Jackets look for strong start in division

After just two games, Georgia Tech is looking good. Really good.

It just can’t afford to fall behind now against better competition.

The importance of a strong start in September is not lost on Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team began last season with a 2-4 record, including just one win against an ACC team. September ended with a thud, as the Jackets were on the outside of the Coastal Division race looking in after losses to Virginia Tech and Miami.

This year, with four consecutive Coastal Division opponents in the first six weeks, Georgia Tech has a chance not only to improve upon last year but separate quickly from the rest of the division. The Yellow Jackets already are ahead of the game with a win over Duke, but the competition gets tougher this weekend with North Carolina. While it’s still early, it’s also an important week for the Coastal Division race, as Duke hosts Pitt, and both teams are looking for their first conference win.

All eyes on are Georgia Tech, though, to see if the Yellow Jackets can take the next step in their season-defining stretch. A win on Saturday would give the team some much-needed momentum heading into next Thursday’s nationally televised game against Virginia Tech -- all on a five-day turnaround.

"We are going to either dig ourselves quite a hole in September, or we are going to be in pretty good shape,” Johnson said. “That's just kind of the way it is. So we got by the first one. Got a big one at home this week, then we'll go from there. So if we can have a good start, certainly it puts us in a good position, rather than trying to dig out of a hole like we were last year.”

Despite its 2-0 start, Georgia Tech is still looking for a statement win. Miami has that. With its win over Florida two weeks ago, Miami could be the team to beat in the division, but we’ll learn little about the Canes this week, as they will face an overmatched FCS team in Savannah State. Despite Miami’s marquee win, no team in the division appears to be a runaway favorite. Coach Al Golden has said repeatedly that his team has problems. “There's innumerable things that we're trying to fix right now that nobody is aware that they're even issues yet,” he said, “and we're trying to get them fixed before they get exposed.”

Fortunately for Golden, the Canes still have two more in-state tune-up games before hosting Georgia Tech on Oct. 5. Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech have yet to play a conference game. The Georgia Tech-North Carolina game will finally answer which program should be ranked higher, as they’ve both got high-scoring offenses and talented quarterbacks that have overshadowed their defenses. Georgia Tech has looked like the more complete team, but UNC has played a tougher opponent in South Carolina.

While the Duke-Pitt game has been overshadowed by UNC-Georgia Tech, don’t underestimate the importance of it. Duke is trying to avoid an 0-2 start in the ACC race, while Pitt is looking for its first league win as a member of the ACC.

“This is obviously a huge game for us, being that it's the second Coastal Division game for us in a row,” coach David Cutcliffe said, “and losing the first one puts you in a circumstance where this is an incredibly big game for us.”

A circumstance Georgia Tech hasn’t forgotten.