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Thursday, July 24, 2014
Why Georgia Tech will win Coastal

By Matt Fortuna

The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Georgia Tech will win the Coastal

Mathers
Cornerback D.J. White returns after having a breakout game in the Music City Bowl.

1) The secondary should be improved. Lose three starters, welcome back four. Sound confusing? Well, Georgia Tech does say goodbye to cornerbacks Jemea Thomas and Louis Young, but it returns a pair of players who had missed most or all of last season, as safeties Isaiah Johnson (knee) and Jamal Golden (shoulder) return from injury. Demond Smith had replaced Golden at safety last season and is now at corner, along with D.J. White, who was dominant in the Music City Bowl loss to Ole Miss (career-high 13 tackles, two forced fumbles, interception). This group should anchor the defense, perhaps offsetting some of the potential shortcomings that could await the defensive line this fall.

2) Don't sleep on special teams. Getting Golden back is crucial, as he is a versatile talent who showed he can make plays as both a punt and kick returner, having been the only player in the nation to finish in the top of each category in 2012. That might be easy to forget after some of the exploits of the rest of the ACC's returners in 2013, but Golden could be as good as any of them. Harrison Butker, meanwhile, is a reliable kicker with a strong leg, having converted 53 of 54 extra points as a true freshman last season, along with 10 of 14 field goal tries (including five of 40 or more yards).

3) The schedule is (fairly) favorable. Sure, six home games may be tough for most Power-5 conference schools to swallow in this era, but the Yellow Jackets do get Miami and Duke in Atlanta. More importantly, they get the Hurricanes following a bye week. The same goes for their trip to Athens, Ga., for the regular-season finale at rival Georgia. Georgia Tech's other three nonconference games  to open the season are certainly winnable (Wofford, at Tulane, Georgia Southern), so it could help give this group some confidence going into the Sept. 20 conference-opening showdown at Virginia Tech.

Why Georgia Tech won't win the Coastal

1) The offseason turnover will take a toll. As noted Wednesday, Georgia Tech has had no shortage of turnover this offseason, and not in a good way. In addition to the seniors it said goodbye to like every other team, the Yellow Jackets have had 13 different non-senior players depart the program this offseason due to a number of different issues. ESPN 300 athlete Myles Autry, meanwhile, has been unable to enroll at Georgia Tech yet because of NCAA clearinghouse issues.

2) The defensive line has some question marks. Three starters are gone up front, the biggest among them being All-ACC end Jeremiah Attaochu. It will now likely be up to nose tackle Adam Gotsis to anchor the group after he tallied 14.5 tackles for loss last season. With second-year coordinator Ted Roof operating out of the nickel instead of the 4-3, Jabari Hunts-Days was moved up after playing linebacker, but he now finds himself sidelined for the season, as he is academically ineligible.

3) What do we know about the quarterbacks? Here's what we do know: Last year's starer, Vad Lee, is gone, having transferred to James Madison. Speedster Justin Thomas will replace him and seems like an ideal fit for Paul Johnson's triple-option attack, although he still has some work to do. Johnson is very high on reserve signal-caller Tim Byerly, but the possibility of him earning meaningful playing time inevitably begs the question of whether the Yellow Jackets have a controversy or competition on their hands.