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The Case for Georgia Tech as ACC Champions

“We’re going to Charlotte!” - Synjyn Days, 2014 Fall Camp

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Duke at Georgia Tech Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Upon reading the headline most fans of Georgia Tech would raise their eyebrow. A fan of any other might spit out whatever drink they had from laughter. The media had little faith in their preseason rankings placing Georgia Tech 12th out of 14 in the pecking order. It would be a historic season that would be remembered for a long time on The Flats should they accomplish such a feat. But how could such a thing happen after four years in the dumps and a team with such uncertainty on its roster?

Rewind nearly a decade ago and you would find a Georgia Tech team with similarities to the one now. Coach Johnson was going into his 7th season but pressure was mounting after a lackluster bowl loss to Ole Miss. There was a new defensive coordinator and turnover at quarterback after Vad Lee transferred. Not a single player would place on the Preseason All-ACC Team and was voted 5th in the Coastal division by the media.

The 2014 team fell just short of the ACC Title in a one-possession loss to FSU. The Seminoles were a playoff team that year and had won the National Title the previous. Georgia Tech did end the season in the Orange Bowl with the dismantling of the Mississippi State Bulldogs who held the top defense in the SEC, led by Geoff Collins. They would finish 8th in the final AP Poll, have seven players named All-ACC, and three drafted to the NFL.

Catching lightning in a bottle again would be hard to do with a brand-new coaching staff but there are a few reasons for hoping the Yellow Jackets could shock the conference once more.

Coach Brent Key Revived The Team

It wasn’t hard to see in the first games of the 2022 season that players were just tired of losing. Sloppy play and little effort were evident in the body language of the players. Georgia Tech was taking the field already defeated.

Coach Geoff Collins was let go after the loss to UCF. Now the interim, Coach Key had a week to rally his players and travel to Pittsburgh to take on a Top 25 team. They would leave with a victory. Among their 5 wins, three would finish the season with 9-win records. The win on the road against UNC would be with the third and fourth-string QBs.

They still had sloppy moments of a team that was ill-prepared but you could see the improvements being made. Even in a loss, Georgia Tech handed Georgia something it had not experienced all season, a touchdown allowed in the first quarter. It was a sign the talent gap didn’t matter to them mentally anymore. Georgia Tech under Brent Key isn’t going to roll over.

Potential Hidden Gems

It’s always a hope the coaching staff finds and develops a few players nobody heard of during the recruiting cycle. Georgia Tech might have more than a few with poor development under Coach Collins.

A stiff competition among the three quarterbacks Haynes King, Zach Pyron, and Zach Gibson will lead to an elevation in play. Pyron and Gibson both got meaningful experience after Jeff Sims was out with an injury. King comes over from Texas A&M where he was a highly-rated recruit but dealt with injury.

Each quarterback will grow under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner who came from Georgia and was credited with the development of Stetson Bennett.

The defense started to see an emergence of playmakers toward the end of the season. Safety LaMiles Brooks made himself known last season and returns as the top tackler. His fellow safety Clayton Powell-Lee came on late as a true freshman and has the potential to make this secondary a great one.

It is a Veteran Team

There were key departures for Georgia Tech but every position that lost a starter is plugging in an experienced backup or transfer. Starting positions are still being ironed out in Fall Camp but looking at the top returning production the defense looks to have an upperclassman in every position except Clayton Powell-Lee who is a sophomore.

Sylvain Yondjouen has contributed since his freshman season and will try to fill in the hole left by Keion White at defensive end. He has made his share of trips to the opposing backfield and should alleviate the lost production White leaves behind.

The offense will see younger guys among the skill positions but the offensive line finally has a stable group barring injury. This is the unit that benefits the most from experience and playing time. Four starters return with Jordan Williams leading the group at Left Tackle. They also add Connor Scaglione who started 21 games for Princeton.

The receiver position could be a true wild card as Malik Rutherford is the lone returner but this group runs deep and Christian Learry and Dominick Blaylock from Alabama and Georgia add the veteran presence to the group.

The Schedule Isn’t That Bad

It is one of the harder schedules in the nation but that is mostly due to Georgia and Ole Miss being non-conference games. Clemson is the tough conference draw but you only need to finish second to make the ACC Championship game this year.

That leaves Louisville, Wake Forest, Miami, Boston College, North Carolina, Virginia, and Syracuse as the remaining ACC games. That grouping was 23-32 in conference games last season. UNC accounted for 6 of those wins and Georgia Tech beat them on the road. Of the remaining teams, none had a better ACC record than Georgia Tech in the 2022 season.

So let’s say Georgia Tech makes it back to Charlotte. They would likely stare down Clemson again for the crown. Clemson could be vulnerable by that time. Clemson and Georgia Tech both have their bye weeks set for the 7th week of the season so both would go a 6-game stretch to end the regular season. Clemson ends their schedule with Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Clemson is going to be fighting for a playoff spot and revenge on their hated rival. The ACC Championship might just be a great trap game.