Look ahead (cont.): Can Tech make it back to ACC title game?

Paul Johnson led Georgia Tech to its first ACC championship since 1990. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Paul Johnson led Georgia Tech to its first ACC championship since 1990. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Earlier today, we looked at Georgia’s chances of winning the SEC East Division and returning to the conference championship game. The hump: Getting past Florida. (There’s still time to vote in the poll.)

Now we look at the school actually defending a conference title: Georgia Tech.

Where will Georgia Tech finish in the ACC Coastal Division?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

The Jackets are coming off their first outright ACC championship since 1990. The primary roadblock: Rebounding from losing four top players to the NFL draft (Demaryius Thomas and Jonathan Dwyer on offense; Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett on defense). Can they do it? Yes.

(The six Coastal teams, listed in order of perceived strength, with last year’s conference record in parenthesis.)

1. Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson is 20-7 (13-4 in conference) and has won ACC Coach of the Year honors twice in two seasons. So I think we can get past the, “Can he coach in a BCS conference” debate. The Jackets will be hurt by the loss of Thomas at wide receiver more than they will Dwyer because the option offense will produce rushing yardage. But having a third-year starting quarterback, senior Joshua Nesbitt, is a significant advantage.  The other big difference will come on defense, where the recently hired Al Groh will switch to a 3-4, allowing Tech to rely more on its speed and less on size up front. Expect more blitzing. Groh’s defense doesn’t have to be great — it just can’t allow 30-plus points per game, as the Jackets did six times last year. That won’t happen this season. Key weeks: home against North Carolina in Week 3 and back-to-back games against Clemson (Oct. 23) and at Virginia Tech (Nov. 4)

2. Virginia Tech: For all of the hype about quarterback Tyrod Taylor, he struggled at times last season. The Hokies finished ninth in the conference in passing offense and eighth in sacks allowed (31). Running back Ryan Williams, who led the ACC with 1,655 yards and 22 touchdowns, is as good as they come but the offensive line could have issues. The Hokies were able to keep defensive coordinator Bud Foster (who turned down Georgia, among other jobs, and received a five-year, $1 million annuity to stay). But Tech lost a lot on defense, including three-quarters of the front. Frank Beamer has finished in first or second in the Coastal every year since Virginia Tech joined the ACC but that’s not a given this season.

3. Miami: The Hurricanes won nine games for the first time since 2005 and, in maybe an even bigger accomplishment for coach Randy Shannon, Miami players have not dominated the police blotter in the offseason. With quarterback Jacory Harris and a strong defense, Miami could be the real deal this year. But the schedule could wreck the team. After opening against Florida A&M, the Canes play at Ohio State, at Pittsburgh, at Clemson and home against Florida State in four consecutive games. They also play Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in back to back weeks in November. Survive all this and there’s no question they’re in the national title hunt. The big question is whether Miami can avoid some of the mistakes and turnover issues (including 17 interceptions) it had last year, and uncertainty at running back (Graig Cooper is coming off knee surgery).

4. North Carolina: The college football Blue Ribbon yearbook lists five North Carolina players on the 12-member, all-ACC preseason defensive team. And zero on offense. Therein lies Butch Davis’s problem. The Tar Heels were No. 1 in total defense and No. 11 in total offense last season. That’s been the pattern since Davis arrived in Chapel Hill. They’ve had strong recruiting classes but most of the talent has been on the defensive side of the ball. Now there are reports that the NCAA is looking into possible rules violations, focusing primarily on contact between players and agents. Back to football: At some point, the Meineke Car Care Bowl is not going to be good enough for fans, given the kind of money Davis is making. But for the Heels to make a jump, they’ll need better play front quarterback T.J. Yates (17 interceptions last season).

5. Duke: Coach David Cutcliffe’s decision to not go back to Tennessee to rescue the Volunteers after Lane Kiffin’s resignation was the greatest non-transaction of the offseason. Cutcliffe has done a great job at Duke and he would’ve been a sacrificial lamb there in a year or two. At Duke, he’s a hero, and don’t be surprised if he turns sophomore Sean Renfree into one of the better quarterbacks in the conference this season. The Blue Devils could struggle running the ball again, but their passing attack might be good enough to get them to a bowl game — and that could put them ahead of Tennessee.

6. Virginia: The Cavaliers come to The Flats Oct. 9. Groh circled the game on his calendar when he took the Tech job. It should be enjoyable for him. Virginia finished 9-4 three years ago but dropped off to 8-17 (5-11 in conference) in the last two years, and recruiting went with it. The new coach, alum Mike London, is taking a big step up from FCS (1-AA) Richmond. The offense will be new, the defense is switching to a 4-3 and there is little talent to work with on either side of the ball. Last place seems a lock.

So what are your thoughts on Tech making it back to the ACC title game? And don’t forget to vote in the poll.

Earlier today: Can Dogs end Alabama-Florida monoply in SEC title game?


Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

172 comments Add your comment

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

July 19th, 2010
12:12 pm

lots of talent lost, will be tough for GT

Chris

July 19th, 2010
12:14 pm

Tech definately has a chance, but it’s a tough road schedule this year. I think it hinges more on the offensive line than anything else. Heck, the D can’t be worse than last year. If the O-line is good, we will score points. Johnson is a winner, and that’s all I have to say about that!

LopezKahn

July 19th, 2010
12:17 pm

UNC game is at North Carolina, NCST is at home

Tim Tebow's Tears

July 19th, 2010
12:20 pm

I wouldn’t bet against Paul Johnson

Jacket Backer

July 19th, 2010
12:20 pm

I would not ever sell a CPJ team short. It will not be easy but they can repeat!

Go Jackets!!

Mark Olsen

July 19th, 2010
12:24 pm

Shouldn’t be too hard in the Almost Competitve Conference (is it even almost competitive anymore???)

Oh, and we run this state.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wes Barker, Andrew Sherwin, Jeff Haws, Nubyjas Wilborn, Hank Humphrey and others. Hank Humphrey said: RT @JeffSchultzAJC: Sneak Peek Monday continues: Can Tech make it back to ACC title game? (Yes.) #ACC #GaTech http://bit.ly/ckZTbc [...]

the dude

July 19th, 2010
12:26 pm

Didn’t UGA win the ACC coastal and South Carolina win the Atlantic last year?

HugoStiglitz

July 19th, 2010
12:26 pm

It will be significantly harder for GT to make the ACC championship then it will be for UGA to make the SEC championship. A tough road schedule in one of the toughest devisions in college football. Paul Johnson has his work cut out for him but if anybody can do it, its him.

db

July 19th, 2010
12:26 pm

Barnacle Bill Bavasi

July 19th, 2010
12:30 pm

They can do it. Miami’s stick figure quarterback could be turned into a pretzel on any play, and UNC might lose top players before the season ever begins. That said, I still think Tech would need some luck to repeat. They’ve lost a lot.

Heyward22

July 19th, 2010
12:30 pm

Funny Mark Olsen,

You forget the 450+ rushing yard GT put up in Stanford 2 years ago, a lot more than UGA’s 350 in Bobby Dodd last year. GT is also the best rushing team in the country.

UGA fans get excited about 350 rushing yards, when us GT fans expect 400+ every game.

And yes Jeff, GT can do it again. Josh Nesbitt is the key and he’s back and should be healthier than last year after this ankle spurs have been removed. The defense just need a couple of more stops than last year and we are going to be fine.

Heyward22

July 19th, 2010
12:32 pm

The Dude,

No they didn’t. They went 7-5 in their conference and both went to weed whacker bowls unranked. Just beating a team in one game has nothing to do with your ignorant suggestion. GT was CONSISTENTLY better than UGA and a top 10 team for the most part of last year, while UGA was unranked.

UGA won a rivalry game, that’s I see it, GT fans see it, the rest of the country see’s it, everyone but Dawg fans. Go firgure.

wiley

July 19th, 2010
12:33 pm

Yes they can. Its a tough division this year…arguably the best in football. The ACC coastal will be brutal but I know we have a quality coach and we are returning a decent amount of players that know what it is like to win a championship. Nesbitt will be the leader but this team also has plenty of other player on offense…Allen and Jones specifically…who should step into leadership roles and will the team to wins over these though opponents. Number 9 is a special player and I hope he goes out a winner…he deserves it for all that he has sacrificed for this program.

Ralph

July 19th, 2010
12:34 pm

Although this article mostly talks about recruiting which will pay off further down the road, it covers other pertinent topics about how Tech has been and probably will be successful this year, too.

Ralph

July 19th, 2010
12:35 pm

Acc Fan

July 19th, 2010
12:35 pm

Tech loses at least 5 games this year. The defense will still be horrible 4-3, 3-4 , not enough depth or talent. Tech had their year.

Jamaaliver

July 19th, 2010
12:36 pm

Al Groh will carry this team this fall. That defense will be fierce!!!

wiley

July 19th, 2010
12:36 pm

ACC fan I think not…you would at least capitalize the conference name. Good try you dog!

Kay

July 19th, 2010
12:39 pm

Just think what Paul Johnson’s offense did last year WITHOUT a defense!
Just think what he can do WITH an OFFENSE and a DEFENSE.
He won completely with his offense last year; there was absolutely no defense.
Just go back and watch last year’s games.
Don’t count Paul Johnson and his team out.

GADAWG88

July 19th, 2010
12:40 pm

I’ll believe it when I see it about Duke making a bowl game. Hope they do though.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcgatech and lee pacheco, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Look ahead (cont.): Can Tech make it back to ACC title game? http://bit.ly/b1z9gM [...]

Heyward22

July 19th, 2010
12:41 pm

ACC fan,

Luckily when you have actual coaches that can coach talent, talent isn’t as important. Not like UGA who get’s good talent and apparently that’s just good enough with the coaching staff. I mean come on, they have lackadaisical Richt, first timer Grantham, and no linebackers trying run a 3-4.

Tech Rules

July 19th, 2010
12:43 pm

“Key weeks: home against North Carolina in Week 3 and back-to-back games against Clemson (Oct. 23) and at Virginia Tech (Nov. 4)”

The phrasing implies that the Clemson game is in ATL but in reality, it’s on the road.

bjohndawg

July 19th, 2010
12:46 pm

Tougher road this season. Less talent. But CPJ is a top coach and will have them in the thick of things. Miami first, Tech second.But if they want first, they are going to have to develop a passing game. And some defense. I think the defense will come first. If they get both…look out ACC.

GT Alum

July 19th, 2010
12:49 pm

Once again, the Coastal division figures to be very competitive. All of these teams have questions, so there’s definitely a chance GT will repeat, but it’s far from a given. The top 4 teams should all have a shot. It should be another fun college football season.

However, it’s funny how everyone says that GT is weak in the trenches, but then touts the strength of VT, which has lost a number of linemen.

GT BABY

July 19th, 2010
12:53 pm

as long as we dont go to Shereveport this year, ill be o.k…..;.stupid mutts!

Pi$$onaDawg

July 19th, 2010
12:54 pm

I am still not sold on Harris or Taylor as great QBs. VPI does have a great set of running backs for sure. I will question how they will work together to share the carries. The U still have not put together a whole season. I worry more about UNC right now. The guys on Defense are going to be fine. Al will get them ready and I don’t fear the loss of some great players to the NFL. At UNC & at Virginia have alway been hard places for Tech to play. I think we can beat UNC this year in Chapel Hill.

Steve

July 19th, 2010
12:56 pm

Heyward22 where is “Stanford” stadium??? Do you nerds ever stop being jealous? It’s a fact, UGA always has and always will own Tech in football, fun, town, women, stadium, fans, etc. Get over it.

Asheville Dawg

July 19th, 2010
12:57 pm

Heyward22 Uga played Stanford? Ohhhhhhhhhhhh you might be referring to Sanford Stadium. Tech will finish first or second, mark Nov. 4th at Va. Tech for the Coastal Division crown.

Dan

July 19th, 2010
1:02 pm

Miami has the talent but may be not the coaching. If their offensive line is improved, they will win the division. I think Va Tech is a fine football team but we should be able to compete with them in Blacksburg this year. I also expect us to beat UNC.

As long as we don’t have any unexpected slipups, we should be in it into November. So yes, we can make it back but I think it’s Miami’s turn.

Dan

July 19th, 2010
1:02 pm

Then why are you posting here, Steve?

Pi$$onaDawg

July 19th, 2010
1:04 pm

At UNC, at VPI, at Clemson, and at UGA are all huge games. Win against UNC and VPI we can repeat a trip to the ACCCG. I hate the dawgs, but I want to win the ACC more than I want to beat UGA.

Steve

July 19th, 2010
1:06 pm

Well Dan, I like Jeff’s articles regardless of the topic and I was simply asking where “Stanford” stadium was. As much as I hate Tech, I know the name of their high school stadium.

Pi$$onaDawg

July 19th, 2010
1:07 pm

And Steve what would that name be for Ga. Tech?

HugoStiglitz

July 19th, 2010
1:08 pm

If you say so Steve then it must be true. Oh woe is us. lol.

wiley

July 19th, 2010
1:11 pm

Kay is so right…if we only had a defense last year…we would have maybe played in Pasadena…We were in every game last year even with that porous defense…well except for the Miami game. Iowa and UGA would have been different games as we both had chances to win those games in the 4th quarter. If Johnson can get the offense clicking we could be dangerous again. At least all our tough games are at the end of the year…with the exception of the UNC game. Go Jackets!

Paul in RDU

July 19th, 2010
1:12 pm

GT will take a step back in the Coastal this year – new OL and losing the 4 underclassmen – the D should be improved as I don’t know how they could be worse than last year. I expect GT to go 6-2 in the conference, finishing second (on the head to head tie break) to UNC or VT.
Even if Butch Davis suspends Sturdivant for a couple of games and Austin is ruled ineligible for improper contact with an agent, UNC should still be very tough on D and I can’t see GT winning in CH

BOOBEE'S

July 19th, 2010
1:14 pm

8-4… maybe

wiley

July 19th, 2010
1:14 pm

Nice analysis Paul I could see that scenario playing out and I would be very happy with a 9-3 or 10-2 season…it would be a success after losing all those players to the NFL , graduation, and other transfers/academic issues. I know we will at least get 7-8 wins…everything else is going to be icing on the cake.

VJacket

July 19th, 2010
1:15 pm

GT will finish with 1 or 2 losses out of VT, UM, UGA, and UNC.

or the defense will work and offense will click again and they run the table.

FalconUGAFan

July 19th, 2010
1:18 pm

I like GT chances for as long as Johnson is your coach, which for GT fans is the rub. But I digress. I don’t see the defense winning the games, but I do see the the expectation that they don’t lose the game. That is why Groh was hired. Who do you guys see stepping up on defense?

George Stein

July 19th, 2010
1:20 pm

If the defense can go from wretched to just bad, we should be ok. Look, Johnson doesn’t need much help from the defense (most games), but it’s unreasonable to score on every possession. We generally only score on 7 out of 10 possessions. But if we can make that improvement on D, we’ll win 9 or 10.

Buzz Sting

July 19th, 2010
1:20 pm

Tech wins the ACC title in 2010—take it to the bank. Fsu is overrated and Va Tech always folds.

George Stein

July 19th, 2010
1:21 pm

FalconUGAfan – Bingo.

Nice, objective post by the way.

Pi$$onaDawg

July 19th, 2010
1:24 pm

Cooper Taylor will be back. I think Cross, Barnes, and Walls will be big this year.

wiley

July 19th, 2010
1:31 pm

FalconUGAFan…I expect two freshman corners…Louis Young and Ryan Ayers..to challenge for playing time. I also expect Brad Jefferson, Kyle Jackson, and Anthony Barnes to step up in the linebacker position. Cooper Taylor is back at Safety but im not sure who will start in the other safety position. We need TJ Barnes and Ben Anderson to step up at the DT…as this is a vital position for the 3-4. We have 2 300 pound guys who could play DT…TJ Barnes, and JC Lanier. We have a few good DTs in the weight room right now too…Shawn Green, and Denzel McCoy..they should get playing time this year. As for DE…we seem to have a lot of potential pass rushers…Cross, Euclid Cummings, Jason Peters(has a lot of potential), Anthony Williams, and Emanuel Dieke…should be a fierce competition for playing time. Johnson has recruited pretty well on the defensive side of the ball…we have some talent. I cant wait to see the defense after everyone knows what they will be doing.

GT Fan

July 19th, 2010
1:31 pm

I’m a gt fan and even I got to admit that it’s really hard to pick us as the best in the very stacked division. We lost four NFL draft picks, two of whom went in the first round, along with a couple of starters. The schedule absolutely is brutal. I’m not saying it can’t happen after all PJ has proven doubters wrong, but picking us as the favorites is blatant pandering.

Sports Review

July 19th, 2010
1:36 pm

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

wiley

July 19th, 2010
1:39 pm

GT Fan…this schedule is brutal but the beginning is anything but brutal…its the end that will be really tough. We should be 6-1 going into the VT game and maybe 7-0 if we figure out a way to beat UNC in Chapel Hill. We could very well end the year in a slide, better beat Duke though, but at worst we are looking at 8 wins. I think we will surprise a few people too and maybe get to 9 or 10. Call me an optimist…