Georgia Tech running back Zach Laskey is one of the Yellow Jackets' top returning players. (Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports / August 31, 2013)
The Orlando Sentinel’s college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 55: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Coach: Paul Johnson (48-32, entering seventh season; 155-71 overall)
2013 record: 7-6 (5-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference, second in Coastal Division)
Look back: Georgia Tech was stuck in neutral last year, winning seven games for the second consecutive season. The Yellow Jackets had all the talent necessary to win the Coastal Division but were plagued by inconsistency on both sides of the ball.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Georgia Tech showed vast improvement, allowing just 22.8 points per game. However, the Yellow Jackets surrendered an average of 36.8 points in their six losses.
The offense was equally unpredictable. Quarterback Vad Lee was expected to be the perfect fit for Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, but he struggled to find consistency as a passer and transferred after one year as a starter.
As a result, Georgia Tech’s seasons was largely defined by streaks. The Yellow Jackets had two three-game winning streaks and a three-game losing streak that included critical losses to divisional foes Miami and Virginia Tech.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 5
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: QB Vad Lee, RB David Sims, RB Robert Godhigh, OL Will Jackson, OL Jay Finch, DL Jeremiah Attaochu, DB Jemea Thomas, LB Brandon Watts, DB Louis Young
Top returnees: OL Shaquille Mason, RB Zach Laskey, WR DeAndre Smelter, LB Quayshawn Nealy, NT Adam Gotsis, LB Tyler Marcordes, DB Chris Milton, DB D.J. White
Strengths: As usual, Georgia Tech figures to field one of the most productive rushing attacks in the country. Justin Thomas looked good while spelling Lee last year, accumulating 234 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. He may be the most athletic quarterback that Johnson has had while at Georgia Tech.
Zach Laskey is a punishing runner and will be thrust into the starting fullback role. Like Thomas, he looked promising when handed the ball last year, rushing for 485 yards and seven touchdowns on 84 carries.
The defense loses All-American defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu and five other starters, but it should be solid, especially along its back seven. Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and nose tackle Adam Gotsis wreak havoc in the middle of the field. The secondary struggled at times last year but will be bolstered by the return of injured starters Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden.
Weaknesses: The Yellow Jackets would feel a lot better about their ability to consistently thrash opponents on the ground if their offensive line was experienced. Three starters along that front are gone. Entering last season, the group had 105 career starts.
Now the Yellow Jackets have linemen with just 45 career starts.
Georgia Tech’s defense loses some key players, namely Jeremiah Attaochu (12.5 sacks) and defensive back Jemea Thomas (88 tackles, 3 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions). The real concern, though, is along the defensive line, where no battle-tested players will line up next to NT Adam Gotsis.