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Prelude to a Season: #17

17.) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia TechWhat You Need to Know
For many schools, a new coach, a tricky new system, and only 9 returning starters would prove to be a difficult, if not impossible, hurdle to climb. For the Yellow Jackets, 2008 proved to be successful beyond belief as they continued their 14-year record of .500 or better in conference play, finished 9-4 overall, and closed the regular season ranked #14. It was quite the season for new head coach Paul Johnson, as his spread option offense ranked #1 in the ACC and he defeated cross-state rival Georgia for the first time in 7 seasons.

As 2009 dawns, Johnson finds his team primed for greatness, as they have a year under the new system, most of their toughest games at home, and a great chance at a conference title and the BCS payday that comes with it. Offensively, Johnson’s bread and butter, the Jackets return 10 starters, and lose only LT Andrew Gardner who was 1st Team All ACC and RT David Brown. Both were lost to injury mid-year last year, and the 5 offensive linemen who started the last 4 games together all return.

Nearly as important as an offensive line capable of dominating the line of scrimmage and driving the offense down the field are talented skill players capable of taking advantage of the holes opened. GT certainly returns its fair share of skill players, as their leading passer, top 8 receivers, and 95% of their rushing yards from last year all return. Junior QB Josh Nesbitt is the man at the helm of Johnson’s tricky attack, and if he remains healthy and injury-free this season, GT’s attack will improve. Junior RB Jonathon Dwyer, the 2008 ACC Player of the Year, averaged over 7 yards per carry last season and has much improved talent around him with Louisville transfer Anthony Allen waiting in the wings. The receiving corps, though not the featured unit in Johnson’s scheme (averaging 99 yards per game last season), is talented, fast, and capable when called on to burn opponents deep.

Defensively for the Jackets, that’s where the questions begin to creep in. GT returns effectively 8 starters, but their losses are tremendous and entirely on the defensive line. 1st Team All American DE Michael Johnson, 1st Team All ACC DT Vance Walker, and 2nd Team All ACC DT Darryl Richard all graduated, and the players filling those positions are talented, but young and inexperienced. Aside from the front 4, the Yellow Jackets return all their starters from a unit that gave up 20.3 points and 314 yards per game, led by 3rd Team All American junior safety Morgan Burnett. Defensively, Georgia Tech need not be dominating, they simply need to play good enough to not put enormous burdens on an offense that is exceptionally capable of scoring, but not capable of scoring exceptionally quickly.

In terms of the ACC, Georgia Tech finds themselves in a conference where parity is certainly the order of the day. In the Coastal Division, they have road contests against Miami, Virginia, and Duke while North Carolina and Virginia Tech come to Atlanta. Their cross-divisional opponents on the schedule are Clemson, Florida State, and Wake Forest with the Seminoles on the road. Out of conference games against Jacksonville State, @ Mississippi State, and @ Vandy all appear along with their season finale against Georgia at home.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Jonathon Dwyer: 200 att, 1395 yds, 12 TDs
QB Josh Nesbitt: 54-123, 808 yds, 2 TDs, 5 INTs, 172 rush att, 693 yds, 7 TDs
S Morgan Burnett: 93 tkls, 7 TFL, 8 PBU, 7 INTs

Game to Watch
To gain a spot in the ACC Championship, the Jackets must first win the ACC Coastal. Standing in their way for that is Virginia Tech, whom Georgia Tech gets at home on October 17th for Homecoming. Pending the outcome of that game, their games @ Miami (9/17) and against North Carolina (9/26) become gigantic.

They’ll Do Well If…
…the new defensive line starters find a way to succeed. No one expects the front 4 to be as dominating as last season’s talented unit, but penetration, run stopping, and pass pressure are all needed for Georgia Tech to be successful.

Season Outlook
For the Yellow Jackets, their biggest challenge for greatness is simply getting through the ACC season relatively unscathed which in recent years has proven difficult for many teams. For the Yellow Jackets, their out of conference schedule at worst will put them at 3-1, with the Georgia game a toss-up and far from a certain loss. In conference, games against VT, UNC, and Miami will be challenging, but winnable. The Jackets will stumble once amongst those teams, and potentially one other conference opponent, putting their final record for 2009 no worse than 9-3. Realistically, the Jackets are looking at 10-2, with a great chance at an ACC Coastal crown and a great shot at a BCS berth.

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