For Georgia Tech, Is an ACC Championship Repeat Really Possible?

Bill ThrasherContributor IApril 22, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 05:  Head coach Paul Johnson of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets talks with quarterback Josh Nesbitt #9 against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the FedEx Orange Bowl at Land Shark Stadium on January 5, 2010 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The question of repeating as ACC Champs is the “buzz” around the Georgia Tech fanbase this spring.

The loss of four underclassmen to the NFL has tempered the prognosis for a repeat as the best team in the ACC. How badly do the losses of Derrick Morgan, Demaryius Thomas, Jon Dwyer, and Morgan Burnett hurt the Jackets?

Perhaps not as badly as you might expect to hear.

Head coach Paul Johnson is not one to mince words. He came to Georgia Tech to win championships...plural. Coach Johnson is not one to make excuses. He simply wins (.733 career winning percentage). Make no mistake—Paul Johnson is not a coach who plans on letting off the gas pedal after an 11-win season.

The Ramblin’ Wreck return All-ACC senior QB Joshua Nesbitt as their field general for the 2010 season, and for anyone who has studied an option-based system, the offense goes as its QB goes.

Nesbitt’s return with fellow star-in-the-making Anthony Allen at the B-Back position and a plethora of talent six-deep at the A-Back positions, led by RS Jr. Roddy Jones, give reason to believe that Georgia Tech will not have much difficulty in scoring points this upcoming season.

In its third year of maturation, the flex-bone offense should be rolling another gear faster than even 2009. If Coach Johnson and Co. can solidify the OL and find ways to soften up opposing defenses with passes to athletic freak WR Steven out, ACC—Georgia Tech might be a difficult team to stop.

This spring the Jackets have invested time and energy in finding a backup QB for Nesbitt after the transfer of Jaybo Shaw to Ga. Southern (Nesbitt is out for the spring recovering from minor ankle surgery). They have also been tweaking the offense to include some looks from the shotgun, a twist that could really keep defensive coordinators on their toes.

The biggest question mark for the 2010 Georgia Tech team is the defense, now under the watchful and ever-teaching care of former UVA head coach Al Groh. Changing from the base 4-3 to a 3-4 defense appears to have put some key defensive athletes in better position for making plays. DE Izaan Cross, S Jerrard Tarrant, and true freshman enrollee S Isaiah Johnson are all impressing at spring camp.

Coach Groh has brought a system focused on creating turnovers and causing backfield havoc with large, fast linebackers. The Jackets' new-look defense doesn’t have to be great—they just have to be solid. The ball-controlling, high-efficacy offense will really be the best defense in many of Tech’s games.

The only major area concern for repeating as champs? The Yellow Jackets' brutal schedule, which finds them facing in-conference rivals UNC, Wake, Clemson, and Va. Tech on the road. Add non-conference road games against Kansas and arch-nemesis UGA, and the Jackets certainly have their work cut out for them.

But don’t count out the Jackets, even with the murderers' row of games noted above. Coach Johnson, in his first season as head coach with the Jackets, faced a similar schedule and tied Va. Tech for the ACC Coastal division title-record and beat rival Georgia between the famed hedges.

This year, Johnson is not installing a system; he’s refining it. Georgia Tech could very well be on its way to becoming a perennial contender for ACC championships for many years to come.