Georgia Tech coaches believe Jackets belong among middle tier of ACC

A little less than three months ago, a panel of 134 media members picked Georgia Tech to finish 15th of 15 teams in the ACC. The Yellow Jackets trailed 14th-place Syracuse by 110 points in the vote, which put them firmly in last place in the league.

Now, with three games left in the season, Tech is 3-4 in the ACC and ranks 11th in the league. The Yellow Jackets mathematically cannot finish last. If they lose all three remaining games, they’ll have seven losses, and Syracuse currently has eight. Though the three wins came over teams lower in the standings — Louisville, Florida State and Duke rank 12th, 13th, and 14th, respectively — it appears that Tech has outperformed expectations so far.

On Tuesday, coach Geoff Collins refrained from commenting on how he thinks Tech fits into the overall ACC picture, but offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude and defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said they believe the Yellow Jackets fit into the middle tier of the ACC below Clemson and Notre Dame.

“It’s kinda played itself out through the course of the season that the cream has risen to the top,” Thacker said. “... That middle of the ACC pack is as competitive, (and) it’s got as much parity as maybe any league out there.”

Six of the ACC’s 15 teams are within one game of .500 in the conference right now. Only three teams in the SEC can say the same, and in the Big 12, it’s four. Patenaude echoed Thacker’s sentiments about the ACC’s parity, and it appears, at least on paper, that there is more parity in the ACC’s middle tier than in other leagues.

Given that the Jackets’ three wins all came over teams ranked lower than they are, it sounds like a bit of a bold statement to say that they’re squarely in the middle of the league. But to hear the Tech coaches tell it, they firmly believe that’s where their team belongs.

“We’re ridiculously optimistic about the way that we approach every single week,” Thacker said. “... We feel like any given game, we can go out and if we play, when we play, we will play our best football. We’re as good as anybody in that framework. We’re getting to now teams having eight games, having nine games, having a pretty good resume to show who they are. We obviously need to create consistency after having a positive week this week so that we can show we’re as competitive as anyone in the league.”

In the final three games of the season, Tech faces N.C. State (currently fifth in the ACC), Pittsburgh (currently ninth) and Miami (currently third). Coming off a 56-33 win over Duke on Saturday, the final stretch of the season is a chance for the Jackets to prove they belong in that middle tier of the conference.

It’s not quite the gauntlet of earlier this year, when Tech played both Clemson and Notre Dame in a three-week span, but it’s not a quiet end to the season, either. Collins, Patenaude and Thacker all feel that the Jackets will be able to make some noise.

“Teams that play well at the end of the season have a strong culture,” Patenaude said. “They believe in what’s going on. They believe in the staff. They believe in their head guy. They believe in the guys next to them. They like playing. They like showing up in the building and being able to go out and compete.

“I think that when we do the things that we’re capable of doing across the board — the defense played fantastic and set us up all night against Duke. When we play complementary football like that, we’re very tough to beat.”