When last we encountered Chris Sprow of ESPN.com — and if it seems like just yesterday, that’s because it was — he was saying nicer things about the 2009 Georgia Bulldogs than you’d expect regarding a team ESPN ranks No. 16 in the land. Well, guess who ESPN ranks No. 15?
Aw. You guessed.
The same Mr. Sprow takes on 15th-ranked Georgia Tech (link requires registration) and — wouldn’t you know it? — gushes less about the Jackets than about the Bulldogs. (Let the record reflect that ESPN’s ratings were done not by Sprow but by esteemed former colleague Mark Schlabach, who’s a Georgia grad.) And a magnifying glass isn’t required to read between Sprow’s lines: He wonders if Paul Johnson’s option-based spread is really all that.
As was the case with the Georgia preview, extensive quotation will be done. (Because ESPN’s Insiders is a pay site, and I’m Clark Howard.) So here goes:
• “What [Tech coach Paul Johnson] should do is put the ball in the hands of star tailback Jonathan Dwyer. As a sophomore, Dwyer finished 12th in the nation in rushing with 1,395 yards, but it was what he did on first down that was telling. At home, on 54 attempts, he averaged 11.1 yards per carry, moving from first down to first down.”
• “Tech’s offense — under the leadership of returning junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt — isn’t a complete one-trick pony. It can run in a lot of directions and get a lot of people involved. Consider that Dwyer’s 6.98 yards per carry was over a yard less than freshman Roddy Jones. The kid from Stone Mountain, Ga., went for 8.5 yards whenever he carried the ball.”
• “The bottom line: Tech is set up to be the best rushing team in the country.”
• “Despite the offensive plaudits, Tech simply wasn’t dominating on the scoreboard. It outscored opponents by only 4.1 points a game (24.4 to 20.3) for the year, and on those rare occasions when the running game needed a boost from a little passing, it got ugly … Having even a hint of an aerial threat would help. Terrible passing teams that make an effort to improve usually gain a W or two.”
• “As the caretaker of the program, Johnson knows that he earned praise last year not because Tech was so good, but because so little was expected of it. That’s not the case anymore. Last year many looked at the underclassmen dotting the starting lineups and penciled in the team for 3-9.
My two cents: I could’ve sworn Tech was good in 2008 — it finished 9-4 and beat Boston College, Florida State, Miami and Georgia. And I’m inclined to think a team that won nine games in Year 1 under an exceedingly stylized coach would get better with time and a deepened knack for nuance. That’s why I think the Jackets will win the ACC. But I have, as we know, been wrong at least once in my life.