Here’s another sneak peek at a column that will appear in print in this Sunday’s special AJC College Football Section. The 34-page section will preview Georgia State, Georgia Tech and UGA seasons, the SEC and ACC, top games, Heisman candidates and more. Today, we look at Georgia Tech’s schedule, predicting the Yellow Jackets’ season, game by game. Previously posted: Mark Richt feels Georgia is poised for a bounce-back season.
Paul Johnson has won more games in his first two seasons than any Georgia Tech coach in history. It’s just the ending that he’s having trouble with. Despite going 20-7 with an ACC title, Johnson’s Yellow Jackets have been thumped in consecutive bowl games by LSU (38-3 in the Chick-fil-A) and Iowa (24-14 in the Orange).
Endings also could be the issue this season. With the way the schedule lays out, it’s conceivable the Jackets will win their first eight games before hitting a wall (at Virginia Tech, Miami and at Georgia among the last four opponents). The other question: Will losing four top players — Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett — to the NFL have a significant impact?
Here we go . . .
Sept. 4, South Carolina State: Smaller programs schedule these games to give their players the “experience” of playing a BCS conference school. Wonder how often the trip (and the money) actually seemed worth it. South Carolina State is 20-5 in the last two seasons but was slammed by Clemson, 54-0, in 2008 and South Carolina, 38-14, last season. This won’t be any different. Prediction: Jackets win.
Sept. 11, at Kansas: The Jackets defeated Kansas in the 1947 Orange Bowl. There shouldn’t be much of a hangover. This match-up looked more daunting years ago when the Jayhawks went 12-1 in 2007, but they slid to 5-7 last year, leading to the exit of the combustible Mark Mangino (also accused of verbal abuse of players). New coach Turner Gill will do a nice job. But he might’ve best summed things up when asked who the fastest guy was during spring practice: “Me.” Prediction: Jackets win.
Sept. 18, at North Carolina: Coach Butch Davis annually has one of the nation’s top defensive teams again but that hasn’t done much for the bottom line. He’s 11-13 in the three ACC seasons. Optimism is high in Chapel Hill, but another anemic offense could leave the Heels in the Meineke Car Care Bowl again. They just can’t score enough to beat the Jackets. Prediction: Jackets win.
Sept. 25, North Carolina State: Tom O’Brien has done worst than Davis in his three seasons (16-21, 9-15). The difference: He has beaten UNC three straight seasons. That will buy you some love (and time) in Raleigh. Besides, he inherited a kind of a mess from Chuck Amato. It says here the Wolfpack will be better than some people think this season, but they’re too weak up front defensively to stop Tech. Prediction: Jackets win.
Oct 2, at Wake Forest: It took a gutsy call in overtime – a one-yard run by quarterback Joshua Nesbitt on fourth down, which set up a touchdown run – for Tech to escape with a win over Wake last season. But as good a coach as Jim Grobe is, the Demon Deacons’ roster is devoid of experience and talent. Their win totals the last four seasons: 11-9-8-5. It won’t take overtime this season. Prediction: Jackets win.
Oct. 9, Virginia: There’s an upside for Al Groh to getting fired at Virginia. OK, so he went 5-11 in the ACC in his last two seasons, and recruiting dropped off a cliff. But now he gets to punch Virginia in the nose from the other sideline. The Cavaliers are bad, really bad. They’ll likely finish behind Duke in the Coastal Division. New coach Mike London won at the FCS level (Richmond), but he has little to work with now. Prediction: Jackets win.
Oct. 16, Middle Tennessee State: This is what Paul Johnson doesn’t want to do before the Middle Tennessee State game: Phone Ralph Friedgen for advice. Maryland has lost to the Blue Raiders the last two seasons. MTSU has a nice program for the Sun Belt. But if the Jackets struggle here, forget about the difficult final stretch because it won’t matter. This needs to be a tuneup game. Prediction: Jackets win.
Oct. 23, at Clemson: The Jackets won two meetings last season (regular season and ACC title game) by a total of eight points. Nonetheless, coach Dabo Swinney’s contract was bumped up from $800,000 to $1.8 million. The extra million should ease the pain of losing C.J. Spiller to the NFL but it won’t help the team. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers take a step back, although having quarterback Kyle Parker back (after he declined to sign a baseball contract with Colorado) helps. This likely will be a pivotal game for both teams in the ACC. Prediction: Jackets win.
Nov. 4, at Virginia Tech: The Hokies aren’t imploding. But they went 27-5 (.844) in their first four ACC seasons and 11-5 (.687) in the last two, so clearly the conference has caught up to them. Consecutive losses to Tech and North Carolina (at home) were telling. But this season they get the Jackets in Blacksburg and following a bye week following the Duke game, and an offense led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans (out last year with a torn ACL) should be potent. Prediction: Jackets lose.
Nov. 13, Miami: The Hurricanes looked like a BCS bowl team at times last season (wins over Oklahoma and Georgia Tech) but a young team looking for an identity at others (losses to North Carolina and Clemson and a 31-7 blowout to Virginia Tech). But Miami, led by QB Jacory Harris and a solid and aggressive defense, is solid, even if coach Randy Shannon inexplicably hasn’t completely won over the fan base. This could be your ACC champion. Prediction: Jackets lose.
Nov. 20, Duke: Don’t take this as a suggestion Duke is going to the ACC title game, but coach David Cutcliffe has won almost as many games in the last two seasons (nine) than the Duke program had won in the previous eight (10). With touted sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree, the Blue Devils will be just good enough to scare you. But no – no upset here. Prediction: Jackets win.
Nov. 27, at Georgia: Paul Johnson pulled off an upset “Between the Hedges” in year one and then, at 10-1, laid an egg at home against the 6-5 Bulldogs last season. So predictions seem futile. But here goes: The game goes to the home team. Dogs’ defense improves enough under Todd Grantham to slow the option and Georgia wins a low-scoring game. Prediction: Jackets lose.