It’s my little rite of late spring. To prepare for our annual Memorial Day Pigskin Pickin’, the latest edition of which will be coming soon, I head for Publix and buy Street & Smith’s College Football preview. There are other such magazines, but I’m of the age where I can recall Street & Smith’s as being the one and only. Heck, I’ve got basketball editions from the early ’70s on a shelf. But I digress.
No real surprises from S&S regarding the national top five, unless you count Clemson only — only! — at No. 2. (No prizes for guessing who’s No. 1.) Georgia is No. 3, which has become Georgia’s place in the college universe. Florida’s in the top 10, and we’ll discuss that at greater length before the weekend is out.
The ACC rankings made me look twice. Picked to finish seventh in the seven-team Coastal Division is, ahem, Georgia Tech.
Last in the Coastal is a place the Yellow Jackets have finished once since the ACC split in 2005, that coming in the post-Orange Bowl season of 2015. Say what you will about Tech under Paul Johnson — and Chan Gailey, too — but the Jackets seldom had the look of a bottom-feeder. They’ve played for the ACC title four times in 14 seasons. They’ve finished below third in the Coastal three times.
Sometimes they’re picked third or fourth in their division —Johnson took great glee in outperforming expectations — but I can never recall any projection placing them at the bottom. Spoiler alert: I doubt they’ll finish last this time. I can, however, see the rationale.
Coaching changes are never easy. (Check Kirby Smart’s record in Year 1 at Georgia. Or Nick Saban’s in Year 1 in Tuscaloosa.) No matter how skilled the new man is, the bulk of his players will have been recruited by someone else. In Tech’s case, those holdovers were recruited to fit into an offense used by no other Power 5 school.
The first two things Geoff Collins had to do, even before stopping at Waffle House, was to find a tight end — Johnson’s scheme had none — and a quarterback who can throw. It would defy belief if those players, rustled up on short notice, are the next Brady and Gronk. Collins has done a nice job selling the Georgia Tech Brand, a task for which his predecessor had little interest, but he also inherits a team that went 7-6 and lost its final two games by an aggregate 48 points.
Johnson walked into the best Tech recruiting class of this century, the 2007 group compiled by Gailey that included Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan, Morgan Burnett and Joshua Nesbitt. (Johnson also was gifted Demaryius Thomas, who arrived in 2006.) Collins inherits no such bounty. He has surrounded himself with able and willing recruiters, so the talent base is apt to change soon. It probably hasn’t changed enough yet.
One sliver of hope: Apart from Clemson, the rest of the ACC looks ragingly mediocre. Miami, North Carolina and Louisville — teams Tech beat last season — are working under new coaches. S&S projects Virginia to win the Coastal, something the Cavaliers have never done. UVA was 4-4 in league play last season with a loss to the Jackets. Virginia is the only ACC team besides Clemson in the magazine’s Top 25, and then only just. The Cavs are 25th.
The Coastal has seen six different winners over the past six years. (So maybe it’s Virginia’s turn, huh?) Last year’s champ was Pittsburgh, which finished 7-7. There’s always room to move in this division, and a smart coach — Collins did nice work at Temple — could have an outsize impact. What’s unknown is if he can fit Johnson’s holdovers into a different offense against a schedule that features games at Clemson, Temple, Duke, Miami and Virginia and do much better than .500.
For today, I’ll leave it at that. Tune in tomorrow for the picks guaranteed to please no one. In the meantime, feel free to amuse yourself by reviewing last year’s edition, in which I got one or two things right. (But not many more, alas.)
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.