The most consistently underestimated coach in the ACC is poised to lead his team to a breakout season.
Early this Spring I made my prediction about the Georgia Tech 2012 football season and I said that the Jackets would get off to a rough start, barely hold on to a .500 winning percentage, and then finish strong to go 8-4. I also predicted that Tech would win their first bowl game under Paul Johnson.
Several things have happened to change my opinion. First off, many of the "experts" who write for various football publications have recently echoed my opinion about an 8-4 season and when the experts start to agree with me it causes me to seriously reevaluate. Group think makes me nervous because it is easy to engage in and it often substitutes for a deeper reading of the texts that we are working with. After the jump I will share what has changed my mind about Tech's season and Coach Johnson's fortunes.
Here is why Coach Johnson will win the ACC Coach of the Year Award. Popular opinion has already factored in losses by Tech to VT, Clemson and Georgia and possibly even Miami, Virginia and UNC. The only problem with that scenario is that, according to our very own LilBroey who uses airtight reasoning, Tech is going to upset the Hokies in Blacksburg. If one begins with that premise it is easy to see Tech cruising through the early part of their schedule, and an 8-4 season suddenly turns into a 10-2 season.
"Whoa," you say, "That seems to be getting the cart way down the road ahead of the horse." Yes. I know. But this leads me to the other factors that I think will earn Coach Johnson coach of the year honors.
In the give and take that takes place in the blogosphere, I have been verbally duking it out with other fans about the role of Tevin Washington. Without rehashing all of my previous arguments let's sum it up by saying there is a reason why Tevin will be starting ahead of Vad Lee. Just ponder what that means for a moment. One of the most heralded quarterbacks to come out of high school has not been able to beat out Washington. Add to that the comments from coaches and players about what they are seeing in practice and it is clear that Washington is headed for a breakout season. Speaking of comments by coaches, that leads to my next point.
Coach Johnson has been positively (by his standards) giddy about what he is seeing from some of his key players. He is not the kind of coach to load his players up with high expectations only to see them fail. He sees progress in this team. Real progress. And he is acting more confident than we have seen him since he came to the flats.
I am also extremely indebted at this point to Michael Goldfeder who sums up much of my thinking in an excellent article on why this is the year Tech finally overcomes the roster depletions which have been in place since 2009. http://isportsweb.com/2012/08/12/is-this-the-year-the-georgia-tech-yellow-jackets-put-it-all-together/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-this-the-year-the-georgia-tech-yellow-jackets-put-it-all-together
The main reason we will see another award coming to this coaching staff is that popular thinking about Tech repeatedly underestimates the job that is being done by Johnson and his staff. That puts Tech in a position to surprise both foes and pundits alike. Such success has a way of being outrageously noticeable. Tech only has to win more than 8 games this season to burst onto the national scene.
Now let's consider the competition Johnson will have for coach of the year honors. At the head of the list is Jimbo Fisher. Betting folks would put their money on him. However, there is one potential Achilles heel for Florida State picking up an award for their coach. FSU will practically have to win the national championship. Beating Murray State, Savannah State, Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Miami and Maryland alone will not do it. They are expected to do that. Simply having good athletes who can beat inferior competition does not win one notable distinctions.
Which leads us to Frank Beamer. Ever wonder why it is the most consistent program in the ACC hasn't earned this coach any honors in the last seven years? It is because over the years this team only seems to beat the teams they are supposed to beat and sometimes not even those. Can you say James Madison, East Carolina and Boston College?
O.K., let's speed this up. Mike London is doing an exceptional job at Virginia but I honestly feel for him to win it his team will have to beat Georgia Tech, TCU and VT. That's not going to happen. By comparison, beating Richmond, Penn State, La. Tech and Duke will not raise any eyebrows.
Coach Johnson's stiffest competition this year for coaching honors will come from dark horse coach and team Tom O'Brien and NC State. The schedule is tailor made for success with cream puffs like South Alabama and The Citadel filling in key dates. Home and away games also seem to come at the right time. Here is what NC State will have to do to earn O'Brien top honors. First they must beat Tennessee. ACC fans would love to see this happen but if NC State fails this first test, O'Brien can kiss the award goodbye. After Tennessee there are at least five teams on the schedule that can beat NC State. Again, O'Brien will have to win the majority of these to impress the voters.
So this year the competition will likely come down to Dabo Swinney and Coach Johnson. Do not be surprised if they finish 1 and 2 in the voting. The biggest hurdle for Swinney is that everyone remembers how poorly he coached in the Orange Bowl last year. Clemson will have to prove itself over and over again in every game it plays this year. The bet here is that Swinney is not the kind of coach who knows how to keep his team on an even keel throughout a season. They tend to play sky-high or totally flat. Not a good coaching recommendation, that.
The one challenge that may hold Tech back from bringing home the honors to its coach is the fact that in 3 out of the last 5 years either Coach Johnson or Coach Groh has won the award. Voters may feel it is someone else's turn. But I am betting that this is the year Tech starts to build its dynasty and the evidence is going to be too obvious to pass up when awards day comes.