Tech, Georgia still mired in recent trends

Photo by Jon Barash

As football season approaches and local fans try to get excited, we are reminded of the recent failures of our local teams. While the Dawgs and Jackets have each made bowl games every year since 1997 and each has won a conference title in the past 10 years, neither has made the national title game and doesn’t appear set to do so in the near future.

The Mark Richt era in Athens started ideally. In Year 1, the Dawgs won in Knoxville for the first time since 1980 and played defense like it hadn’t been played in Athens in two decades. Georgia displayed toughness, heart and was sound in all three phases of the game.

The next four years were even better. Richt’s program won two SEC titles, finished in the top 10 each season and was arguably the SEC’s best program during that time. It just hasn’t been the same since. Despite blips of minor success in 2007, 2011 and 2012, the program has typically won eight or nine games and has gone to a second-tier Florida bowl—or worse. That trend doesn’t look like it will end in 2014. The Dawgs have an incredibly shallow secondary. In fact, a walk-on may start there. The defense may be better under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but the unit would need to improve tremendously in order for Georgia to win a championship. That will be difficult to do with a thin and moderately-talented back four.

The offense, meanwhile, doesn’t look to get any better now that the SEC’s all-time leading passer, Aaron Murray, is gone with the wind. Todd Gurley is a stud at tailback, but can he stay healthy? The wide receiving corps is deep and talented but already has multiple guys who will miss Saturday’s opener against Clemson. With trips to South Carolina and Missouri and home games against Auburn, Clemson and Tennessee to go along with the annual Jacksonville affair, it is hard to imagine Georgia finishing any better than 9-3. It looks like New Year’s Day in Florida once again for the Dawgs.

Tech looks headed for another six or seven-win season. The Jackets will try to get over the loss of quarterback Vad Lee and running backs Robert Godhigh and David Sims. The trio accounted for Tech’s top three rushers last season. Justin Thomas will take over at quarterback and Zach Laskey should pick up the slack at running back, but nothing on offense really excites anyone about Tech this season Ted Roof did a great job with the defense last season, but it didn’t show in the win column.

Despite holding Duke to 14 points, Virginia Tech to 17, Pitt to 10 and shutting out Syracuse (and who could forget the epic shutout of Elon?), the Jackets also managed to give up more than 40 points in arguably the three biggest games of the year against Miami, Clemson and Georgia This year’s schedule isn’t a killer, but it does present a few games in which the Jackets will not be favored. The final two games of the season are against Clemson and Georgia, with a week off in between. A loss in the opening game of Tulane’s new stadium in Week 2 would be disastrous. A four-game stretch featuring Virginia Tech, Miami, Duke and North Carolina will define the Jackets’ conference season.

Tech won’t wow anyone on paper and early projections aren’t expecting the Jackets to do much more than the usual barely bowl- eligible performance, but playing well in close games and finding a way to win four or five divisional games are the keys for Tech. A win at Georgia would, of course, make the season for many and a Coastal Division title is not out of the realm of possibility. After all, if Duke can do it, so can Tech.

Tech’s leadership will have to make a decision at the end the season if the Jackets continue in their 6/7-win rut. Several Tech fans I have spoken with are done with coach Paul Johnson, but there is something to be said for winning Tech’s first conference title since 1990 and keeping the Jackets in the divisional race on a yearly basis.

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