A surprise a year ago, Georgia Tech will surprise us this time only if it stinks. Which it probably won’t. But that doesn’t mean it has no issues. Every team does, and thank goodness. If teams had no issues there’d be no place for folks like me. Forty-three days ahead of its opener against Jacksonville State, here’s what we should be asking about the Jackets:
• Is Paul Johnson’s offense, as Paul Johnson contends, going to make an exponential jump in Year 2? Are there really that many different ways to hand or pitch someone the ball? Or will the going get tougher for the option-based spread the second time through the ACC?
• Will the passing game become more than a diversionary tactic? Does Tech need to bring the disparity between rushing and passing yards — 73 percent of the offense against 27 percent last season — into closer harmony? (Say, 65 to 35?) Will the Jackets, who could well be playing for a championship, throw the ball effectively when the day comes when they’re behind with five minutes to play?
• Will Jonathan Dwyer improve on 1,395 yards rushing, or will the Jackets’ increasing familiarity with the nuances of Johnson’s offense call for the A-backs — Dwyer is a B-back — to get the ball more? Is there a capable backup should Dwyer tweak an ankle?
• Are the A-backs about to get even faster? Will Roddy Jones, last seeing fleeing down the Sanford Stadium sideline, recover from his offseason hand injury in time to wreak immediate havoc? And is Marcus Wright, even smaller and faster than Jones, about to have his breakout moment?
• Is there a stranger case in college football than Demaryius Thomas? Is there a receiver in college football who caught a higher ratio — 52.7 percent — of his team’s completions? Are there 10 more talented receivers in the land?
• Will the defense, gutted by high-profile losses to its front four, hold up its end? Or will Derrick Morgan, who’s among the best defensive ends in the land, catch the same disease that befell Coleman Rudolph in the early ’90s — a season’s worth of double- and triple-teaming?
• If your defense can’t stop the other team, doesn’t that undercut the whole premise of Johnson’s offense? Can you run, run, run if you’re always playing from behind? Can you win games 41-38 with a team that passes as an afterthought? Will Josh Nesbitt, who’s talented enough to do almost anything, improve his completion percentage (an unbecoming 43.9 last season) so Thomas can work some downfield wonders?
• Will the special teams, which essentially dealt Tech out of the Chick-fil-A Bowl before it had begun, no longer be a liability? Don’t running the ball, defending and being sound in the kicking game historically go together? What if one aspect fails? Will it be 38-3 (the score of LSU’s blowout bowl victory) all over again?
• Will the new weight of expectations turn Johnson, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, into a season-long sourpuss? If Tech loses a big game early and fans and writers start sniping at his offense, will he snipe back? Is his honeymoon, which continued unabated even after the bowl loss, apt to end anytime soon?
Bradley says: Tech will go 10-2 in the regular season, losing at Florida State and at Vanderbilt, and will beat FSU in the ACC title game.
(If you’re interested, here are the questions regarding Georgia. And check back at 3 p.m. for those concerning the Falcons. It’s All-Football Friday!)