Georgia Tech is 5-0 and ranked No. 13 in the nation. We can’t really know what that means yet, other than the obvious, as stated so eloquently by coach Paul Johnson: “We’re better than the five teams we’ve played.”
We’re not talking about the right side of the menu. None were ranked in the AP poll at the time Georgia Tech defeated them. None are ranked now. None can even cling to hope in the “others receiving votes” category.
But to focus on any of that is missing the point about what is going on at Tech. This is Johnson’s fourth season. While it’s true most of his first freshman class in 2008 were recruited by Chan Gailey, the vast majority of the players on this team were brought in by Johnson. These are his guys, brought here for his scheme, schooled in his mindset.
If you’re looking for a reason to feel good about Tech’s future, it makes as much sense — if not more — to look at this year’s team than even Johnson’s first two seasons, when the Jackets were 20-7 and won an ACC championship (later to be stripped) with Gailey’s players. The foundation, the structure, the direction — that’s all Johnson.
Johnson is not the projecting type. He’s not going to speculate how good this team is or can be, other than to say: “I told people I thought we’d be better than everybody said we would be. But I didn’t know how much better, and we still have half a year to go. Trying to pick games is like trying to pick in recruiting. Nobody knows until three or four years how good classes are. So we’ll see how we finish this out.”
Tech wasn’t supposed to be very good this year. But now we look at the schedule and conclude it should beat Maryland on Saturday and Virginia next week. That would bring the Jackets to 7-0. Then come the three games that will decide their fate in the ACC and level of bowl game: at Miami (winnable); Clemson and Virginia Tech (both difficult, but at home). Then comes Duke, then Georgia.
Regardless of how the remaining games fall, the win total should exceed what most projected.
Things like this don’t happen by luck, not in a coach’s fourth season. This isn’t a star-laden group. They’re talented, but young. There’s chemistry. They like each other. But most of all, they’re following Johnson. He has a track record at Tech now for players and recruits to see.
“Most of them know what they signed up for when they came in,” he said. “So now it’s not about trying to transition. I’m not trying to talk them into everything when everybody was telling them it won’t work. That’s the biggest thing we fight here: [Perceptions that] it won’t work, you can’t do this, you can’t go to the NFL. Like I said when I got here, once you’re here, everything will take care of itself.
“The other thing about the fourth year is, they know, this is the way it is. It’s no big deal when you have to run at 6 a.m. for not going to class. It’s no big deal when you have to practice in pads twice a week. Nothing’s a surprise.”
Johnson wasn’t in a good mood this week. He didn’t like the way the team played at North Carolina State, he’s bothered by a cold and, well, he can just be a moody guy. When the rankings came out and the Jackets jumped from 21st to 13th, he hardly blinked, and he made certain his players didn’t blink.
“They know every day from the way I coach them that they haven’t arrived,” he said. “I’m on their butt all the time.”
By Year 4, it’s not a surprise. Maybe the winning shouldn’t be, either.
By Jeff Schultz