Dr. Football Closes Out the Season

Dr. Football closes out the 2006 season with his last column and answers readers' questions.

Got a question about your favorite college team? Ask the Doctor by clicking here or by emailing DrFootball@gojackets.com.

It's no big surprise that Reggie Ball would, in the end, skip out on Georgia Tech and leave the team in the lurch as it heads into the Gator Bowl. That's basically what he's been doing for the last four years as the starting quarterback.

It is too bad for Tech's players and fans that the season is ending on such a down note. They deserved much better.

Tech had better talent and a better team than Georgia. This was their best chance in several years to whip Georgia and Mark Richt in front of a home crowd at Sanford Stadium. But with Ball at quarterback, you knew that somehow it was never going to happen. And it didn't.

Tech also had the best chance it will have for a long time to come to win an undisputed ACC championship. They were playing a Wake Forest team that they had dominated the year before and beat by 30-17. They had the talent to beat them again and wrap up a trip to the Orange Bowl. But with Reggie Ball at quarterback – and with a lot of help from Patrick Nix's dumb play calling – that didn't happen.

Even with the late season disappointments, there is a lot for which this Tech team can take pride. They had a better conference record in the regular season (7-1) than any other ACC school and until those last two games, they were positioned to win more games than any Georgia Tech team had ever won in a season. The one area where the level of play was excellent from start to finish was on the defensive side of the ball. Consider that in the Georgia and Wake Forest games, Jon Tenuta's defense surrendered only 17 points total – an average of 8.5 points per game. Anytime your defense holds the other side to 8.5 points, you should be winning those games.

In spite of the train wrecks in Athens and Jacksonville, I think the future looks pretty good for this program.

Tashard Choice, who is a Heisman-quality running back, will be back next year along with his top two backups, Jamaal Evans and Rashaun Grant.

Whether it's Taylor Bennett or someone else, there will be a new face at quarterback.

Four of the five starters along the offensive line will return. The rap on Tech's offensive line is that it's a little undersized, but the numbers indicate they did a competent job. Tech ran for an average of more than 164 yards per game behind that O-line, which was almost twice the rushing yards gained by the opposition. Tech's quarterbacks were sacked 19 times, which is an average of about 1.5 sacks per game – not a bad number. With a year's experience and (hopefully) the opportunity to beef up in the weight room, this should be an area of strength next year.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson probably will jump to the NFL and there's no question that he's a once-in-a-lifetime player whose accomplishments at Tech will never be equaled. But James Johnson proved he is capable of making the big play and Greg Smith showed a lot of promise as a freshman.

Durant Brooks, who did the best job of punting I've seen since the days of Rodney Williams, will be back, as will placekicker Travis Bell.

Tech is losing two seniors at tight end – Michael Matthews and George Cooper – but since the Jackets never throw the ball to the tight end anyway, there won't be any downturn in yardage production there.

The only senior Tech will lose along the defensive line is Joe Anoai. Darryl Richard, Darrell Robertson, Adamm Oliver, Vance Walker and, most importantly, Michael Johnson will be back.

The Jackets will lose KaMichael Hall and possibly Philip Wheeler at linebacker, but Tech always seems to find talented replacements to step in at linebacker when seniors depart. The coaches were able to replace Keith Brooking and Ronnie Rogers; they were able to replace Recardo Wimbush, Key Fox, Daryl Smith, and Ather Brown; they were able to replace Gerris Wilkinson and Chris Reis. I have no doubts they will find the right replacements this time.

Kenny Scott is gone from the defensive backfield, but everybody else has at least a season of eligibility remaining – including Jones, Word-Daniels, Lewis, and Roberson.

That's a lot of talent returning from a team that should have had an 11-2 record at this point in time. Add to that the fact that Gailey has been recruiting more and better players from in-state, and is in line to sign the best recruiting class of his five years as head coach.

Right now, I feel good about next season – assuming, of course, that there are no academic casualties. As we keep seeing, that's a continuing problem with Gailey and the players. But Tech should be in a great position to go to its eleventh bowl game in a row.

Let's take a few questions.

After the Georgia game, but prior to the Wake Forest game, one of my readers asked me about Gailey's statement that he had no intention of replacing Ball at quarterback with Taylor Bennett:

Q. What is Chan Gailey thinking? Okay, Reggie completes less than 50% of his passes, but 6 for 22? Gailey says he needs to work through his injury. He does not say what injury, I don't see doctor in front of Gailey's name. I know he is a fierce competitor, but if he is hurt to the point it is causing the team to lose it makes no sense.

A. My belated answer to that reader is: Most players who start as freshmen tend to get better as their career progresses through their sophomore, junior and senior years (with an exception, of course, for players who might suffer a serious injury). That wasn't the case with Ball. Just look at one of the most important performance indicators by which we measure a quarterback's effectiveness: his pass completion percentage. Ball completed 51.7 percent of the passes he threw as a freshman, a number that declined to 49.7 percent as a sophomore, 48.0 percent as junior, and 45.8 percent as a senior. That's an amazing downhill slide for someone who starts every year of his college career. Ball also saved his two worst performances for the last two games he played: against Georgia and Wake Forest, his completion percentage was a miserable 29.4 percent. Literally, the more games he played, the worse he got.

There were a lot of Georgia Tech fans who watched Ball over the course of that four years and kept waiting for some sign that he "got it," that he had figured out the key to being an effective college quarterback. That light bulb never came on. It seems to me that the person who should have noticed this before anyone else was the head coach. That obviously did not happen here.

Chan Gailey did not once – not a single time – sit Ball down on the bench because of his poor performance and put in a backup quarterback. Not one single time during his four-year career. With the exception of the game against Connecticut where Ball was too ill to play, Gailey stuck Ball in there as the starting quarterback and kept him there no matter how badly he played. That, to me, speaks volumes about Gailey's weaknesses and shortcomings as a head coach. I can't think of a single other coach, in fact, who would have tolerated the poor play and the head games that Ball displayed over his four years. But Gailey did.

Well, it's now out of the coach's hands. Academics have finally done what Chan Gailey could never bring himself to do: sit Ball down and give someone else – anyone else – a shot at playing quarterback.

Whatever the next stage of Reggie Ball's life might bring him, I wish him good luck. But will I miss seeing him play quarterback for the Yellow Jackets? Not for a minute. Not even for a nanosecond.

Q. Since you're feeling so confident about the future of Georgia Tech's football program, what's your take on the University of Georgia?

A. I am amazed at the recent news reports that Mark Richt is recruiting large numbers of junior college players to come to Athens. I would like for someone to please explain this to me: Georgia has supposedly signed a "Top 5" recruiting class every year that Mark Richt has been there (for that matter, the chihuahuas reputedly signed "Top 5" recruiting classes every year of the Ray Goff and Jim Donnan eras as well, but never mind). Now, if you've consistently had recruiting classes that were among the five best in the nation every year for six years running, then how did Georgia come up with a team that was inconsistent on defense, underachieving at wide receiver and along the offense line, and that lost to Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the same season? Georgia this year was really a 6-6 team that got lucky against Auburn and Tech. And now, on top of that, comes the news that Richt is signing junior college players left and right, guys who will be gone, under the most optimistic scenario, in two seasons. This is what Jackie Sherrill did at Mississippi State and it's a major reason that that bunch of Bulldogs fell into a deep hole they still have not dug out from.

If Richt is having to implement a crash program of recruiting junior college players, that tells me there are some deep-rooted problems with that program that the brown-nosing sportswriters at the AJC aren't telling you about. That should give Tech fans reason to feel optimistic – aside from the fact that the Jackets will have a new starter at quarterback next year.

The bowl season picks –

Emerald Bowl, December 27. Florida State vs. UCLA (-4). If St. Bobby loses this one, FSU finishes with a losing record for the first time in 30 years. I hope the Seminole fans can take it.

Independence Bowl, Dec. 28. Oklahoma State (-2) vs. Alabama. By the time opening kickoff rolls around, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier will have had at least three more opportunities to turn down the head coaching job at Alabama. Note to Mal Moore: I hear that Jim Donnan is still available. Alabama also finishes with a losing record.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 29. Kentucky vs. Clemson (-9.5). What a comedown for the team that many people thought was the best in the ACC at one point. Clemson will probably win, but that's scant consolation for losing to South Carolina.

Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29. Purdue (-1) vs. Maryland. Even if the Terps lose, they'll still rebound with a winning record this year for the Fridge.

Meineke Car Care Bowl, Dec. 30. Navy vs. Boston College (-6). When your head coach's best career opportunity is to move on to the head coaching job at North Carolina State, that should tell you something. Paul Johnson is the kind of head coach who should be getting better job offers – and maybe he will after Navy upsets the Eagles.

Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 30. Virginia Tech (-3) vs. Georgia. The trembling chihuahuas should have had two losses this season against teams with "Tech" in the school name. Virginia Tech has gotten back on the right track since getting trounced by Georgia Tech. This time, the Hokies will get the job done and cover the spread.

MPC Computers Bowl, Dec. 31. Nevada vs. Miami (-3). Hey, wasn't Miami supposed to dominate the ACC when it joined the conference? They'll be lucky to cover against a WAC team.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1. Penn State vs. Tennessee (-4). The Vols get an early start on next season by polishing off Joe Pa and the Lions. Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1. Nebraska vs.Auburn (-2). If Auburn's so great, why did they let a mediocre Georgia team bitch-slap them at home?Tommy "Dumbo" Tuberville and the War Eagles should win, but that won't redeem an underachieving season.

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1. Wisconsin vs. Arkansas (-2). This is one of several interesting Big Ten-SEC matchups during the bowl season. The Razorbacks faded toward the end of the season and will continue their slide in this one.

Gator Bowl, Jan. 1. Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia (-8). Tech actually has a very good record in bowl games where starters have been kicked off the team for academic or "personal" reasons. Quarterback Eddie McAshan was booted from the team at the end of the 1972 season, but Tech rallied behind backup Jim Stevens to beat Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl. Tech lost quarterback John Dewberry prior to the 1985 All-American Bowl against Michigan State, but Todd Rampley stepped in to replace him and the Black Watch defense carried the Jackets to a narrow win. Ken Celaj and Ralph Hughes were bounced prior to the 1997 Carquest Bowl against West Virginia, but Joe Hamilton still led Tech to a 35-30 victory. Even with Taylor Bennett at quarterback, I think Tech has a good shot against a Mountaineer team that is porous on defense and doesn't have much of a passing attack. The key is whether Jon Tenuta can develop the schemes that will slow down the running of Steve Slaton and Pat White. My money's on Tenuta.

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1. Michigan vs. Southern California (-1). Here are two teams that thought they would be playing Ohio State for the national championship, but are settling for this consolation match. Why would Pete Carroll leave his spot as the number one coach in college football for a lousy NFL teams in Phoenix? A big victory by the Trojans might convince him to stay.

Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1. Boise State vs. Oklahoma (-8). The Broncos are in way over their heads here. Oklahoma, which could have been playing for a national championship if not for a blown call, wins easily.

Orange Bowl, Jan. 2. Wake Forest vs. Louisville (-10). It should have been Georgia Tech playing in this one, but it's way too late to complain about it now. Wake Forest has been consistently underrated all season. They'll beat the spread, but Louisville will hang on to win.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3. Notre Dame vs. Louisiana State (-9). The experts all say LSU is the team no one wants to play now. I don't know about that, but I do know they won't get much of a test from the Irish. LSU wins and covers.

BCS National Title Game, Jan. 8. Florida vs. Ohio State (-8). SEC fans are still complaining because Auburn was undefeated a couple of years ago and didn't get a shot at the national title. You've got your chance – can Florida do it? No. The Buckeyes may not cover, but they'll win.

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