Staff changes and the portal won’t be enough. This is it.
Georgia Tech will be looking for a new head football coach in December. Let’s go ahead and get that out of the way.
Last year, Opinion Week launched with my prediction that year three would tell us what we needed to know about the Collins era at GT. I stand by everything I wrote then, and what we learned was that this isn’t going to work. Almost universally, new head coaches who create a bump do so in year two or three; if not by then, it usually doesn’t happen. As we launch into this year’s Opinion Week, I believe very strongly that Georgia Tech will be looking for its 22nd head football coach sometime in 2022.
I’ve been on the message board streets this offseason; there are two primary subjects that come up when people start talking about the improvement they expect to see this season, the improvement they believe will earn Geoff Collins a fifth season on the job. Those two hope-generators are the overhaul on the coaching staff and the supposed influx of talent from the transfer portal. Let’s dive a little bit deeper into those hypotheses.
Once the offseason dust settled, Georgia Tech had seen almost a complete turnover of the coaching staff from 2021 to 2022. Three of the departures were firings, and the rest were voluntary departures for new and supposedly better jobs. The new coaches include OC Chip Long, QB Coach Chris Weinke, DL Coach David Tuner, DB Coach Travares Tillman, WR Coach Del Alexander, RB Coach Mike Daniels, and LB Coach Jason Semore.
Change makes the message boards light up, but it doesn’t guarantee any kind of performance improvement. I do see the replacement of Dave Patenaude with Chip Long as a net gain, but he doesn’t bring in the kind of unique system that enables a team to significantly out-scheme its opponents despite a talent deficit. No, we will still mostly be trying to beat better players with the same kinds of schemes. The offense lost its two best pass catchers (Gibbs and McGowan) and four starting offensive linemen without any reasonable expectation of the replacements matching, much less exceeding, the kind of production that was lost.
On defense, Collins and Thacker remain the overall architects of the defense, and there is no reason to count on them to create some kind of schematic advantage either. We have years of evidence in the opposite direction. We have year over year declines in defensive performance overseen by these same coaches. Offseason talk has been about communication, trust, and simplification; I will remind you that those were the same talking points last summer, and we all know how that turned out. As on offense, top producers (Domineck, Ivey, and Brooks) are gone, and it’s difficult to see where improved play will come in their stead.
Are the coaching changes a panacea? Sadly, I think not. What about talent, then?
With fifteen incoming transfers and fifteen members of the 2022 recruiting class set to join the roster, the second most discussed source of optimism is the “talent influx.” That feels like a conclusion, a hoped for conclusion, in support of data to back it up. And I don’t think that data really exists.
It’s not a perfect metric, but 247 Sports re-rates many of the players who have elected to find a new home in the transfer portal. Using those re-ratings as a rough guide, Georgia Tech has lost one 5 Star (Jahmyr Gibbs) and one 4 Star (Jared Ivey) player to SEC West programs, in addition to high 3 Star players (Wesley Walker and Jordan Domineck) to SEC homes of their own. None of the incoming transfers are rated higher than a 3 star by 247 Sports. Combining high school recruits and incoming transfers, the 247 Composite ranks Georgia Tech 43rd in 2022 recruiting rankings. There’s nothing game-changing about that.
I have no doubt that this incoming crop of transfers will produce a few starters, a few significant contributors. But I also have no reason to believe that there is a talent increase automatically coming in the door with this class. The players who were highly rated coming out of high school have across the board received little to no playing time at their original schools, and the players who bring in some modest experience and production do so from much lower levels of competition.
There is not a single incoming transfer who combines a strong high school pedigree and proven production. Those fans intent on finding reasons for optimism can cherry-pick high school ratings or manufacture reasons why these guys didn’t get to play at their previous blue blood programs, but no one can point to proven, high-level production.
Further, the talent influx from the portal was most clearly needed at a few spots; offensive line, defensive line, and wide receiver were at the top of my list. Currently, there are no defensive lineman or wide receivers committed to GT as transfers, and there are no offensive linemen coming who have played meaningful snaps in college.
I’m not saying that none of these incoming transfers will be helpful players, especially over a four year timeframe. But none of them are blue-chip transfers, and very few have any kind of proven production at the college level. They may well be good players in 2024, but it is very unlikely that they can create a significant boost for this season, when this coaching staff must prove itself.
Trusting the Numbers
If coaching changes and transfer portal additions are unlikely to significantly change the outcome of this season, we turn back to the things that best predict year to year performance to see where GT is likely to fall this season.
Projections for a college football season that do best tend to blend together three elements in some form: performance from the past few years, returning production, and roster talent. That’s what Bill Connelly tries to do with his SP+ and it is what I try to do with the Binion Index. Preseason ratings aren’t finalized as small roster movements continue, but the picture isn’t pretty. SP+ ranks Tech 90th (118th in returning production!), and the Binion Index is bit more pessimistic, slotting GT in at 103rd. The initial college football win totals out of Vegas slot GT in at 3.5 wins for the Over/Under; the Binion Index says 3.1.
Recent performance, massive losses in production, a lack of game-changing additions, and an absolutely brutal schedule mean that realistic expectations for this year’s outcome fall right around what we have seen the last three seasons. And that isn’t, and shouldn’t be, good enough.
As the last two seasons approached and summer turned to fall, I haven’t trusted my mathematical preseason predictions for GT win totals. I’ve found reasons to be more optimistic. I’ve been wrong. I’m not doing that again. TBI says 3 wins, Vegas says 3 or 4 wins, and I say a new coach is coming.