Time Out with Mark Russell

Photo by Josh Sandler

The 2014 ACC football media day wrapped up this week as representatives from Tech’s football team attended the event in Greensboro, NC to talk to the media about the upcoming football season. In attendance were senior offensive guard Shaquille Mason, senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, and head coach Paul Johnson. There were several questions for the attendees mostly about the quarterback situation and how the offense is going to change from last year now that Vad Lee has left the program.  The media also addressed the suspensions that occurred this season where several key players were suspended because of academics and several others because of violating Tech’s student conduct policy.

The biggest takeaway from the event is that Tech was predicted to finish fifth in the coastal division. That prediction is no surprise to followers of Tech’s football program because Tech has long been predicted to finish in the bottom half of the coastal division almost every year Coach Johnson has been here. Johnson has finished with a winning ACC record in every year except one, 2010, where he finished 4-4 which was good for third place in the coastal division.

Over the past few years the medias favorite teams have been Miami and North Carolina.  At the beginning of each year you always hear about how this is the year Miami football comes back to prominence and how UNC is the dark horse of the ACC. They have been labeled dark horse to win the ACC almost every year since Johnson arrived, including this year. UNC and Miami have always failed to live up to expectations yet the media continues to love them.

This year, Miami was predicted to win the coastal division and UNC was predicted to finish fourth even though they had the second most votes to win the division behind Duke.  Fifth, is the lowest Tech has been picked to finish during Johnson’s tenure, which says a lot about what the media thinks of where Tech’s program with Johnson at the helm is headed. Several other media outlets are predicting Tech to finish sixth this year, which if came true would be it’s worst finish in ACC play since 1994 where Tech won zero ACC games.

Some of the reasons for the low predictions are because of the improvements Duke’s football program has made. For years Duke was predicted to finish dead and they never competed for the coastal division until last year. Even though Tech beat Duke for the tenth straight year, Duke still finished 6-2 in ACC play and won the outright coastal crown despite being predicted to finish last in the coastal division. With Duke now viewed as an emerging program that is one less team the media can put at the bottom so other teams have slid down. Another reason for the low prediction is the media seems to believe that Tech will lose to it’s biggest conference rivals, Miami and Virginia Tech, every year that Johnson remains as coach. Tech has not beaten Miami since 2008 or Virginia Tech since 2009 and due to those schools always recruiting great athletes, the media believes they will always figure out a way to stop Tech’s offense.

In Johnson’s six year tenure, Tech has finished higher than it was projected four of the six years including two years where they won the coastal division and the other two years they finished at the same spot they were predicted. If it hadn’t have been for losing to both Miami and Virginia Tech almost every year, Tech could have won even more ACC coastal division crowns.

In 2008, when Johnson first became Tech’s coach most of the media predicted them to finish around the bottom and a 4-8 record seemed to be the most popular pick. They didn’t believe that Johnson could turn a pro style offense into a triple option offense and have success the first year. What the media didn’t realize is how much NFL talent Tech had on that team.  There were NFL players at all the key positions on both sides of the ball. Even though it took Tech a little while to figure out the offense they managed to win nine games and win at Georgia, the preseason number one team. Those nine wins are the second most in the Paul Johnson era. The following year Tech was predicted to finish second in the ACC, but Tech went onto win the ACC Championship and finished the season with 11 wins.  Those 11 wins were the most since Tech’s 1990 national championship team.

So after two seasons, Johnson had won 20 games, an ACC Championship, beaten Georgia, and was 3-0 against Clemson. At that point everyone was amazed that Johnson was winning all these games with very few players he recruited. It seemed that Tech was here to stay and would compete at the top year in and year out, but when Jon Dwyer, Demaryius Thomas, Morgan Burnett, and Derrick Morgan declared early for the NFL Draft it was the beginning of the end. Tech hasn’t been able to field a team with that kind of NFL talent and hiring Al Groh as defensive coordinator set the program back three years. The most games Tech had won since that moment was eight in 2011, which included a 6-0 start and a 2-5 record over the last seven games of the season.

If Tech ever wants to regain respect from the media, then this is a huge year for Tech football. The expectations by the media and analysts are lower than they have been in awhile, but Johnson has a good record at surpassing their preseason predictions. To do so again this year, he will need consistent play out of his defense and new quarterback Justin Thomas run the offense effectively.