Geoff Collins and his hand-picked staff enter their third full season on the Georgia Tech sidelines this fall. And this is the fall that will tell us what we need to know for the future.
We’ve all heard the coaching staff harp on the historic transformation they embarked on when they started in 2019. Collins received a seven year contract, which presumably meant Stansbury was giving him a long runway to build something. Most fellow fans I talk to regularly have operated with the working assumption that we as fans shouldn’t expect to see significant progress for 4-5 years. On the one hand, that makes some sense. On the other hand, that almost never happens. If a coach is going to take a leap, it will happen by year three.
Bill Connelly has studied this issue in depth, and he concludes: “If a head coach is going to see a leap, it’s probably going to happen pretty quickly after his hire. Over the past 10 seasons, 23 teams have seen their S&P+ rating improve by 18 points per game in a single season. Eighteen of those teams were led by a head coach in either his first, second or third season at the helm.”
This is the year to show the kind of improvement that signals a successful transition. Now, I’m not saying that there is much of any chance that this is CGC’s last season at GT. What I am saying is that a big leap in team quality is unlikely if it hasn’t happened by 2021.
Logically, it makes sense. 75% of the roster is now made up of players that CGC and his staff have brought in through recruiting and the transfer portal. The marketing pitch of owning the ATL has sunk in, but realistically, that campaign can only gain so much ground given the heavy SEC and UGA footprint that will always exist in Atlanta. The funding of the GTAA in comparison to competitor schools has not changed appreciably. There have been no changes to the coaching staff, so continuity has not been disrupted.
This year should give us a true look at the kind of on field product this staff is capable of producing.
What would that look like?
Using Bill Connelly’s SP+ rating system as a good proximate of team quality, we can see what has happened the last three years. We’ll also include GT’s SP+ projection for the 2021 season, which takes into account performance in recent years, amount of returning experience, and talent changes in the roster due to recruiting and transfers.
GT Recent SP+ Performance
|End of Season SP+ Rating
|End of Season SP+ Rating
As we mentioned above, Connelly used an 18.0 year to year increase in SP+ to quantify a “leap.” It’s not exact, but it may help you to think of that as approximating a 5 win jump, at least in team quality if not in actual record.
Last year, GT saw no improvement in the win column but did post a 12.4 point increase in SP+, showing a significant change in underlying team quality. We wrote extensively about that improvement to open up the offseason. I’m not expecting an 18 point increase to follow last year’s 12 point increase. That would be a 10 win type team against an average schedule.
So, let’s widen the lens of potential improvement, giving credence to the unique nature of the transition, and consider that 18 point increase happening over the span of two years. That would mean posting an 8.0 SP+ rating this fall, which is slightly above the preseason projection and would normally be a 7 or 8 win team. Think of 2019 Virginia Tech or 2020 Ole Miss and TCU for teams in this range of quality. Now, given that GT faces four preseason top 10 SP+ teams, the actual number of wins may not show it, but playing at an 8.0 SP+ quality for the year would show the kind of leap that is meaningful and bodes well for CGC’s future.
My opinion: if GT lingers around 0 in SP+ rating this season, there’s no leap coming. A plateaued third year wouldn’t bode well for recruiting momentum. It wouldn’t bode well for fundraising and ticket sales. It wouldn’t demonstrate much capability of the staff to self-scout and correct.
But, if the 2021 Jackets can complete something around that 18 point increase, even over a two year span, the ceiling for the next several years rises considerably. That kind of performance would keep momentum for the currently superb 2022 recruiting class. It would show a player development ability in this staff that has not been demonstrated so far, especially on defense. It would set the stage for a potentially electrifying 2022 campaign headlined by Jeff Sims and Jahmyr Gibbs in their third season as starters. Right now, that prospect is tantalizing. But the performance this year will go a long way in showing us whether that is merely fool’s gold.