The same week that the top of the BCS rankings are punctuated with three SEC teams and the overwhelming shadow beast of Athens prepares to bring its football team to Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson said precisely what we’ve come to expect from him.
To capsulize his thoughts: Whatever.
Johnson, whose weekly news conferences can be relative standup comedy dotted with sarcastic jabs, was unusually low key Tuesday. But afterward, he addressed perceptions of the SEC’s Godzilla to the ACC’s Bambi, which filters down to the annual Georgia-Georgia Tech game. This subject has been one of Johnson’s pet peeves since he arrived at Tech in 2008 (and won at Georgia in his first season, after the Jackets had lost the previous seven in the series).
“It’s all perceptions,” Johnson said. “People will think what they’re going to think. There’s nothing I’m not going to do to change their mind.
“Personally, I think the conference thing is way overblown. How are you going to evaluate? Are you looking at the top two teams in the conference or are you going to take the conference as a whole? There’s four SEC-ACC games Saturday. Let’s see what happens. Who’s favored in the Clemson-South Carolina game? Who’s favored in the Florida-Florida State game? Wake-Vandy? I don’t know. But you see what I mean? Now, if we’re just talking about Alabama and LSU, that’s different.”
Johnson makes a point. While you can make a case that the SEC is the nation’s superior conference, the strength at the top – and certainly five consecutive BCS titles – exaggerates the differences between conferences from top to bottom. Not to diminish the accomplishments of Georgia during this nine-game winning streak, but even the most ardent Dogs supporter recognizes that the East Division is down this year.
Perceptions certainly play into this week. Johnson figures to milk this for all its worth to players. He’ll talk about how nobody’s giving Tech a chance, how Georgia’s already looking ahead to the SEC title game, how the Jackets have punched the Dogs in the mouth before and they certainly can do it again.
“Every coach does something,” he said, without getting specific. “You always take anything you can find or post, things that you think will get your guys ready to go.”
This is Johnson’s fourth season. Tech’s senior class is 34-17, including 1-2 against Georgia. In 2008, the Jackets won 45-42 as an underdog in Athens. In 2009, they lost 30-24 as a favorite in Atlanta. In 2010, as a 12½-point underdog in Athens, they accumulated 512 yards in offense but committed four turnovers and trailed 35-34 (on a missed extra-point attempt) until a touchdown by Washaun Ealey with 1:29 left.
The point being, there hasn’t been much difference between the two programs over the past three years.
Two years ago, Tech was where Georgia is at this week. The Dogs will pay for the SEC championship next week. In 2009, the Jackets had secured a spot in the ACC title game. The Georgia game was secondary in importance (as foreign a concept as that may be).
When asked if that played a role in the loss, Johnson said, “I don’t think that played into it at all. That was the week we had the NCAA [investigators] in here. That played into it a great deal. That played into it far more than [looking ahead to] the ACC championship.”
This year, there’s no question. This is Tech’s final game before a bowl. Johnson spent part of Tuesday reaffirming that while he thinks the Dogs are good, it’s not like Tech has been facing middle schools.
He was asked about the strength of the Dogs’ defensive line. He responded with some praise but added, “I don’t know. We’ve played some really good players. [North Carolina's] Quinton Coples is a first-round draft pick. [Clemson's] Brandon Thompson is a pretty good player. This won’t be the first good players we’ve seen.”
He was asked about Georgia tight end Orson Charles. He responded with some praise but added: “We’ve played against other tight ends who are really good. The tight end at Clemson [Dwayne Allen] is probably an early-round draft pick in the NFL.”
Johnson realizes his words won’t change perceptions. But the last thing you’re going to hear from him is any suggestion that his overshadowed program from the overshadowed conference can’t win Saturday. And, truth is, the past three meetings have affirmed as much.
By Jeff Schultz