For two preseasons, all Paul Johnson heard were questions.
Can this offense work against BCS competition? Is it a gimmick? Can you pass out of it? Will defenses be ready for it in Year 2?
Now that those queries have been thoroughly satisfied to the tune of 20 wins, one ACC championship and one longed-for win over Georgia, the Yellow Jackets, ironically, are getting less respect than ever.
Though unlike those years, the underwhelming expectations are deserved this season, and they have nothing to do with the quirks of the triple option.
Well, almost nothing.
By this point in his career, Yellow Jackets quarterback Joshua Nesbitt knows he’s going to take a beating. It might as well be listed in the job description right after ‘take the snap.’ He had 279 carries last season and that doesn’t account for all the times took a pop in the facemask after a handoff or got dragged to the ground after a pitch. On every play, he’s either a decoy or a target. No player takes as much punishment, and no team is as dependent on one player.
If Nesbitt can stay relatively healthy again this year, so will be the Jackets’ chances in the ACC Coastal. But one badly timed hit could mean one missed series. And one missed series could mean one game lost. And in a division this deep, that’s enough to make the difference between first and fourth.
On with the ACC Coastal predictions…
1. Virginia Tech: The Hokies are the favorite to win the conference, but they’d better start strong. A loss in the season opener to Boise State and the league will be tarnished for the rest of the season.
2. Miami: Under Randy Shannon, the Hurricanes are trending up. Last year’s nine wins were their most since 2005. With returning talent all over the field, they’ve got the ability to match that number, and possibly top it, despite a tough schedule.
3. North Carolina: The defense is good. It’d better be great, because the offense was last in the league last year. The Tar Heels managed only 17 rushing yards last season against a very mediocre Georgia Tech defense.
4. Georgia Tech: With three of their four toughest conference games on the road (at North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech), the Jackets have no margin for error this year.
5. Duke: Basketball season starts in 79 days.
6. Virginia: Lacrosse season starts in …. Nevermind. Duke won that, too.
1. Florida State: The defense is still average on its good days and the Seminoles are far from reclaiming national relevance, but they’ll be good enough to win the division.
2. Clemson: The Tigers are probably as talented and more well-rounded than Florida State, but will face one of the ACC’s toughest in-conference schedules.
3. Boston College: What was a solid defense in 2009 could be better in 2010, and drawing Duke and Virginia from the Coastal never hurts.
4. North Carolina State: Quarterback Russell Wilson is dynamic, but the schedule is brutal.
5. Maryland: The return of Da’Rel Scott saves the Terps from the cellar, but may not save Ralph Friedgen’s job.
6. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons were better than their 5-7 record last year. Missing their quarterback and four of their top six tacklers, they won’t be this year.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.