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Season Preview: Georgia Tech looking to make the most of low football expectations
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas (5) prepares to pitch the ball during the 2015 game against Miami in Miami Gardens, Fla. - photo by Lynne Sladky

Coach Paul Johnson isn’t concerned with low expectations at Georgia Tech.

It’s nothing new: Since Johnson took charge of the Yellow Jackets eight years ago, they’ve been ranked in The Associated Press’ final poll just three times, and this season hardly looks promising.

“We’re not at a place where we’re going to have all these All-Americans and you just reload,” he said. “You’ve got to do it with blue collar and work ethic and that kind of thing. Hopefully it was a lesson a year ago.”

Georgia Tech is coming off a 3-9 record, 1-7 in the ACC, and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 1996.

The Jackets have been picked to finish sixth in the Coastal Division.

Not exactly inspiring stuff, but Johnson has tried to use the lack of respect to his team’s advantage.

He routinely tells the players that outsiders insist Georgia Tech can’t compete on the same level with Georgia and other major programs that border the state.

“If you look, you’re surrounded by programs with double the budgets and all the things,” he said. “You have to have a chip on your shoulder to survive. You’re not the same in a lot of areas with the (programs) they want to compare you with.”

Johnson seems to have the players’ attention.

“Coach Johnson has definitely brought that up,” senior kicker Harrison Butker said.

After beating Georgia, advancing to the ACC title game and winning the Orange Bowl two years ago, Johnson thinks some players mistakenly believed they were better than they were.

“When people are telling you (that) you’re really good and you ought to run right through this and run right through that, our guys have historically not handled that very well here,” Johnson said.

Senior quarterback Justin Thomas is eager to play alongside some familiar faces this year.

After a sensational 2014 season, Thomas’ statistics and confidence took a hit last season as the injuries mounted across the offense.

“We’ve all come together closely, and I think a lot of guys know what to expect and what to do,” Thomas said. “It’s not just me. We’ve got a whole lot of guys on both sides of the ball being more vocal.

Johnson doesn’t appear to have concerns about his job security. He’s under contract through 2020, and it would cost the school over $9 million to buy out the last three years of his deal. Georgia Tech also is searching for a new athletic director after Mike Bobinski left last week for Purdue.

The Jackets begin Sept. 3 against Boston College in Dublin, Ireland. Senior center Freddie Burden has told his teammates to consider the long trip a blessing.

“I almost kind of look at it as making up for our bowl game we missed last year,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun, exciting time. Everybody’s hyping it up. Guys are excited to play. I think it’s everybody’s first time going to Ireland and a lot of guys’ first time flying overseas and being in a different country.”

At Clemson Sept. 22, vs. Miami Oct. 1, at North Carolina Nov. 5, at Georgia Nov. 26

Johnson is 5-4 against Clemson, including the vacated 2009 ACC title game victory. Former Georgia coach Mark Richt is now working in the same capacity with Miami. Johnson says last season turned on a lost fumble against North Carolina.
Each year, no game is bigger for Tech than the annual matchup with Georgia.

5-7 overall, 3-5 ACC.

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