Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said there's nothing wrong with his players seeing opportunity in the rest of the league's struggles.
It's bad "only if you let it affect your play," he said. "There is nothing wrong with being confident and excited, as long as you don't get lackadaisical in your preparation or believe this isn't a hard week."
Reach Adam Van Brimmer at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
GEORGIA TECH'S 2006 ACC SCHEDULE
Sept. 21- Virginia: The Cavaliers graduated seven seniors, lost star junior linebacker Kai Parham to the NFL Draft, had three more starters dismissed from the team and replaced both coordinators.
Sept. 30 - At Virginia Tech: The Hokies are breaking in new QB Sean Glennon and lost six starters on defense, including stars Darryl Tapp (DE) and Jimmy Williams (CB).
Oct. 7 - Maryland: The Terrapins return just three defensive starters and lost four starting offensive linemen.
Oct. 21 - At Clemson: The Tigers have lost two linebackers to injury this season and have a new QB in Will Proctor.
Oct. 28 - Miami: The Hurricanes are replacing four starters on the offensive line.
Nov. 4 - At N.C. State: The Wolfpack lost five members of their defensive front seven, including stud defensive ends Mario Williams and Manny Lawson.
Nov. 11 - at North Carolina: The Tar Heels are still unsettled at QB, with Cam Newton and Joe Dailey sharing snaps.
Nov. 18 - Duke: Eleven Blue Devils either graduated or transferred and starter QB Zack Asack was dismissed from school for plagiarism during the summer.