Have you ever been water skiing? I have. Well, I've actually tried on numerous occasions, but was only able to get up and actually do the skiing part once. That time was the first time. Yes, I had a great time skiing, but at the time I had no idea just how special that accomplishment was, because it was lacking context.
By this point, you're wondering what on Earth you could possibly be reading, and how in Dodd's name this ended up posted here. Well, I'll tell you. That one time that I went water skiing was just like Georgia Tech playing Duke last year. Let me take you back, for just a minute. On September 14, Georgia Tech played its second game of the year (and ACC opener) against Duke, a perenial bottom-dweller in the ACC Coastal as well as the country. As expected, Georgia Tech won by over 3 touchdowns and all was right in the world. Heck, the following week, Duke lost to Pittsburgh and fell to 2-2 (with wins over FCS North Carolina Central and Memphis). Again, all was right in the world. Except that it wasn't -- Duke would then go on to win 8 straight games to finish 10-2 and win the Coastal division, capping things off with a late field goal in a 27-25 win over in-state rival UNC. The next week, they were the Coastal's sacrificial lamb to eventual National Champion Florida State, but in the Chik-fil-A Bowl they gave SEC "powerhouse" Texas A&M all it could handle with a 38-17 halftime lead and requiring a late Aggie score to salvage the victory. Yes, Duke was one of the nation's surprises last year, and it didn't happen until late in the season.
Hence, Georgia Tech beating Duke was like my water skiing experience. Without the context at the time, the moment was nowhere as big as it could have been. This year, suffice it to say that the Yellow Jackets will take this game as seriously as they ever have under Paul Johnson. Not only are the Blue Devils coming off of their best season in recent history (read: ranked at the end of the season for the first time since John F. Kennedy was president), but they also return more than anyone else on Georgia Tech's schedule not named Virginia (via Phil Steele). As you saw in the opponent preview article, they lose their best defensive player (DB Ross Cockrell) and another major contributor on the defensive line (Kenny Anunike), but generally return an awful lot of their firepower. QB-WR connection Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder are both back and will be a handful for any opposing defense to try and stifle. In addition, the Blue Devils return their top three tacklers defensively, among plenty others.
All that to say that this is the first year that I think Duke pops up on Georgia Tech's radar as a solid matchup. As with the Miami and Virginia Tech games (except flipped), Georgia Tech holds a mental advantage here, having won so many contests in a row. Additionally, this game will be played at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and home field advantage is always nice. The main point of contention here will be slowing down Duke's apparently potent offense. Scoring points shouldn't be particularly hard against a defense that was 64th nationally last year in scoring defense against a relatively low strength of schedule, and who gave up 30 points or more in 6 of 14 games against Georgia Tech (38), Pitt (55), Troy (31), Miami without Duke Johnson (30), Florida State (45), and Texas A&M (52).
In fact, that's why I think Georgia Tech wins this game. I think the Yellow Jackets score at least 34 points, and I trust the defense to limit Duke's offense to 31 or less. I do think this game is a lot closer than we've been used to seeing in recent years (and a lot more close than we would've been comfortable with), but I still expect Georgia Tech to be the better team. There's a chance that there's frustration to let out after the Virginia Tech and Miami games, and Duke is a prime candidate to take the brunt of that.
Does this game worry you? Will it be closer than we're used to? Might Duke even find a way to win?