Georgia Tech just endured a horrid season. It began with a 38-point thrashing at Clemson and ended with a 45-point obliteration by Georgia. The Yellow Jackets’ 45-0 loss to Virginia Tech marked the Institute’s first home skunking since Ike was in office. Tech’s victories were by four, seven and two points. If not for a South Florida fumble, a blocked Miami field-goal try and a failed N.C. State 2-point conversion, Geoff Collins’ first team might have gone 0-12.
Now forget all that. Collins and Tech slogged through 12 mostly wretched games just to get to Wednesday, and Wednesday — the first and bigger of the national signing days — did not disappoint. As of late afternoon, the Jackets’ signing class was ranked No. 24 by 247Sports.
» MORE: See all of Tech’s early signees
In the post-George O’Leary days, only the 15th-ranked 2007 group — Chan Gailey’s final class, the one with Morgan Burnett, Jonathan Dwyer, Derrick Morgan and Joshua Nesbitt — stands higher. (This isn’t to say Tech didn’t sign good players under Bobby Dodd and Bobby Ross, but 247Sports wasn’t around to collate.) Hired on Dec. 7, 2018, Collins’ eye was already on the third Wednesday in December 2019.
For those among Tech’s Old Guard who recall the days of Dodd, for jaded media types who recoil at the first hint of hype, Collins can come across as cringe-inducing. Everything’s a sales pitch. He hit town — re-hit, actually; he was born in Decatur — talking more about the Tech brand than the Tech team. (He might have known the team he’d be inheriting.) His first season was merely something to get through. Signing day would be the true test.
Georgia fans outnumbered Jackets backers at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Nov. 30, and the visitors got a kick out of the Collins gimmicks: #404Takeover, the Juice Crew, especially the Money Down (meaning third), on which the Bulldogs cashed in more than half the time. But here’s the thing: None of us — not Tech alums, not the Fourth Estate, definitely not opposing fans — counts among Collins’ target audience.
He’s selling to 16- and 17-year-olds, not cranky codgers who wouldn’t know Instagram if it bit us in the backside. We’ll never put on a Tech jersey and try to tackle D’Andre Swift. We won’t be the people who make Tech football relevant again.
We pause for the obligatory mention of Paul Johnson. Tech football was relevant for most of his tenure, but it was a footnote-y relevance. Tech football was a curio, almost a trick of the light. Johnson took not-very-good players and plugged them into his stylized offense and beat Georgia three times. Gailey took better players and never beat Georgia. Nobody else — well, nobody at a Power 5 outpost — played like Johnson’s Tech. Anybody else’s Tech will require much better players, scads of them, to think about beating Georgia again.
Wednesday was Step 1 on Collins’ upward trail. After all the pitching and branding and Waffle House selfies, it would have been an ominous sign had his first full class ranked, say, 54th. (That was the average of Johnson’s 11 classes.) In effect, this was Collins’ Georgia game. Based in a state that produces so many big-time prospects that Georgia and Clemson can’t sign them all, he had to make an impression. He landed two 4-stars from this state, three more from Florida.
Another pause, this for the also-obligatory nod to Georgia’s ranking: Per 247Sports, the Bulldogs were at No. 4 as of 6 p.m. Under Johnson, Tech cared so little about recruiting that it didn’t often engage within the state borders. That’s what the #404Takeover is about — a reminder that the Georgia Institute of Technology isn’t merely situated in Georgia but in the beating heart of the capital of the Deep South.
Sure, there’s a reason to pick the university in Athens, but there should never have been a reason to ignore the school off North Avenue. Once upon a time, it played big-time football, too, and not just with the oddball option. At last check, Georgia hadn’t won a national title since 1980. Tech won one in 1990.
As heavy-handed as Collins’ salesmanship can be, he does have a lot to sell. “And we’re not ashamed to do it,” he said in an ESPN2 live hit, which he proceeded to demonstrate.
“This (PJ to GC) was one of the most historic transitions of the past 40 years.”
Then: “This is one of the two best recruiting classes in Georgia Tech history.” (We note again that 247Sports didn’t track Coleman Rudolph’s or Lucius Sanford’s classes, to say nothing of Clint Castleberry’s. All Georgians, BTW.)
Then, lifting a styrofoam cup from guess where: “There are 400 Waffle Houses in the state of Georgia. There’s a school 80 miles from here that a lot of people like, but everybody in the state of Georgia likes Waffle House. It’s one of the greatest restaurants in all the world.”
Enough selling. There was a reason that Vince Dooley is said to have carried a calculus textbook when he went out recruiting. He’d throw it on the coffee table and ask a teenager, “Do you want to spend the next four years studying that?” He knew Georgia Tech was never to be discounted.
Geoff Collins’ big Wednesday gives us reason to believe that his program can again catch and hold our attention. Job well done. Hash browns for everybody!
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