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Monday Musings: Forging A Path Forward

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In which I try to put the pieces back together.

Georgia Tech v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Look. That was ugly. We got obliterated by a vastly superior team. But I don’t know what people expected. I don’t know what I even expected. This was a team that people are saying can compete with Bama playing against a scrappy team that had to claw its way to seven wins. Did we have a chance? Sure, of course we did. But a 24 point loss was always going to be the more likely result. Now, the way it happened was awful. As outmatched as we were I don’t think it should have been that bad in the first half. But I still can’t say i’m surprised.

Saturday was a bad day for the entire program, a wake up call to how far behind we really are. I could go on and on about the deficiencies that were exposed, but I’m already frustrated enough and I’m sure y’all are too. Plus, it’s not new territory; we all know the talking points. So instead of a pity party, let’s try to re-contextualize things and define how to move forward.

This all started when I woke up Saturday morning and was enjoying a nice fresh-brewed K-cup. I’m home for Thanksgiving and my parents have the fancy new Keurig. It’s delightful. Anyways, at some point in the morning #AkshayEye posted this Harry Lyles article (#mothership) in our slack group. I think it’s spot on. CPJ has given us a lot of great things over the years: four 9-win seasons, an Orange Bowl, three ACCCG appearances (technically one win), three wins over UGA, seven straight bowl appearances, and some really memorable games. In an era where college football spending and talent are at an all-time high, he’s allowed a small academics-focused school to compete at more or less the same level it has in the past, before all the madness started. But 2019 might be further removed from 2008 than 2008 was from 1985. Spending has exploded, talent is highly concentrated, and keep up with the Joneses is a full-blown business. Something needs to change if we want to continue achieving winning seasons.

Now let me be very clear: I am not at all advocating that we become a “football school”. I don’t want to be a UGA or a Clemson; I think that’s unreasonable and silly. We will always be an academics-first institution, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s our identity, it’s what makes us us. Plus the restrictions surrounding those academics are obviously a roadblock to building a Playoff-caliber juggernaut. At the same time though, Tech football has way too much history to just fade into obscurity. Let’s not forget that we have more national and conference titles than UGA. Let’s not forget that we had John Heisman and Bobby Dodd. Let’s not forget that we were an extremely important influence and force in the early days of college football. Let’s not forget all the great players that have come through the Flats. With that history in mind, I am advocating for a (jump) shift in program culture and a shift in the program itself.

Anecdotally, I essentially want to be a good G5 program that happens to play in the ACC. Think UCF, Houston, Memphis, Boise State, Fresno State, etc. While the underlying reasons aren’t the same, G5 schools share a lot of the same restriction symptoms that we do in that they are likely not going to get the top recruits. How do many of them have so much success then? Innovative spread/option/whatever-heavy offenses. This is how I want to bring Tech into the modern era.

Targets like Mike Houston, Gus Malzahn, Brian Bohannon, and Bob Debesse should be the people on our radar. CPJ’s option has been good to us but it’s time to get a more modern variation. The top G5 schools have shown us two things: you can have success running an “exotic” offense, and you can eventually recruit star players. It’s the same thing we did in 2008 only these variations are more flexible, modern, and attractive to recruiting talent. We can alleviate some of our recruiting disadvantages while also putting ourselves in a position to get better talent as our spending increases and the program gains momentum. I admit that this is not what I was thinking heading into the season, but here we are. Everything feels so stagnant: let’s try something new.

A more modern offense is only half of the solution though. The other half is expectations. We need to shift our focus away from UGA and Clemson and towards programs like Duke, Miami, Pitt, and Virginia Tech. I’m not saying we forget about UGA as a rival (let’s be real, none of us could ever do that), I’m just saying we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on them and treat them like our equals when they absolutely aren’t. I think part of the reason there’s so much negativity around the program at times is because we have unrealistic expectations about playing and beating them (and Clemson), yet we are 3-15 against them in this millenium. It’s tough to feel good about the program when we put so much emphasis on a game that we only win 17% of the time. So let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

It’s getting to a point where we care a lot more about this rivalry than they do, and if we continue down this path we run the risk of just becoming the yappy, uppity little brother. In this same vein, please for the love of Dodd stop posting videos of Bama’s Championship Game touchdown to “troll” UGA fans. Stop acting like them barely losing the National Championship to the best program of all time is anything but incredibly impressive. Stop acting like they aren’t going to be a Playoff contender for the next ten years. Stop acting like them losing somehow makes us look better. If you find yourself making fun of another program for being the second best team in the country while we miss bowl games and struggle to beat Duke and USF, re-assess what your priorities are. We gain nothing from this and it just makes us look like petty [AC/DC]holes. And that’s not who we are as a program or a fanbase. I’m tired of seeing these stupid, piddling interactions on Twitter that make us look bad.

Georgia Tech v Georgia
my face when someone tries to “own the dwags” on Twitter
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

To this end, we need to rethink how we contextualize season results. We need to care more about Virginia Tech, Miami, and Duke; they’re the ones in our wheelhouse that we should be litmus-testing against. Here’s how I think the season should be thought of:

  • Three non-conference games + UGA. Those three games are probably gonna be two FCS/low G5 teams that we should beat handily plus one similarly-positioned P5 team that we should at least split a home-and-home with. UGA should be a stretch goal that maybe we beat once every four years or so.
  • Eight conference games: six Coastal teams, Clemson, and one additional rotating crossover. Of the six Coastal games, we shouldn’t be happy with anything less than four wins and five wins should be the norm. Clemson should be another stretch goal we win every four years or so, and the other crossover should be something we win at least four out of six of.
  • Of the consistent teams we play each year, Virginia Tech should become our emphasized rival. They’re the most “football school”-y program in the Coastal and we have had a pretty entertaining and competitive series with them so far. Miami should be the close secondary rival, and Duke the third. If we beat all three of these teams in the same season then it’s a good season.

That means that every season should have about eight wins. The catch though is that we can’t become disheartened when we have perennial losses to UGA and Clemson. Yeah it sucks, but we can’t let it define the program. Eight wins a year for a small academic school? That’s pretty darn good; let’s celebrate that.

Once we build up the program to where we are consistently winning eight games we can start to think about the bigger fish. We can start expecting to be ranked. We can start expecting to go undefeated in the Coastal. We can start being taken seriously against UGA and Clemson. But here’s the thing: it takes time. Transforming a program doesn’t happen overnight. Long term, we should be a perennial top 20 team. Think about programs like Michigan State, West Virginia, Stanford, or Virginia Tech. They are what we should aspire to be.

The process to get there starts now, and fan support is another huge component. We cannot complain about being mediocre and then not show up to games. The student section has to show up on time and stay the whole game. The alumni have to show up and fill out the stadium. This is another thing that makes us look bad as a program. The couple good TV slots we get for home games a year are completely wasted when the aerial shots show no one in the upper decks (or when too much of the stadium is orange…).

I think a lot of this starts with the students. The powers that be have to find a way to create more student interest and pack the north end zone. Maybe it’s by making student tickets free (like Clemson does), or maybe it’s incentivizing attendance somehow. Students create the atmosphere that not only makes college football exciting, but also the atmosphere that leads to great home field advantages. LSU, Clemson, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and Michigan are all places known to be hard to win at. There is no reason that Bobby Dodd can’t make its way up that list. It’s on the smaller side as stadiums go, but that just makes it easier to actually fill out and creates a more intimate feeling. A fully-engaged stadium is an incredible experience that the players can absolutely feel and feed off of. Playing in front of just the lower stands doesn’t excite any potential recruits.

Of course us alumni have to do our part too. Donate, talk positively, and go to games when we can. I hate when alumni say things like “oh we’re terrible” or “I don’t go to games because we suck”. Don’t spread negativity about the program. Georgia Tech has some amazing traditions and alumni are a huge part of maintaining them. If we want to turn the program around it has to be a concerted effort from all parties.

I feel like i’m starting to ramble so let’s recap:

  • Hire a guy with an innovative spread offense
  • Stop caring so much about UGA in football
  • Focus on teams like VT, Miami, and Duke
  • Start with consistent 8 win seasons, then look beyond
  • Go to games, yell a lot, sing the songs

Virginia v Georgia Tech Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Georgia Tech has so much to be proud about and we’re undermining that by putting stock in the wrong things. We’re defining ourselves by the wrong things. I for one am ready to start vehemently hating Duke. Join me in my untethered rage. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re thinking about this all wrong. Let’s all take a few steps back, stop comparing ourselves to a football juggernaut, and start with a fresh outlook on what Georgia Tech Football is and can be.