GAME WEEK IS HERE AND THE JACKETS ARE READY

Head Coach George O'Leary has finally put the two-a-day practice sessions to bed and now has his seventh edition of the Yellow Jackets locked in on their opener Sunday against Syracuse. This summer has been unlike any recent one for the Jackets. Seven years ago, the questions surrounding O'Leary's first full season as coach were about surviving through the fall of 1995. Now the program has completely reversed itself with the Jackets being mentioned by many as one of the schools.........

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.................................... "with a chance" to perhaps figure in the national title picture.

A lot of things have to happen for Tech to be in that picture this fall. The most glaring of course, is beating Florida State in Tallahassee. Therefore, the fans and some of the media have already started discussing a game that will not fall until week four of the season for the Jackets.

While the speculation on winning or losing to the Seminoles continues, O'Leary has already started prepping his club for Syracuse on Sunday at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

The Orangemen pose an interesting test for the Jackets, simply because of the unknowns. SU went 6-5 last fall, but did not get a bowl invitation. That created talk about the security of Paul Pasqualoni as head coach beyond this season. Now word has travelled to Atlanta that everyone of Syracuse's pre-season practices has been closed to the media.

The Jackets preparation for the fall has gone well, with the exception of two season ending injuries. Redshirt sophomore tailback Jermaine Hatch suffered a torn ACL a week prior to the start of practice and one week into the workouts, sophomore receiver Nate Curry was also lost to a knee injury for the fall.

The injury to Hatch came at a spot where Tech has plenty of depth with junior Joe Burns, junior Sidney Ford and plenty of new faces as well. The loss of Curry however will be felt until another player comes forward. Most of the responsibility will fall to sophomore Jonathan Smith, who made great strides late last fall and in the spring. Redshirt junior Kerry Watkins has always been considered a "12th starter" by coaches, so his role will continue to be important.

Quarterback George Godsey is showing no ill effects from his off-season knee injury that came late in the Peach Bowl loss to LSU. Godsey, who sat out spring practices, has been sharp in his fall workouts.

After losing two key pieces to the offensive line, Tech has plugged in redshirt senior Jason Kemble at left tackle and redshirt sophomore Hugh Reilly at right guard.

Two years ago the Jackets defense was forcing quarterback Joe Hamilton and the offense to outscore opponents. After a few versions of "arena football on grass", that young defense of 1999, has matured into perhaps one of the best units in recent Tech history. Comparisons have already begun with the unit O'Leary coordinated to the national title in 1990.

Safety Jeremy Muyres, linebacker Recardo Wimbush and end Greg Gathers have all logged over 1,000 plays in two seasons with Tech. That wasn't by design but rather necessity and now O'Leary is glad to have that experience going into this fall.

The biggest key for Tech starting the season might be how they keep their focus. It looks as if O'Leary and his staff have the Jackets focused on Syracuse, while others are looking ahead to Florida State. Some fans and media have short memories. After all it was just a couple years ago that Tech lost at Wake Forest in a game that cost them a possible BCS at-large berth.

A hard lesson was learned on the way to a 10-2 mark in 1998, when the Jackets lost their season opener to Boston College in Atlanta. From that point on, O'Leary called for "one-game seasons". More than once this summer, its been noted that Syracuse is the "first season", while the Seminoles don't come along until the "fourth season".

The Jackets have dismissed the national title talk all along, noting that Oklahoma was the 20th ranked team last pre-season. Georgia Tech has posted 27 wins in the last three years, with several close calls along the way. You don't have to remind this team that titles are often won by inches more than yards.


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