It’s a huge year for Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech

Asked earlier this summer if 2013 wasn’t a big year for Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson did as Paul Johnson invariably does: He disagreed with the question’s premise. They’re all big years, he said. He wants to win every game every year, he said.

As a rule, he’s correct. In contemporary college football, there are no grace periods. Every year is a big year, no exceptions. For Tech and Johnson, this is the exception.

This isn’t just a big year. It’s a huge year.

On the day after Thanksgiving in 2009, Johnson was 19-5 as Tech’s coach. His Jackets have since gone 22-21. Dan Radakovich, the athletic director who hired him, has gone to Clemson. Mike Bobinski, the new AD, has expressed nothing but support for Johnson, but the cold reality is that Tech under Johnson started hot and has gone lukewarm.

That could be subject to change. After the head coach, the two most important figures in a football program are the quarterback and the defensive coordinator. With new men at both spots, Tech stands to improve on offense and defense.

Vad Lee is the most talented quarterback Johnson has had at Tech. At issue is whether Lee, a sophomore, can grasp the nuances of Johnson’s offense mastered by Joshua Nesbitt in 2008 and 2009.

Ted Roof is the new defensive coordinator, imported from Penn State at a high price. He cannot possibly do worse than Al Groh. At issue is whether Roof can make a difference. His claim to tactical fame came at Auburn in 2010, when the Tigers won a national championship because of Cam Newton, who had nothing to do with the defense. (Auburn ranked ninth in the SEC in total defense, eighth in scoring defense.)

As a Jacket, Roof was a stalwart in Don Lindsey’s Black Watch defense. As coordinator of the 2013 Tech defense, his watchword is aggression. (We note that no football coach ever takes a new job and says, “We plan to be passive.”) He wants more sacks and more takeaways.

The offense could also take on a bolder look, not that Johnson is ever timid. The nature of his offense impels defenses to load up against the run. If Lee can deliver the deep ball — Johnson scoffs at short passes — with a modicum of accuracy, this offense should be the best since the ACC championship season of 2009.

Tech has played for its league title twice under Johnson. It won in 2009, a victory later stripped by probation. It reached the title game last season because Miami removed itself from postseason play. The Coastal Division, which includes newcomer Pittsburgh, looks as unsettled as it has ever been. Virginia Tech appears in decline. Miami and North Carolina are on the ascent, but far from proven.

With big seasons from Lee and Roof’s defenders, Tech could well claim a division title without the asterisk, and such an achievement could lift this program to a higher plane. In Year 6 under Johnson, the Jackets have a chance to get a lot better. If they don’t get better soon, this coach might not be around for Year 10.