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Friday, March 7, 2014
Offseason spotlight: Georgia Tech

By David M. Hale

There’s something to be said for consistency, and for the better part of the past two decades, Georgia Tech has been consistent. In the last 17 years, the Yellow Jackets have finished with either seven or eight wins 11 times, including in each of the past three seasons. But they haven't won more than 10 games in any of those years, they’ve lost 10 of their last 12 bowl games and they’ve dropped 12 of the last 13 against in-state rival Georgia.

So as dawn breaks on a new season at Georgia Tech, the big question swirling among fans is simply: Is this as good as it gets?

Paul Johnson
Coach Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech won't have Vad Lee in 2014, but it's a big season for Johnson's future.
Spotlight: Coach Paul Johnson

2013 summary: Georgia Tech made a surprise appearance in the 2012 ACC championship game in spite of a 6-6 regular season, so there were still some major issues for Johnson to address in 2013. Ted Roof was brought in to helm the defense, and Tech moved from seventh to fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing six fewer points per game. Johnson also had to break in a new quarterback to run his triple-option offense and identify talent at receiver, where the ranks had grown thin. Tech did manage to finish third in the conference in total offense, but it still struggled against better competition. The result was another seven-win campaign.

The skinny: If Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski is to be believed, there’s no internal conflict between Johnson and the school, and the administration remains supportive. But after stagnating results on the field and mounting rumors of discord off it, the picture may not be quite so rosy.

In January, rumors surfaced that Johnson was unhappy and looking to leave. Instead, it was his quarterback, Vad Lee, who departed. Lee’s production regressed late in 2013 and there had been a push to bench him anyway, but Lee was also immensely talented and his decision certainly didn’t engender more faith in Johnson among an increasingly skeptical fan base.

This spring, Johnson will again undertake the difficult task of finding new personnel for his unique offense, identifying new playmakers on defense and reassuring fans that, indeed, they should expect more than seven wins per season.

In addition to Lee’s departure, Tech also loses top backs David Sims and Robert Godhigh -- meaning the Jackets’ top three rushers from 2013 have all moved on. On defense, leading tackler Jemea Thomas, All-ACC lineman Jeremiah Attaochu (12.5 sacks) and veteran linebacker Brandon Watts are gone, too.

Justin Thomas takes over as the heir apparent at quarterback, the third starter in as many years. The ground game has ample potential from Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days, B.J. Bostic and Travis Custis, a recruit from 2013 who wasn’t cleared by the NCAA until January. Still, none are proven commodities, and Johnson will have his work cut out for him.

Johnson revitalized Tech upon arrival in 2008, winning 19 games in his first two seasons. But it’s been downhill from there, and the questions about his ability to right the ship are only getting louder. This is a crucial spring for the coach, because while the Coastal Division is winnable and Tech is far from the only team with question marks at key positions, there’s also much less patience in Atlanta for the coaching staff to find the right answers.