Back to our regularly scheduled program:
There’s really no way to know you’re leaving a Golden Age in the moment. Just look at Florida State. They were all set to play Alabama on opening weekend as the number 3 team in the country. Then it all fell apart. Perhaps it is too soon to say this, but the Golden State Warriors, to make a rare, for this column, NBA analogy, could be living that as we speak. But, I wonder, did Bobby Dodd know his team would never again hit that high of 1956, 1952, or even 1951 again? I, for one, don’t think he did.
Fred Braselton was just a sophomore in August of 1957. He had never played a down of college football in his life, just like every other kid his age in the sport, as was the rule until 1972. And into his hands was shoved the leadership of a team that lost just once the year before. He finished the season with an 87 passer rating with 8 interceptions and 4 touchdowns on 56 passing completions, and a 52.3% completion percentage. That’s okay, but not great. An omen of things to come.
Things started off okay for the Jackets, though, all things considered. They entered the season ranked eleventh in the country, hosting Kentucky, who were no. 20. The sellout crowd, fully expecting the Jackets to not miss a beat, did not leave disappointed, as Tech shut out their guests on the way to a 13-0 lead. Tech rocketed up to no. 3 in the nation.
They would host the no. 15 Southern Methodist Mustangs next week, but fail to score. Fortunately, the other team also scored no points. They completed the game results sampler plate with a loss to LSU in Death Valley. No. 9 Auburn visited the Flats the next week. Unfortunately, they were on the opposite swing from Georgia Tech, going from decent to a consensus national championship. The Jackets, unfortunately, were just one of many casualties on the way, and fell by a narrow 3-0 margin.
Tech headed on down to New Orleans to right the ship at Tulane, and right the ship they did. They moved to 2-2-1 after beating a terrible Green Wave team, even by their standards, 20-13 at Tulane Stadium. They got another quality win over no. 7 Duke the next weekend on homecoming weekend. Duke has been Tech’s most frequent homecoming opponent over the years by a wide margin. The 13-0 shutout lodged a 3-2-1 Tech team back into the top 25, at no. 18.
On the road in Knoxville against another rival team, Tech lost 21-6 to another top ten team. But, they did head out to Legion Field to lock down their last win of the season over a middle-of-the-road Alabama Crimson Tide team, winning 10-7. The Jackets had two more home games, and wrapped up the season with yet another tie, their second mutually scoreless game of the year, against Florida, and a 7-0 loss to the team out east, to end the season. Both teams were mediocre. So, it seems, was Tech.
The good news was that a lot of Tech’s production returned into 1958, including Braselton. Juniors Cal James and Floyd Faucette would go on put up their best years on the Flats, being major factors in the rushing and passing games, but the quarterback play regressed with Braselton splitting time with Walter Howard. But Tech’s record went from 4-4-2 to...a blistering 5-4-1.
Once again, Tech started off the year playing Kentucky. This year, in Lexington, neither team was ranked. The Jackets came out flat and were shutout, 13-0. Returning home proved much kinder for Tech, though, and, in the four game home stand, they went 3-0-1. First up was an up-and-coming former teachers’ college called Florida State. 1958 was a milestone year for the Seminoles, the first year in the modern era they played Florida, and probably the toughest slate they’d seen in the 11 years of modern Florida State football. They had a fine season, knocking off Tennessee, VPISU, Wake Forest, and Miami. It wasn’t however, good enough to beat Florida or Tech on the road, or the school in Athens in Jacksonville. Or, for that matter, to win their bowl game. The part about Tech, though, is probably the most important. This is a Tech history column, after all, and the Jackets prevailed 17-3.
Tech tacked on a 14-0 shutout win over Tulane the week after that, followed by a 21-7 victory against Tennessee. No. 2 Auburn charged into Atlanta hot off their title the year before, and it’s only thanks to Tech that they didn’t win another in 1958. The two teams battled to a touchdown apiece, with the game ending in a 7-7 tie.
The Jackets, now ranked no. 17 in the country, headed west for their familiar 1950s opponent, the SMU Mustangs, at the Cotton Bowl. They lost, in a steep 20-0 shoutout, no less. Things turned up for the Jackets the next two weeks, though, with a trip to Duke and a visit from the no. 17 Clemson Tigers providing back to back wins. However, the good imes wouldn’t last for Tech, as the no. 20 Yellow Jackets closed off the home slate with a loss to Alabama and, the next week, dropped their second in a row in Athens, ending the season short of a bowl game for the second year in a row.
If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.