GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS
Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga., Nov. 24
Coach: Paul Johnson, 43-22 in four seasons at Georgia Tech (141-58 overall).
Last year: 8-5 (5-3 ACC), finished third in the Coastal Division; lost to Utah in overtime, 30-27, in the Sun Bowl.
Best win: A dominating 31-17 win over Clemson, the eventual ACC champions.
Worst loss: A lifeless 24-7 loss at Miami, who finished the season 6-6.
Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, six defense, two special teams).
Stock watch for 2012: Steady, perhaps down a little. The Jackets get most of their critical pieces back on offense, including last year's top three rushers (one of whom is quarterback Tevin Washington). Against the better defenses on their schedule, though, Paul Johnson's Tech teams have needed a game-breaking receiver to really give the offense an edge, and they don't appear to have that this year. On defense, the transition to Al Groh's 3-4 system still hasn't quite fallen into place, and it won't get any easier with last year's leading tackler, linebacker Julian Burnett, unlikely to play this season thanks to a neck injury sustained in the bowl game. In addition, the defensive line loses both Jason Peters and Logan Walls (though T.J. Barnes has the size, at least, to fill Walls' shoes at the all-important nose tackle spot).
Best-case scenario (from the Dawgs' perspective): Having gotten a sample of the Paul Johnson-style triple-option against Georgia Southern the previous week, the Dawgs show up fully prepared on defense, holding the Jackets under 250 rushing yards for the second straight year. Meanwhile, Aaron Murray, who fired off four TD passes against Tech in Atlanta last year, picks up right where he left off, while Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley victimize a Jacket rush defense that finished 66th in the nation in 2011.
Worst-case scenario: Tech's running game once again catches the Georgia defense napping and denies the Dawgs their shot at an 11th win in the past 12 installments of "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." It's weird -- Georgia has solidly corralled Johnson's triple-option in the Bulldogs' last two trips to Atlanta, but they've gotten torched both times Johnson has come to Sanford Stadium, giving up 409 rushing yards in 2008 and 411 two years ago. This year's Georgia defense has the potential to be the best Richt has put together since he arrived in Athens, but they can't afford to go to sleep against Tech, particularly with the Jackets fielding one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines. Fortunately, if the Dawgs are looking at another trip to the SEC title game by the time Tech rolls into town, they should be able to avoid looking ahead: Richt's four SECCG-bound Georgia teams have managed to block out such distractions enough to pound the Jackets by an average of three touchdowns.