Georgia Tech seems to be the equivalent of a moving target.
Yes, they are the defending ACC champions.
Yes, they led the league in several offensive categories.
Yes, they return 15 starters.
No, they aren’t being picked to win the ACC.
Tech coach Paul Johnson, however, seems to embrace the fact that once again his team is being overlooked, as it was last year and as it was when he first arrived.
“They’re still going to let us play the games aren’t they?” Johnson asked on Monday when asked about two teams being favored over the Jackets to win theACC’s Coastal Division. “That’s all we care about.
“I think we can be competitive.”
The Yellow Jackets will have the bull’s eye on their back, even if they have to remind people that it’s there. With so many close wins, and some controversial plays, Tech seems to have that “yeah, but” stigma. Based upon the questions asked of Johnson at the media days in Greensboro, some of that has to do with the perception of the offense, and some of it has to do with the fact that many of the games the Jackets played last year came down to the last drive.
His players, however, believe in what they can do.
A-back Roddy Jones said the experiences they gained last year – beating Wake Forest in overtime, outshooting FSU in a 49-44 thriller, defeating Clemson in the title game in which neither team punted — better prepared them to go on the road this year and try and beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill or Virginia Tech inBlacksburg, which are two of the biggest road games on the Jackets’ schedule this season
“We’ve learned how to win games, we’ve learned how to hold onto leads, we’ve learned how to finish teams,” Jones said. “We’ve been in just about every position you can be in. So we have those experiences to pull off of.”
But winning the league won’t be easy, critics not withstanding. Four teams within the Coastal division will likely be ranked in the first Associated Press poll. As evidence of the conference’s depth, North Carolina coach Butch Davis pointed out that seven teams received first-place votes in the media’s preseason prediction poll, which was released on Monday.
Repeating, particularly when the Coastal division may be the toughest of any division in college football this season, won’t be easy.
Johnson knows as much. Drawing on his experience of winning five consecutive conference championships at Georgia Southern from 1997-2001, he said he’s told the players that defending the title will be harder than winning it.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer agrees. He guided his team to two ACC titles in 2007 and ‘08 until the Yellow Jackets took the crown last season to become the fourth different champ in five years. Getting there is just the first step.
“It’s tough, but it’s good for the league,” Beamer said. “There are lots of good football teams and it’s getting better all the time.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of separation. You’ve got to be ready to play every week.”
Being ready to play is something that Johnson said he’s tried to instill in his players since he arrived on the Flats. While he points out that’s something that every coach tries to instill, he feels like his players understand his point.
Because he has so many starters returning, he thinks it will make it a little bit easier to win the school’s first back-to-back ACC conference. The players seem to have bought in. They mention how hard they have worked this season under the direction of strength coach Neal Peduzzi. They mention they want more.
The defense begins in Chapel Hill on Sept. 18.
“It’s kind of an understood goal,” Jones said. “Last year and the year before it was one of those things that we had to say. The goal this year is to win the ACC championship, and even go further. Maybe we can run the table and get into the national championship.
“A lot of people write us off. …We’ve been training all summer like we are the underdogs, like people are counting us out again. We’re going to come in with a chip on our shoulder to prove we have what it takes to win.”