ATLANTA -- Now about Georgia's other college football team … no, not the one with Uga as the world's most famous mascot featuring a collar and fleas. Nor is it Georgia Southern, a traditional power in the Football Championship Subdivision before joining the big boys, or even Georgia State, a wannabe to this gridiron thing.
We're talking about Georgia Tech.
Ever hear of the Yellow Jackets?
They finished 11-3 last season to win at least that many games for only the fifth time in their 121 years of football. They went on the road to beat in-state rival Georgia for the first time in six years. In the Orange Bowl, they flattened a Mississippi State team that was ranked No. 1 in the country during the season. More impressive, they entered this offseason with almost as much hype as Georgia.
Just last week, ACC media representatives picked Georgia Tech to win its division for the first time ever. Expectations are rising like crazy around the Jackets, and so are season ticket sales.
Surely we've seen the College Gameday folks and beyond hug Georgia Tech football like this before during a summer.
Nope. Not recently. In fact, I'm thinking about the last time there was this much hoopla surrounding a Jackets football season. I'm still thinking, and the same goes for others who have lived around north Georgia.
"No question, we've had people talk about Georgia Tech football from time to time, but compared to what I've seen in the past, the world has turned for us a little bit this year," said Taz Anderson, 76, who has seen it all. He played football at Georgia Tech in the late 1950s for legendary coach Bobby Dodd. He has been a frequent trustee for his alma mater, and he is known for transferring more than a few pennies from his prosperous real estate dealings in town toward the Georgia Tech cause of the moment. Not surprisingly, Taz has spent the past 50-something years attending nearly every Jackets home game by sitting either in the seats in his suite at Bobby Dodd Stadium or the ones he has in the stands.
"All I know is that it isn't as loud as it normally is around our friends in Athens," said Anderson, chuckling.
This newfound attention is pleasantly bizarre for Georgia Tech, normally a distant afterthought. Even now, when you mention college football in this state, the first words you'll hear in return will usually involve the Bulldogs, who are located an easy hour-and-a-half drive to the east. Through the decades, the Bulldogs have surpassed even the Braves, Falcons and Hawks as the team of the heart for the majority of Georgians.
Which means, in terms of local popularity, Georgia Tech football often has been considered lower than the leftovers for UGA. So several questions here: Has the world outside of their downtown campus finally discovered that the Yellow Jackets actually exist? How long will this last? And what will it take to add even more buzzing to the barking in the future?
No easy answers. Not for an institute such as Georgia Tech with stifling academic requirements, and with Georgia's favorite team grabbing most of the star recruits around a football-rich state and with a team that hasn't managed consecutive double-digit victory seasons since 1951 (11-0-1) and 1952 (12-0) during the early years of Bobby Dodd. All Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson knows is that he wants his players to think about their first game of this season at home against Alcorn State. Then their next game after that against Tulane. Then that trip after that to Notre Dame.
You get the idea.
Johnson is a no-nonsense guy who isn't into the growing fanfare surrounding his program. That said, what can he do with a bunch of players, who are young, impressionable and likely reading every millisecond on social media how wonderful they will be this season?
"Well, we start camp on Friday, and I'm sure we'll get them back grounded real quick," Johnson told Sports on Earth on Tuesday. "We've got some older guys, so they understand. We talk an awful lot about how it doesn't matter what people say or do. It's all about what we do as a team and how we work. During our camp, we have a team meeting about every day and every night, and we just talk about different things. So this is something we'll address -- all of the hoopla and expectations. And what it actually means …
"Which is nothing."
Especially if the Jackets flop. And, to expound on something I mentioned earlier, Georgia Tech hasn't received this much attention before the start of a season since John Heisman was more noted as their coach than as an inspiration for a statue, which was a century ago.
Actually, Georgia Tech has prospered since Heisman, because there were those Dodd years. The Jackets also won a national championship in 1990, but many yawned in the aftermath since it involved a split title. In the end, while Colorado got the more prestigious AP crown back then, UPI honors went to a Georgia Tech program that was mediocre before and after that season.
Come to think of it, the last time the Jackets got nearly this much publicity was during the late 1990s, when they had quarterback Joe Hamilton, a College Football Hall of Famer. They finished 10-2 in 1998, and they were co-champions of the ACC. They also beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl, and the country was somewhat enthralled with old gold and white.
It's just that Georgia Tech didn't reach double-digit victories again until Johnson's second season with the Jackets in 2009. They went 11-3, but their victory in the ACC Championship Game was vacated by an NCAA violation. Worse, they lost to Georgia at home, and they were embarrassed by Iowa in the Orange Bowl. They also had a losing season the following year.
Not this time.
Well, not according to the hype.