Call this the season of dual lead balloons. Georgia was ranked No. 23 in the preseason Associated Press poll, dropped from the Top 25 on Sept. 12 and hasn’t received a vote since. Georgia Tech was ranked No. 16 in the preseason poll, dropped from the Top 25 on Sept. 12 and received its last votes on Sept. 19.
Add their records together and you get 11-11, which is the essence of mediocrity. Add their conference records together and you get 7-9. Add their road records together and you get 3-7 (or 3-8 if you count Georgia losing in Jacksonville, which was technically Florida’s home game this year).
Total the records of the teams they’ve beaten and you get 44-76, and that’s skewed by the 9-2 of South Carolina State, which Tech defeated on Sept. 4 and which will face Georgia Southern in Round 1 of the FCS playoffs today. Together, Tech and Georgia own victories over two FBS bowl-eligible opponents, and both North Carolina and Kentucky are 6-5. (And are, not to put too fine a point on it, basketball schools.)
And yet … all duds are not created equal. Our friends in Las Vegas favor Georgia, which has a losing record, by 13 points over Tech, which has a winning record, if just. Strange as it sounds, that line seems about right: To see Georgia play is to wonder how it lost six games; to view Tech is to wonder how it won that many.
Tech is 61st among 120 FBS teams in points scored, 59th in points yielded. It’s first in rushing offense, next-to-last in passing offense. Georgia has scored more points and yielded fewer and ranks 18th nationally in turnover margin and 36th in penalties — the Jackets are 54th and 87th in those key categories — but it has lost five times to Tech’s six. Part of this can be explained by noting that the SEC is stronger than the ACC. Part, but not all.
Georgia’s closest victory of the season was 44-31 over Kentucky. Tech has won four games by a narrower margin. Georgia clearly has better players — and Tech has been without its best man, quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, since the second quarter of the Virginia Tech game Nov. 4 — but the Bulldogs have developed the distressing habit of losing every losable game. You can say, “That’s just bad luck,” but is it luck when it happens all the time?
Two weeks ago Georgia led the nation’s No. 2 team by two touchdowns on the road. Auburn rallied to tie 51 seconds before halftime, whereupon the Bulldogs ran a draw play and let the clock expire, secure in the knowledge they’d get the ball to start the second half. Whoops. Auburn perpetrated a slick onside kick and took the lead without Georgia touching the ball. From 21-7 ahead, Georgia would lose 48-31 on a day when it didn’t turn the ball over. That wasn’t bad luck. That was bad coaching.
This will be Mark Richt’s 10th game against Tech; he has lost only once, wasting a 28-12 halftime lead in the wink of an eye two years ago. That was the game that made Paul Johnson the toast of Georgia Tech, the new coach having done in Year 1 what Chan Gailey couldn’t manage in six tries — he beat Georgia. But Richt upset the Jackets last season when Tech was ranked No. 7 and bound for the ACC championship game, and now there are questions about Johnson, too.
That ACC title was achieved largely due to the production of five Gailey signees, four of whom left early for the NFL. The fifth is Nesbitt, who’s a senior. Before the season Johnson hailed this as the deepest of his three Tech teams, but what the Jackets added in numbers they’ve lost in high-end quality. And early recruiting returns for 2011 aren’t glowing. (Scout.com has Tech 38th; Rivals.com doesn’t list the Jackets in its top 50.)
As we approach our latest installment of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate, so much is murk. It’s unclear if Richt, who has presided over three consecutive seasons of diminishing results, can again maximize Georgia’s resources. It’s unclear if Johnson, who has fallen from a conference championship to 6-5, can again find enough players to win big. Likewise unclear is when, or even if, this proud football state will again matter nationally.