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TODAY at No. 22: GEORGIA TECH Coach: Paul Johnson (58-35, entering 8th season; 165-74 overall) 2014 record: 11-3, 6-2 in ACC; first in Coastal...

mlb money lineTODAY at No. 22: GEORGIA TECH

Coach: Paul Johnson (58-35, entering 8th season; 165-74 overall)

2014 record: 11-3, 6-2 in ACC; first in Coastal Division

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, center, returns to lead the Yellow Jackets’ offense.

Look back: Georgia Tech won its first five games — albeit in a sluggish manner — and then dropped consecutive divisional games to Duke and North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets’ defense got markedly better after that and Paul Johnson’s option-based attack was run efficiently by quarterback Justin Thomas. Georgia Tech rattled off five wins in a row to get to the ACC championship. Although it fell 37-35 to FSU in the title game, Georgia Tech rebounded to beat No. 7 Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 9

Defensive starters lost: 2

Key losses: OL Shaq Mason, RB/FB Synjyn Days, RB/FB Zach Laskey, WR DeAndre Smelter, WR Darren Waller, LB Quayshawn Nealy, DB Isaiah Johnson, RB Charles Perkins

Top returnees: QB Justin Thomas, LB P.J. Davis, OL Freddie Burden, OL Trey Braun, OL Bryan Chamberlain, DL KeShun Freeman, DB Jamal Golden, DB D.J. White, LB Tyler Marcordes

Strengths: Thomas makes everything click for the Yellow Jackets and is the perfect fit for Johnson’s unorthodox offense. A tough and willing runner between the tackles — Thomas was a defensive back in high school — the junior compiled 1,086 rushing yards and 8 TDs while also exhibiting enough arm strength to keep defenses from cheating up to the line of scrimmage against the run-heavy scheme. With nine starters returning, including tackling machine P.J. Davis (119 tackles), the Yellow Jackets’ defense could become the team’s calling card in 2015.

Weaknesses: Georgia Tech is simply devoid of proven playmakers entering the season. Backs Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey (1,775 combined rushing yards) are gone, as are receivers DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller. The Yellow Jackets could turn to Stanford transfer Patrick Skov and converted linebacker Marcus Allen to keep the running game going, but both are unknown commodities in Georgia Tech’s scheme.

Outlook: Georgia Tech has never reached double-digit wins in consecutive seasons under Johnson, but this could be the year. The Yellow Jackets have one of college football’s most dynamic signal callers in Thomas, a battle-tested offensive line and an opportunistic defense that should only get better with more experience.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sep. 3 Alcorn State

Sep. 12 Tulane

Sep. 19 at Notre Dame

Sep. 26 at Duke

Oct. 3 North Carolina

Oct. 10 at Clemson

Oct. 17 Pittsburgh

Oct. 24 FSU

Oct. 31 at Virginia

Nov. 12 Virginia Tech

Nov. 21 at Miami

Nov. 28 Georgia

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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