The team’s last two seasons have been tales of two halves. In 2012, Georgia Tech started 2-4 but won four of its last six and represented the Coastal Division in the ACC title game. (Miami and North Carolina were ineligible.)
This year, a 6-6 regular season record won’t cut it, and after replacing his defensive coordinator partway through 2012, Johnson won’t have much recourse if things don’t improve in 2013.
Impact Player — Shaquille Mason, RG
Mason started most of 2012 at left guard, but this season he must fill in the very big cleats of right guard Omoregie Uzzi, a two-time first-team All-ACC and All-America offensive lineman.
The Yellow Jackets ranked in the top four nationally in rushing in each of Uzzi’s four seasons, and for them to match last year’s success on the ground, the O-line will be key. Redshirt senior center Jay Finch and tackles Ray Beno and Morgan Bailey return, while versatile Will Jackson takes over for Mason at left guard. Mason, though, has the toughest act to follow. If he can rule the line as well as his predecessor, the Yellow Jackets should continue to be in good shape on offense.
There’s not much turnover on the line, but it’s a different story at the offensive skill positions.
Vad Lee takes over for Tevin Washington at quarterback and reportedly has a stronger arm, although his coach quickly pointed out that ability and skill are two different things. In last year’s win over North Carolina, Lee proved his versatility with 112 rushing yards, 169 passing yards, and three total touchdowns.
Lee is the heir apparent, but don’t expect redshirt freshman Justin Thomas to spend the season holding a clipboard. Reports from spring practice say he’ll see his share of playing time, too, because he’s far too talented to ride the bench for another year.
They might be able to throw the ball, but to whom? Sophomore Darren Waller is the most experienced returning receiver with a whopping eight career catches. His fellow starter on the post-spring depth chart is junior Corey Dennis, a former defensive back with no college receptions.
Half the team’s receptions in 2012 were caught by the A-backs. Returning starter Robert Godhigh was third on the team with 15 catches and 4 touchdowns, and B.J. Bostic, projected to start along with Godhigh, was also a factor. Their roles will likely increase in 2013.
Eight starters return from a defense that surrendered more than 40 points in six different games last season. New defensive coordinator Ted Roof was a star linebacker for Georgia Tech, and he’s built successful defenses at nearly every stop throughout his coaching career.
He inherits a wealth of talent, which he’s reorganizing into a 4-3 defense. The most notable move is senior Jeremiah Attaochu from outside linebacker to defensive end. Attaochu led the team with 10 sacks last season and will again be one of the leaders on defense.
Redshirt senior Jemea Thomas led the team in solo tackles (61) and interceptions (4) a year ago as a safety but he’ll move to cornerback opposite Louis Young. Senior Isaiah Johnson, the 2012 team leader in total tackles, returns to safety. He’s joined by sophomore Chris Milton, who got his first start in the Sun Bowl when Johnson was injured.
The Yellow Jackets have a week two bye after that grueling opener against Elon before playing eight straight, including a gauntlet of four games in 21 days.
The next break doesn’t come until November, with a bye before their second Thursday night game, at Clemson.
Because Tech has two FCS schools on the slate — Elon and Alabama A&M — the Yellow Jackets must win seven games, not the usual six, to become bowl eligible.