ACC Preview: Georgia Tech

Sixth-year head coach Chan Gailey returns a veteran squad that hopes to ride its ground game and a highly-touted incoming freshman class back to the ACC Championship game.

2007 ACC Media Preseason Poll – 2nd in the Coastal Division

Inside Carolina's Vote – 3rd in the Coastal Division

2006 record (9-5, 7-2 ACC)

The Yellow Jackets enter the 2007 season without All-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson and four-year starter Reggie Ball. While Johnson presents an irreplaceable loss, football fans across the country are wondering how Ball (57 tds, 55 ints in his career) started 49 games during his tenure, as his completion percentage dropped from 51.7 as a freshman to 44.4 as a senior. Georgia Tech fans were able to get a sneak peak at this year's QB when Ball was declared academically ineligible for the '06 Gator Bowl, as rising junior Taylor Bennett played well in the 38-35 loss to West Virginia (19-29, 326 yds, 3 tds). Gailey has done a solid job in keeping his staff in place, but this offseason he hired former Northern Illinois OC John Bond to replace Patrick Nix, who bolted to Miami (Fla.). The Ramblin' Wreck has finished at .500 or better for 12 consecutive years, which is best in the conference.

Offense: Bond orchestrated one of the best rushing attacks in the country at NIU, with his offensive units averaging more 160 ypg during his three years in Dekalb. That strategy should work well with Georgia Tech's current personnel, namely the ACC's top returning rusher, senior TB Tashard Choice (297 car, 1,473 yds, 12 tds). The offensive line should be one of the conference's best, led by seniors C Kevin Tuminello and Matt Rhodes. The Yellow Jackets need incoming freshman Willie White to step up and give Bennett [pictured, right] a secondary target to keep the double teams off junior WR James Johnson (39 rec, 608 yds, 7 tds).

Defense: Jon Tenuta is considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the country, with a blitz-oriented attack that confuses quarterbacks from every possible angle. Seniors SS Jamal Lewis (74 tkl, 6 tfl) and LB Philip Wheeler (89 tkl, 9 sacks) anchor this unit, which is loaded with veterans and returns eight starters. Senior Adamm Oliver (70 tkl, 7.5 tfl, 3.5 sacks) and junior Darryl Richard (20 tkl, 3.5 tfl) return on the defensive line. Senior FS Djay Jones (46 tkl, 4 ints) is solid alongside Lewis, and those two will be responsible for protecting the corners, which are questionable following the loss of Kenny Scott.

Special Teams: Georgia Tech returns all of its key components in this area, led by seniors K Travis Bell (12-18, 47 long) and P Durant Brooks (45.5 avg, 1st-team All–ACC, 2nd-team AA). Sophomores Jamaal Evans (22.8 avg. on kickoffs) and Tyler Evans (9.6 avg. on punts) are hoping to build on strong freshman seasons. The return teams are where the help is needed, and some members of the freshman class may be plugged in to fill some holes. The kickoff return was 11th in the league with a 19.4 ypr average, and the punt return squad wasn't much better, allowing 7.5 ypr, good for 10th in the conference.

Schedule: Georgia Tech has another tough OOC schedule this season, with games at Notre Dame and against Georgia. The Yellow Jackets almost pulled off the upset against Brady Quinn and the Golden Domers last fall, and it wouldn't be surprising to see that upset actually happen this season. The ACC slate sets up relatively well, with Virginia Tech, Clemson and Boston College traveling to Bobby Dodd Stadium. Road games at Maryland and Miami in early October will go a long way in determining how good this squad will be in '07.

Top Newcomer: Take your pick. Gailey has taken a lot of heat during the past few seasons for not bringing in highly-ranked recruiting classes, but he answered his critics in February by signing arguably the top class in the ACC. This group will immediately improve the talent level in Atlanta, including elite QB Josh Nesbitt.

Key Game: Vs. Georgia on Nov. 24. Regardless of what the Yellow Jackets do in the ACC, short of winning the conference, extending a six-game losing streak against their bitter rivals will only continue to frustrate the fan base.

Gailey on his '07 squad: "I love our experience and leadership. I think that they are going to accept challenges, without any frustrations. It's a mindset that has unfolded over the years. This group gets it, more than most of them. Senior leadership is strong, and if they get it, the rest of the guys will follow along."

Choice on the keys to the season: "This year we have to limit the amount of turnovers we have on offense. We have to take care of the ball. And just finish the game strong – that'll be the biggest key to getting back to where we were last year. "

Word from the Beat: "Now the Jackets have regained a bit of their swagger in a league loaded with that commodity, and they'll need it to have a chance to repeat… The offensive line looks strong, if injuries don't factor in, and Tashard Choice is the conference's leading returning rusher. The receivers will be passable, even without Johnson, and with new coordinator John Bond working a variety of new routes and receivers into the mix. Bennett, while not as overall skilled as Ball, may be a much better fit for this team… That defense has a legitimate seven-or eight- man rotation along the front four, and that's enough to wear down any offensive line… The secondary is a bit of a concern, but the movement among the returnees in the spring seemed to indicate Tenuta thought he had some of the answers if he could get them to work. If not, he has some new answers arriving this summer. He has done more with less on past teams." -- Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook

2007 Schedule

S. 1 at Notre Dame

S. 8 Samford

S. 15 Boston College

S. 22 at Virginia

S. 29 Clemson

O. 6 at Maryland

O. 13 at Miami

O. 20 Army

O. 27 bye

N. 1 Virginia Tech

N. 10 at Duke

N. 17 UNC

N. 24 Georgia

Adamm Oliver

Djay Jones

James Johnson

Philip Wheeler

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