Category Archives: college football

Bowl Games 2018: You Have One Week Left to Finish Your Christmas Shopping

No, seriously, you do.

Anyway, I did pretty well on the opening day of bowl games, though honestly I spent most of it flying in circles at the Palo Alto airport. Regardless, you can find all of my picks and the schedule right here. This post will get through the rest of the pre-Christmas bowls.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Tuesday, December 18
7:00: Northern Illinois vs. Alabama-Birmingham (Boca Raton Bowl @ Boca Raton, FL; ESPN): So after a few days of having to talk about odd NFL playoff scenarios, we’re back to what’s really import this time of year: bowl games. And this should actually be a good one. NIU upset Buffalo to win the MAC earlier this month, and UAB are C-USA champs, so we’ve got a champ versus champ matchup here. That said, it’ll be close and tight, but I think the Blazers can score enough to win the end. (Go Blazers!)
S&P+ line: UAB -2.2
Vegas line: UAB -2.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these teams.
Last bowl game: NIU went to last year’s Quick Lane Bowl and lost 36-15 to Duke. UAB will go to a consecutive bowl for the first time in its history, though they’re likely hoping for a better result than last year’s 41-6 loss to Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl.
Announcers: Dave Lamont, Desmond Howard, and Jonathan Vilma

Wednesday, December 19
8:00: San Diego State vs. Ohio (Frisco Bowl @ Frisco, TX; ESPN): I hope you don’t like points, because there won’t be many in this game. I think the Aztecs are the better all-around team, but their offense is, well, it’s not good. I’m picking SDSU, but I also think it’ll be tight.
S&P+ line: SDSU -1
Vegas line: Ohio -2.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these teams.
Last bowl game: The Azetcs have a nifty nine-game bowl streak going. Back in 2010 they beat Navy 35-14 in the Poinsettia Bowl. Last year they faced Army and lost 42-35 in the Armed Forces Bowl. This should be Ohio’s tenth bowl game in a row, but they went 6-6 in 2014 and didn’t get invited, so instead this is their fourth. They lost 31-29 to Appalachian State in the 2015 Camellia Bowl, and beat UAB 41-6 in last year’s Bahamas Bowl.
Announcers: Kevin Brown and Andre Ware

Thursday, December 20
8:00: Marshall vs. South Florida (Gasparilla Bowl @ Tampa, FL; ESPN): The more I look at USF’s season, the less I understand it. Especially the part where they manhandled us (well, that and ran what seemed like 50 kicks back for scores) and started 7-0 with increasingly shaky results (like only beating a dreadful UConn team 38-30). USF’s record is now 7-5, where they weren’t even on UCF’s level in the second half that game. Just by talent, USF’s should win this game, and that win over Tech is why I’m picking them. But it’s hard to feel good about it.
S&P+ line: MU – 0.9
Vegas line: MU -2.5
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these teams.
Last bowl game: Marshall beat Colorado State in last year’s New Mexico Bowl 31-28. This is USF’s fourth straight bowl game, dating back to the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl, where they lost 45-35 to Western Kentucky. Last season they beat Texas Tech 38-34 in the Birmingham Bowl.
Announcers: Clay Matvick and Dan Orlovsky

Friday, December 21
12:30: Toledo vs. Florida International (Bahamas Bowl @ Nassau, Bahamas; ESPN): I haven’t watched either of these teams all year, so I don’t have any strong opinions on this one. Well, other than that I really think Toledo is going to win.
S&P+ line: Toledo -6.5
Vegas line: Toledo -5.5
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: Three. The two met in 2008 and 2009, and as well as the 2010 Little Ceasars Bowl. FIU won that game 34-32 and leads the all-time series 2-1.
Last bowl game: This should be the ninth game in a row for the Rockets, but they didn’t go bowling despite a 7-5 record in 2013. So, instead, their five bowl streak starts with a 63-44 win in the 2014/15 GoDaddy.com Bowl. They got blanked 34-0 by Appalachian State in last season’s Dollar General Bowl. FIU lost 28-3 to Temple in last year’s Gasparilla Bowl.
Announcers: Steve Levy and Desmond Howard

4:00: Brigham Young vs. Western Michigan (Potato Bowl @ Boise, ID; ESPN): WMU’s only two wins of the season over teams above 0.500 are Eastern Michigan (understandable) and Northern Illinois (less so). They also got shellacked by the early season Power 5 teams they played. BYU isn’t a power team, but they can at least kind of hang with Power 5 teams (and have that win at Wisconsin). The Stormin’ Mormons appear to just be a better team.
S&P+ line: BYU -9.4
Vegas line: BYU -11.5
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: Five, all from 1962-1970. WMU won 35-17 in their last meeting, but BYU leads all-time, 3-2.
Last bowl game: BYU’s 12-game bowl streak was broken by least year’s 4-9 record, so they’re starting anew. Their last bowl appearance was a 24-21 win over Wyoming in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl. For the Broncos, they didn’t go to a bowl game last season despite a 6-6 record, so their last bowl game was the 24-16 loss to Wisconsin the 2016/17 Cotton Bowl.
Announcers: Roy Philpott and Tom Ramsey

Saturday, December 22
12:00: Wake Forest vs. Memphis (Birmingham Bowl @ Birmingham, AL; ESPN): Thanks to the magic of ACC scheduling, Wake Forest is in our conference and we haven’t played them in years, and as a result I haven’t watched a lot of Wake recently. They seem pretty good, but not spectacular. The Tigers, though, whoo boy, when they can get the offense rolling, they can roll. The only real inexplicable loss on their schedule was a 40-24 loss to Tulane. Otherwise, they lost to Navy (limited possessions), Mizzou (just got outscored and couldn’t keep up), and UCF (twice, the first time nearly pulling of the upset and still scoring 41 the second time). So, yeah, I like the Tigers here.
S&P+ line: Memphis -12.1
Vegas line: Memphis -4.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: It’s tied 2-2 all-time, with “all-time” consisting of four games from 1964-1967. Memphis won that last contest 42-10.
Last bowl game: For the Demon Deacons, this is their third bowl game in a row going back to the 2016 Military Bowl, where they beat Temple 24-26. Last season they won an unexpectedly lit Belk Bowl over Texas A&M, 55-52. For Memphis, this is their fifth straight bowl game, dating to the 2014 Miami Beach Bowl which they won 55-48. (A game almost certainly more famous now for the fight that took place afterward, but it was a good game on its own, too!) They lost 21-20 in their own stadium to Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl last season.
Announcers: Dave Neal and DJ Shockley

3:30: Houston vs. Army (Armed Forces Bowl @ Fort Worth, TX; ESPN): About Army’s only hope here is that they essentially do the same thing they did to Oklahoma: limit possessions, hold on the ball, and hope for a lucky break. Well, that and the usual “more talented but unmotivated team” thing we sometimes see in bowl season. Generally speaking, I don’t bet on either of those things.
S&P+ line: UH -7.8
Vegas line: Army -2.5
Watchability tier: III
Previous meetings: Seven consecutive from Army’s ill-fated stint in Conference USA from 1998-2004. The Cougars won the last game 35-21 and lead the all-time series 5-2.
Last bowl game: For the Cougars, this is their sixth consecutive bowl. Their streak dates to the 2013/14 BBVA Compass Bowl, where they lost 41-24 to Vanderbilt. They lost last year’s Hawaii Bowl 33-27 to Fresno State. For Army, this is the first time in their history they have gone to three consecutive bowl games. They beat North Texas 38-31 in the 2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl, and then beat San Diego State 42-35 in last year’s edition of this game.
Announcers: Chris Cotter, Emmanuel Acho, and Jim Mora Jr.

7:00: Buffalo vs. Troy (Dollar General Bowl @ Mobile, AL; ESPN): Okay, so Troy didn’t beat LSU this year and they somehow lost to Liberty, but this still a good, exciting team. Myself, along with the rest of the college football internet universe, is completed baffled at how Neal Brown hasn’t gotten a bigger job yet despite building Troy into a consistent winner. I like them better than Buffalo, who took a 10-2 season into the MAC title game and blew it against Northern Illinois.
S&P+ line: Troy -1.2
Vegas line: UB -2.5
Watchability tier: II
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these teams.
Last bowl game: For the Bulls, this is their first bowl game appearance since the 2013 Potato Bowl, where they lost 49-24 to San Diego State. For Troy, this is their third consecutive bowl game, after 2016’s 28-23 win over Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl and last year’s 50-30 win over North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl.
Announcers: Anish Shroff and Ahmad Brooks

10:30: Hawaii vs. Louisiana Tech (Hawaii Bowl @ Honolulu, HI; ESPN): Well, it’s not on Christmas Eve this year thanks to the NFL, but the Hawaii Bowl is still basically Christmas Eve in my mind. And also, Santa will definitely be enjoying this one with some milk and cookies because boy howdy that’s a late bowl game kickoff. Anyway, you just about have to take Hawaii in the Hawaii bowl, don’t you? I certainly did.
S&P+ line: LTU -2.3
Vegas line: EVEN
Watchability tier: I
Previous meetings: Back in the WAC (2003-2011), these teams met seven times, with an additional meeting in 2000 for good measure. Hawaii won the last matchup 44-26 and leads 8-2 all-time.
Last bowl game: Hawaii last bowled in the 2016 edition of this game, where they beat Middle Tennessee State 52-35. For the Bulldogs, they have now gone to five consecutive bowls, dating back to the 2014 Heart of Dallas Bowl, where they defeated Illinois 35-18. Last season they defeated SMU 51-10 in the Frisco Bowl.
Announcers: Beth Mowins and Kirk Morrison

This Weekend in College Football: Week 15

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Noon: Colgate @ North Dakota State (NCAA Division I Quarterfinal; ESPN): I like to at least mention the FCS playoffs in these posts, but I don’t have enough background for the FCS schools to really say anything definitive.

3:00: Navy vs. Army (@Philadelphia, PA; CBS): Obviously, you should watch this, but this is as big of an advantage for West Point as I can ever recall. This Navy team has struggled this season, and while the circumstances of this game ensure they’ll at least be there, I can’t see their defense stopping Army. Again, the Cadets are as big of favorites as I can ever recall.

Bowl Predictions 2018: Final

And here they are, my final bowl projections.

I don’t have a lot of energy to really do a full write-up, but I’ll give it a stab.

  • There’s not a lot of changes from last week, but I was able to confirm a few more things and get a better idea on some others.
  • I am assuming that Oklahoma will be the #4 seed in the playoffs.
  • Otherwise, I am here for a West Virginia-Washington State Alamo Bowl. It won’t snow in the Alamodome, that’s for sure.
  • As a reminder, due to ESPN’s influence over several game, there can (and likely will) be bizarre, unpredictable results. I have listed all of these games on the bottom of the page, but so far the only way I’ve used them is to predict where BYU is going to go.

At any rate, this will all be moot soon. From there, it’ll be all about figuring out how the actual matchups will go.

This Weekend in College Football: Week 14

Naturally, I have to try to follow up my 5000 word… thing and write a normal post. It’s also really late and I have to be at work tomorrow. Here goes!

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Friday

7:00: Northern Illinois vs. Buffalo (Mid-American Conference Championship @ Detroit, MI; ESPN2): I’m just going to assume the Bulls got this. You got this, right Bulls?

8:00: Washington vs. Utah (Pac-12 Championship @ Santa Clara, CA; FOX): I wonder if I could just, like, show up at Levi’s tomorrow and they’d let me in. I’m pretty sure the Pac-12 could use the help. Whereas it would’ve at least been fun if Wazzu could make it here, this is just, well, it’s a thing that definitely shows off the Pac-12 can play defense, too. UDub should be able to out-athlete the Utes, as long as Jake Browning keeps them in the game, at least.

Saturday

Noon:

  • Oklahoma vs. Texas (Big 12 Championship @ Arlington, TX; ABC): Second verse, same the first? Nah, probably not. And for the sake of wanting an interesting team in the playoff, I really, really hope not.
  • Louisiana-Lafayette @ Appalachian State (Sun Belt Conference Championship; ESPN): It’s the Fun Belt title game and I’m taking App State the whole way. Next up: make up game lightning round!
  • East Carolina @ North Carolina State (ACCE): NCSU
  • Marshall @ Virginia Tech (ACCE): VPI
  • Akron @ South Carolina (SECA): USC

1:30: Alabama-Birmingham @ Middle Tennessee State (Conference USA Championship; CBSS): So here’s a situation where UAB actually kinda got waxed against MTSU last weekend. But hey, the Blazers turned it over a couple of times and got sacked a bunch, so… I’ll ignore my own advice from the Big 12 game above and say Go Blazers!

3:00: Stanford @ California (“The Big Game”; Pac12): By far the more interesting of the two Pac-12 games this weekend, it’ll probably be kind of a mess up in Berkeley due to the rain. Which, well, if we’re running and sliding everywhere, let’s face it, that probably favors Stanford.

3:30: Memphis @ Central Florida (American Conference Championship; ABC): UCF should be good enough without Milton that they’ll win anyway, but nonetheless… would they be the G5 pick even with a loss? Hopefully we don’t have to find out.

4:00: Georgia vs. Alabama (Southeastern Conference Championship; CBS): Bama. Because the last thing I need right now is a Georgia upset that all but guarantees that they both make the freakin’ playoff.

7:45: Fresno State @ Boise State (Mountain West Conference Championship; ESPN): This should actually be pretty fun, but considering the probably conditions (Boise in the first weekend of December) I’m going with the hometown Broncos.

8:00:

  • Northwestern vs. Ohio State (Big Ten Conference Championship @ Indianapolis, IN; FOX): Well, maybe keep an eye on that Mountain West title game because boy howdy these primetime games look bleak. After Ohio State did… whatever they did Michigan last week, they have to be prohibitive favorites here. And they are.
  • Clemson vs. Pittsburgh (Atlantic Coast Conference Championship @ Charlotte, NC; ABC): Clemson is our best chance for something interesting to happen in the playoff if Oklahoma doesn’t get in. They have to win. They just have to.

The End of an Era

This column as been edited, but there’s still going to be spelling and grammar mistakes. My apologies.

On Tuesday, Georgia Tech announced that Paul Johnson would “step down” as head football coach after the bowl game.

I don’t do posts like this around the site. I was about to say “anymore”, but let’s face it, I rarely post anything outside of college football bowl games and TV schedules and the occasional World Cup Update. But I think it’s worth doing a bit of retrospective on my own personal memories of the Paul Johnson era at Georgia Tech.

I matriculated at Georgia Tech in August 2003. My entire educational career before then took place in Alabama. I learned about the Iron Bowl at about the same time I was being taught how to write in cursive. My parents are both from out-of-state, so having no native rooting interest I’m pretty sure I picked Auburn because of my third grade teacher. By the time I reached high school, I’d developed an interest in college football, as evidenced by my bowl predictions stretching all the way back to 1999. (“all 23 bowls” how quaint!) However, college football didn’t have much of an influence on my choice of colleges. Georgia Tech was my first choice due to having strong academic rankings and being about the right distance from home (not too close, but still drivable). That Tech plays major college football didn’t hurt, of course.

On Thursday, August 28, 2003 I visited Bobby Dodd Stadium for the first time. As part of the Freshman Experience program at Tech, my freshman dorm RA tried to convince us all to go down to the stadium to watch our season opener against BYU on the big screen. I’m reasonable sure I was the only one to go, whereupon we watched a dispiriting 24-13 loss. Not a strong start! Naturally, the first home game changed everything. Highly ranked in the pre-season but coming off a shutout at the hands of USC, Auburn rolled into the Flats looking to right the ship. Instead, we won 17-3. My first home game rapidly turned into the first (and only) time I’d ever rushed the field. The goal posts came down. Reggie Ball, then a sensational freshman quarterback, was carried off the field. I distinctly remember someone wheeling welding equipment out of the front one of the frat houses on Techwood Drive as the the goal posts were carried down out the stadium and down the road.

Well, it turned out that Auburn team wasn’t really very good (they wound up going 8-5), but it was still a pretty fitting metaphor for the team of my youth being discarded and fully embracing the team of my alma mater. I estimate I only missed two home games in my 3.5 years at the Institute. I watched as the sensational freshman QB turned into possibly the worst four year starter in the history of college football. (Keep in mind that he had Calvin Johnson to throw to for the last three years, too.)

The results over those years had a certain bizarre similarity. For starters, there’d always be one upset that made us think “this is it! we’re relevant again!” In 2003, that was the win over Auburn or the 7-3 win over a Maryland team that went 10-3. In 2004, that was an early season win over Clemson. In 2005, it was a season opening win over Auburn (which featured my personal favorite Calvin Johnson catch) and a late season win over Miami. In 2006, it was going 7-1 in conference. In 2007, it was… well, yeah. Then, the tables would be turned, and you’d come back to Earth. In 2003, that was losing 41-17 to Duke the week after that Maryland game. In 2004, losing two games after beating Clemson. In 2005, that was losing again in Charlottesville and getting blown out by Virginia Tech. In 2006, it was having a 5 game winning streak snapped by a 31-7 loss to a mediocre Clemson team. (Not to mention the 9-6 loss to Wake in the ACC championship, ugh.) Finally, there was the usual, dispiriting loss to Georgia that was always somehow close enough to inspire hope but still ultimately a loss.

Suffice it to say, the usual result was somewhere around 7 wins and 5 losses. The college football internet took to calling it the “Chan Gailey Equilibrium”. After one last 7-5 in 2007, the plug was pulled. A coaching search ensued. I honestly don’t remember my feelings at the time, but the first article to appear on the site that mentioned Paul Johnson was entitled “Paul Johnson Passes Out the Burnsauce“, so I think I was on-board by the time April of 2008 rolled around. By the end of 2008, the bandwagon would start to look a bit crowded. The momentum built as Tech was 6-2 heading into the Florida State game that season. After FSU had joined the ACC in 1992, Tech had failed to beat them even once. After 2003, the ACC split into divisions, and so the 2008 game was the first meeting between the two since then. The result was one of the luckiest things I’ve ever seen on a football field, as I wrote at the time. I also was able to strike out one of Tech’s major football hexes, thanks to a play that would become known as “The Miracle on North Avenue“.  However, the real announcement to the world was Tech’s 48-23 beatdown of Miami on Thursday night on a 472 yard rushing performance.

It turned out that presaged what would be, for several years, my favorite Georgia Tech win ever. The next week, Tech would defeat a 10-2 Georgia team 45-42, in Athens. It was Tech’s first win against Georgia since 2000, and the first one I’d witnessed since becoming a fan of the Jackets. The Georgia Tech corners of the Internet were literally abuzz. I hosted a private server with video footage of the entire game that someone had captured. I even uploaded highlights of the pivotal third quarter to YouTube.

The mood around the program was the highest I’d ever seen it. Tech even managed to get a rare bid to its hometown bowl game, the Peach Bowl. Hey, we’d already flummoxed two SEC opponents, why not another? (We had beat Miss State 38-7 earlier in the season. With that and a win over FCS Gardner-Webb, Tech was 3-0 against teams nicknamed “Bulldogs” as well.) Well, Paul Johnson said at some point that “physical superiority cancels all theories”, and that was demonstrated aptly in the 38-3 rout by LSU. Presaging perhaps the best strategy against the triple option was simply to just live in our backfield. This was usually pointed out as some sort of unique flaw to the system, even though I’m pretty sure any offense struggles when you can’t block the other guys. Now, if you wanted to say it was a flaw in the type of guys Tech could recruit, then that’d be more fair. Nonetheless, Tech went 9-4 on the year. I cannot imagine that anyone saw that coming.

The 2009 season started off with a win over Clemson on an early Thursday night, but then a loss to Miami a week later. With three conference games in September, the succeeding matchup against UNC was vitally important. Tech made a statement, winning 24-7. After winning their first ever game in the state of Mississippi against Miss State, Tech proceeding to completely cross-off the Florida State hex by winning a track meet in Tallahassee. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention we also took care of that pesky Charlottesville losing streak, too. In fact, after the Miami loss, Tech kept rolling, winning eight in a row en route to the ACC Coastal title. Tech was 10-1, facing a 7-5 Georgia team. At home. For one of the very few times since Tech left the SEC in the 60’s, Georgia Tech was a favorite against Georgia.

It was probably the most painful loss I can remember. We were favored. You may think that’s hard to imagine now, but it was a pretty hard thing to imagine even then. To add insult to injury, Georgia actually out-rushed us, 339 yards to 205 yards. It sucked. (The previous sentence may be an understatement.) But regardless, before the game my brother and I had made plans. I had booked plane tickets. That’s right, I was flying to Tampa, Florida. On purpose.

On the first weekend of December 2009, I took a redeye to Tampa. The reason why I was in Tampa requires some explanation, because I feel like just saying “that’s where the ACC championship game was” is too simple. When the conference initially expanded to 12 teams, one of the teams they added was Miami. This was the early 2000’s, and the assumption was essentially that Florida State and Miami would dominate the conference for the foreseeable future. (This wasn’t entirely off-base, seeing as how at that point FSU had won or split every conference title since they’d joined the conference.) So, the first several ACC Championship Games were held at venues in Florida, far away from the rest of the conference, but close to the presumed perennial champs.

Naturally, Florida State and Miami have played each other in exactly zero ACC Championship Games. (In fact, Miami has only won the Coastal once.) And so it was that Clemson and Georgia Tech would face a rematch of their early-September game in sunny, warm Tampa, Florida. Because, hey, if the local teams aren’t going to be in the game, at least the weather is nice down there, right? NOPE. It was cloudy all day, with temperature at kickoff in the low-50’s and a pretty good breeze making seem colder than it was. Adding insult to injury, no one in Tampa seemed to know there was a football game, with us getting puzzled looks throughout most of the day for wearing our Georgia Tech gear. The game couldn’t move to Charlotte fast enough.

The game turned out to be a bit of a track meet. Tech, however, kicked a 28 yard field goal at the end of the first half to go in with a 16-13 lead. Despite the slim lead, CJ Spiller and Clemson were running amok. Nonetheless, Tech continued to lead throughout the third quarter. When Joshua Nesbitt completed a 70 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, the game seemed like it was a over. Tech would end the quarter up 33-20. However, in the fourth quarter Andre Ellington and CJ Spiller would go to work. Clemson drove down the field and in short order got back to 33-27. Tech then would start driving, but would stall out and turn the ball over on downs at the Clemson 37. There was 8:35 left in the game, and all it took was a 54 yard CJ Spiller run and three more plays for Clemson to take a 34-33 lead.

Tech started their drive at their own 14 and quickly ran into trouble. With 4:50 left in the game, Tech went for it on 4th and short from their own 25. An risky decision, for sure, but possibly my favorite quality about Paul Johnson was that he was always playing to win. Nesbitt ran to the empty space on the defensive line and got it. ESPN’s cameras kept showing kicker Scott Blair on the sidelines as Tech drive and the clock drained. Clemson used their last timeout to stop the clock at 1:25 and Tech on their 15 yard line. Dwyer received the handoff, cut outside, broke a tackle, and scored. 39-34, Tech. I turned to my brother, noted the 1:20 left on the clock, and said “too much time”. Tech went for two. It was close, and ruled good on the field, but mysteriously overturned on replay.

Clemson wound up with good field position on a short kick, but they couldn’t get a first down. Tech kneeled it out for their first ever non-shared ACC title. The NCAA will tell you that game and the Georgia game that year didn’t count, but the gut punch I felt after that UGA game and the oranges I saw Tech’s players toss into the crowd in Tampa sure as hell felt real to me. And the worst experience I’ve ever had at an IHOP also felt extremely real. Nonetheless, Tech was set to play in their first major bowl game since 1966, facing Iowa in the Orange Bowl. The Iowa game went moderately better than the Peach Bowl did the year before, but not by much, facing the same issues. Regardless, Tech football was at its highest point since they were national title contenders back in the 50’s.

They would enter the 2010 season ranked. However, it turned out that 2009 had more in common with the outlier 1990 than that bygone era. The loss of defensive stars Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett was worse than anticipated and the season turned out to be a struggle, with an early loss at Kansas. Tech was 5-2 entering the Clemson game, where the Tigers snapped their 4 game losing streak to us, and then things went from bad to worse when Nesbitt broke his arm in the Virginia Tech game. 6-5 Tech then suffered a loss to 5-6 Georgia, a game which wound hinging on a missed PAT that led to a sequence where Tech intentionally let Georgia score to get the ball back and UGA won 42-34. A disappointing, dispirited 14-7 loss to Air Force in the Independence Bowl capped off the season.

Suffice it to say, the 2010 season wound up being a sobering remember that we were still Georgia Tech after all. So, naturally, the team ran out to a 6-0 start to the season. The third game may be the most famous, though. Paul Johnson definitely remembers things, and boy howdy did he let the Kansas Jayhawks know it. In the 66-24 rout, Orwin Smith took Tech’s first offensive snap of the game 95 yards for a touchdown, but the game was still somewhat in doubt at the half as Tech led 24-17. Here were Tech’s next three scoring plays, though: 63 yard touchdown run, 67 yard pass to Orwin Smith, and a 52 yard run by Roddy Jones. In a little more than 8 minutes of game time, it was 45-17. There are valid criticisms of Paul Johnson’s offense. The inability to score quickly, though, is not one of them.

Regardless, the excitement was back and Tech rose to 12th in the country. However, all but the most gold-colored observers knew that the 6-0 record was not built on the backs of really quality opponents. Discounting the win over FCS Western Carolina to start the season, their first five FBS opponents would wins up with a combined 6-41 record. Perhaps caught looking ahead to a three game stretch that would feature Miami, Clemson, and VPI, Tech lost 24-21 to Virginia, dropped the next contest to Miami, threw in a win over #5 Clemson, but then lost to VPI. Another loss to Georgia meant a trip to the Sun Bowl and an OT loss to Utah.

The storm clouds were on the horizon, and the 2012 season for the most part did nothing to quell them. However, the last two games of the season would become memorable for entirely different reasons. Entering the ACC title game on a technicality and with a 6-6 record, Tech gave Florida State all the much more well regarded Noles could’ve possibly anticipated, but it still wasn’t enough and the Jackets lost 21-15. Some NCAA maneuvering later to ensure a trip to a bowl game despite a 6-7 record meant another trip to the Sun Bowl, but this time the dispirited and disinterested team was Lane Kiffin’s USC Trojans. Indeed, most of the press even before the game focused on how it seemed like Tech enjoyed most of the pregame festivities, with one of the better photos being of a smiling (!), dancing (!!) Paul Johnson and a disinterested Kiffin.The 2013 season didn’t project to be anything special, and indeed it wasn’t, though it did feature another cratering of a team, a 56-0 rout of Syracuse. However, once again the most memorable game of the season was a loss, one that possible rivals the 2010 loss to Georgia. This was a double-overtime, home loss in a game where Tech led 20-0 in the second quarter. Nonetheless, I decided to go the bowl game, since it was the Music City Bowl in Nashville, an easy drive up from my hometown. My Dad and ventured up for a game that turned out to be… not much. Tech got within a score near the end, but a safety snuffed out the last hope. I then made an ill-advised choice to head to a Buffalo Wild Wings in Franklin afterward, thinking it’d at least be quick. It wasn’t. (One of these days, I’ll remember not to go out to eat after a Tech game.)

After two mediocre seasons, the offense wasn’t the problem, and I didn’t consider it solved. I still support Paul Johnson, even now. But the Internet discontent started to grow. Naturally, one of the three best seasons in modern Georgia Tech history happened next.

It started off innocuously enough, 5-0 with wins over Virginia Tech and Miami. And then the wheels came off, with consecutive loses to Duke and UNC. “But wait”, you say, “you’re saying one of ‘three best seasons in modern Georgia Tech history’ featured losses to both Carolina and Duke? In football?” Yes, yes I am. All it took was a little bit of luck. Or a lot a bit of luck, in a game that if 30-for-30 did shorts would feature the announcer stating “What if I told you… that a major college football team could lose fumbles on five consecutive possessions to start a game?” The Pitt game sparked Tech, getting them to 8-2 and keeping them in the Coastal race, but needing an upset of Clemson in their last conference game. Dashaun Watson went down with a knee injury in the first quarter, and the without him the Tiger offense had no chance. Tech climbed to 9-2, clinched the Coastal, and rose to #16 in the rankings.

They were still underdogs against #9 Georgia in Athens. If Tech won, it assured them of at least another trip to the Orange Bowl, if not an outside shot at the new playoff. The game was tight, with a 7-7 halftime score. The game was tense and full of untimely turnovers for both teams. The worst of all for Tech came after going up 21-17. Paul Johnson elected to direct Harrison Butker to kick short, and Lawrence Austin ran under it and recovered it. Tech was set to go up two scores. Justin Thomas pump faked and the ball slipped out of his hand. (I still don’t understand how it wasn’t a forward pass, but whatever.) Georgia promptly drove 70 yards for the go ahead touchdown. Tech returned the kickoff to their own 43 with 13 seconds left.

It looked pretty hopeless. Justin Thomas scrambled out-of-bounds at the Georgia 36. In this moment, Paul Johnson obviously knew something about this Harrison Butker kid that most of us didn’t. I assumed we would attempt a Hail Mary, but on came Butker for a 53 yard kick, 4 yards beyond his career long at the time. He calmly stepped back and kicked the hell out of it, and it cleared the crossbar by just enough, such that it hit on top of the support that holds the posts up. 24-24. Overtime, for the second year in a row.

This time, we didn’t suffer two excruciating overtimes, just one. Zach Laskey plowed in the fifth play, but the drama wasn’t over: Butker’s PAT was blocked. Tech, suffice it to say, would be unlikely to turn that trick if they couldn’t keep UGA out of the end zone. And in short order, UGA was at the Tech nine-yard line and knocking. But Huston Mason didn’t see D.J. White baiting him into the quick slant. Interception. Game. Maybe it’s because we lost, but I find it kind of funny the next game tends to be forgotten. But for the most part, it was a hell of a game. Tech entered the 2014 ACC Championship 10-3 and #11 in the country, against a 12-0 Florida State team that was #4 and was led by Jamesis Winston. Unfortunately, after tying it at 28 in the third quarter, FSU kicked three field goals to pull ahead and Tech didn’t recover until it was too late. However, with the Noles in the inaugural playoff, Tech earned a berth in the Orange Bowl to play Dak Prescott and Mississippi State.

The main thing I remember about that Orange Bowl is watching it with my family and then sometime in the third quarter realizing that… this game is kind of a rout. Sure, it was 21-20 at the half, but Tech scored two plays into the second half and didn’t look back. Dak threw for 453 yards, but Tech’s 452 yards rushing (and 125 passing for Justin Thomas, not too shabby) proved superior on the night. By the time Miss State scored again to start the third quarter, it was 42-27 Tech and the game was out-of-reach. So when I said that 2014 team was one of the three best in modern Tech history, the ones I’m comparing it against are the 2009 team and the 1990 team. 1990 was the best, obviously. But 2009 and 2014 have their own qualities. 2009 featured two wins against Clemson and Tech’s first (and only) outright ACC title. But I’m inclined to take the 2014 team over them. They didn’t win the conference, but they did beat Georgia and won the Orange Bowl. (An honorable, non-Paul Johnson coached mention goes to the 1999 team, when Joe Hamilton probably should’ve won the Heisman.)

One thing the 2014 team had in common with the 2009 team was cratering the season afterward. And boy howdy, did they. Tech entered the season ranked and looked to be rolling again after routing Alcorn State and Tulane. (The former is one of the only two Tech home games I’ve been to since I graduated. The other one would also happen in 2015.) An early season 30-22 loss in South Bend, combined with a ton of injuries, put Tech in a spiral from which it would not recover. With one exception.On October 24th, 2015, the #9 Florida State Seminoles would play at Bobby Dodd Stadium for the first time since the 2008 “Miracle on North Avenue”. Tech was already 2-5 and reeling, but the game started the way a lot of weird upsets do: tight. Roberto Aguayo would extend FSU’s lead going into the half to go up 16-10. No one knew it at the time, but it’d be the last time FSU scored. Tech’s offense still couldn’t get much going in the second half, but they did intercept Everett Golson in the end zone and Harrison Butker proved himself superior to the Lou Groza award winner and got Tech tied on a pair of field goals. (The reader would be wise to note which of these kickers still has a job in the NFL, as well.)

After Butker tied it, 0:54 showed on the clock. FSU started at their own 25, but Tech’s defense finally looked like it was done. FSU drove all the way to the Georgia Tech 38. Jimbo Fisher elected to since his Groza winner out to attempt the kick. The 56-yard attempt was blocked and rolled harmlessly to the 22 yard line. Ignoring the advice of basically everyone on the Tech sideline, Lance Austin picked it up. And he ran. He ran 78 yards, all the way to the north end zone. Alone in my living room, I jumped probably the highest I’ve ever jumped since that time a freshman named Calvin Johnson caught a pass at Clemson. It was the “Miracle on Techwood“. (Presumably, the “Miracle on Bobby Dodd Way” is waiting for whenever we play FSU at home again, which my guess will be in approximately 2028.)

Nonetheless, the 2015 season ended with a whimper and the end of Tech’s long bowl streak. But continuing the whiplash, the 2016 season was a lot of fun. I’m convinced that Justin Thomas was the best QB Paul Johnson ever had, and he was instrumental. The 2016 season didn’t seem that great at first, with a 3-3 start and losses to Clemson (now the fully formed powerhouse we’ve come to know and love) and Miami, and Pitt perhaps still mad about that “five fumbles’ thing. But in echoes of 2010, Justin Thomas missed most of the Virginia Tech game, but this time the correct Tech prevailed. Making do with backup Matthew Jordan, Paul Johnson stripped the offense down to its essential components. Dives, QB runs, and toss sweeps ground the Hokies into submission with 309 yards of rushing, and Tech won 30-20. After dispensing with Virginia, it was time, once again, for Georgia.

The Kirby Smart battlestation that we hate and loathe was not yet at this point fully operational. In his first season, he sought experienced coaches (such as Brian Van Gorder) to assist him against the option. For a good portion of the game, it seamed to work. Tech would only gain 226 yards rushing on the game, and the halftime score was 14-14, which UGA extended to 27-14 in the 3rd quarter. However, in the fourth quarter Tech forced UGA to go three-and-out from midfield and the Jackets drove, thanks to some long pass plays to Brad Stewart and Qua Searcy. Tech closed it to 27-21. Then Jacob Eason proceeded have a moment that caused him to say this after the game: “The only thing you’re going to remember for the rest of your life is that you threw a pick and lost to Tech, so everything else is meaningless.” UGA just needed a couple first downs to clinch the game, but instead one of his passes glanced off his own guy and Lance Austin caught it. Game on at the Georgia 46. Tech proceeded to drive, but stalled once they got first and goal at the 6. Tech used a timeout on third and goal, and the next play began with a toss to Qua Searcy. He looked back at Justin Thomas, but UGA detected the trick play and covered Thomas. However, this left enough room in the middle of the field for Searcy to leap from the four yard line. He held on to the ball just long enough to break the plane, and Harrison Butker wouldn’t get his crucial PAT blocked this time. 28-27, Tech. And yeah, I saved that copy of the sports section. According to the Internet, it might be the last time we ever beat them. (Hah.) A perfunctory beatdown of Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl capped off a return to form for the Jackets.

Alas and alack, that means we have to talk about 2017. Sure it wasn’t as bad as 2015, but it started off exponentially more painful. As usual, I spent the first weekend of the college football season in Seattle at PAX. A buddy of mine with family in the area was there as well, so his uncle was gracious enough to record the opening game against Tennessee so I could watch it later. For hours, I cut myself off the Internet (fortunately, college football discussion is not exactly rampant at a video game convention) as we headed up there and had dinner. I likely began watching the recording around the end of regulation.

Missing stars like Justin Thomas and Harrison Butker, I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out, neither did Tennessee. New quarterback TaQuon Marshall racked up 249 yards and threw for another 120 for good measure. The Internet joked about “0-1 and undefeated Georgia Tech” afterward because the box score would indicate a rout. Tech racked up 655 yards of offense to the Vols’ 369 and held the ball for 41 minutes. The game came down to three plays. After going up 28-14 in the fourth quarter, Tech didn’t score again in regulation. Two drives later, up 28-21 Tech ran the ball to the Tennessee 7 and fumbled. But at least Tennessee has terrible field position, right? Nah, the Vols made it look easy and tied the game with 1:29 left. Tech drove and got to the Tennessee 19 yard line, but unfortunately Harrison Butker was not walking through that door. Shawn Davis missed the 36 yard field goal that would have won the game, and it went to overtime.

I only saw the first overtime. Tech scored in good order, and so did Tennessee. In Paul Johnson fashion, we went for the win, and didn’t get it. The season wasn’t done dealing gut punches after that. After having a game against eventual national champions UCF cancelled, Tech rolled into then undefeated Miami with a little bit of moment after three straight wins. After going up 24-13, Tech’s bend-but-don’t-break defense almost got away with it. Driving from their own 8 yard line, Miami’s last chance drive stalled at the Tech 43 yard line. On 4th and 10, the pass hit the defender in the helmet, and somehow the Miami receiver caught the tip. Miami hit the 24 yard field goal and won, 25-24. Tech did beat Wake after that, and got another nifty win over VPI, but the season was lost.

And, finally, this season. I think I can understand why Paul Johnson decided it was a good time to hang ’em up. It looked like we were going nowhere fast after a 1-3 start. TaQuon wasn’t quite living up to the promise he showed in that Tennessee game. Hesitant on his reads and otherwise looking a step slow thanks to injury, Tobias Oliver started seeing playing time. The new defense also looked, well, we got more turnovers, but otherwise it still mostly involves hanging for dear life. But that said, it got better. The 1-3 start turned into a nifty little 7-5 season, with a beatdown of Brian Van Gorder and the hapless Louisville Cardinals and yet another win over Virginia Tech (that’s three in a row!).

But when I say I can understand, this was going to be another transitional period again for the Jackets. That new defense still needs a ton of work, and the quarterback situation is unsettled. The offense still works, but Clemson and Georgia are national powers now at least least for the near term future. I would have fully supported him coming back again next season, though.

I’ve been a fan of Georgia Tech under two very, very different head coaches. Tech under Paul Johnson had lower lows than Gailey, yes. But the highs were so, so much higher. Gailey effectively squandered the greatest player to ever set foot on the Flats. Under a “high school offense”, Tech won the conference, played for the conference three more times besides, beat Georgia three times, and went to the Orange Bowl twice. That’s a damn good resume.

His successor will face a lot of challenges. People say we should temper our expectations to transfer to a more conventional offense. I agree with what Paul Johnson had to say about that, though, which effectively, “it’s not like these guys have only been doing this since fifth grade”. Case in point: he took Chan Gailey’s group of kids and won as many games as Gailey did in his best season in first. Oh, and he beat Georgia.

Even when it looked hopeless against Georgia last Saturday, he was going for it whenever it was remotely reasonable. To the annoyance of my Dad, Marshall was throwing the ball in garbage time. Why? Maybe he knew that was going to be it. But really, it always fit with his general ethos: we are here to try to win the game. I think that ethos is at least partly why his players love him, which is something I’ve heard people who know what they’re talking about say repeatedly.

I hope the Internet is wrong and we don’t go the boring NFL retread route, even if he is an alum. We are not going to out-Clemson Clemson or out-Georgia Georgia, and we sure as hell aren’t going to be doing it by hiring guys that haven’t coached in college in twenty years. (And weren’t even that successful as NFL head coaches, besides.) I want someone to come in that doesn’t give a crap what you think he should be doing. I want someone to come in and recruit the hell out of not just Atlanta but the whole country. I want someone to come up and keep lighting it up on the offensive side of the ball. I want someone that will always keep it interesting.

If it sounds like I mostly want Paul Johnson with better recruiting and maybe a better defense… well, that’s probably about right.