Ramblin' Wreck, the 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe that is Georgia Tech's mechanical mascot, is a thing of beauty and still runs like a champ.
But it is not equipped with cruise control. And neither is Tech's football program. Even in an age where the redistribution of wealth in the form of scholarship limits has allowed non-traditional powers such as Oregon, Oklahoma State and even Boise State to dream of winning national championships, the Yellow Jackets still remain at a recruiting disadvantage due to academic constraints.
Their recruiting classes will never top the experts' charts. Thus, theirs is a weekly fight for national respect. Likewise, the ACC's tarnished national credibility -- which has become a bit overstated but is real nonetheless -- leaves the Jackets no margin for error when it comes to national respect. The Jacket's 56-20 thumping of Virginia on Saturday went largely unnoticed by the voters. The Jackets received just three voting points in the Associated Press poll and only 10 in the USA Today (coaches) poll.
A more meaningful margin for error -- that in the ACC Coastal Division standings -- is equally razor thin. The season-opening loss to Virginia Tech assured that.
"We dug ourselves a hole, and we have to take it one week at a time and see if we can dig ourselves out," said Tech coach Paul Johnson. "It's a long year. So we just have to take it one week at a time and get better. I think we have gotten better every week. That's the key."
That's one key. The other key is to continue that momentum. The Coastal Division race took a surprising turn Saturday with Virginia Tech losing to Pitt. No, that wasn't a conference game, so it had no tangible effect. But suddenly the Hokies are looking vulnerable. They still have to face Clemson, Florida State and Miami.
Last week, Johnson defied conventional coach-speak and used revenge as his primary motivator. Johnson made no pretense of forgetting about last year's loss to the Cavaliers, which spoiled a 6-0 start and initiated a 2-5 finish.
"I had a long memory from a year ago," Johnson said, "and they did, too."
Johnson would be advised to draw upon another memory of last season. One of those two victories in the final seven games was an emphatic 31-17 upset of Clemson. That win gave the Jackets new life in the division race.
Instead, the win over Clemson became a mere footnote to a dismal finish. The Jackets followed that euphoria with a 37-26 loss at Virginia Tech, blowing a 26-21 lead by getting outscored 16-0 over the final 16 minutes.
So Saturday's victory over Virginia will be much less significant if the Jackets squander the opportunity at hand. Miami visits Bobby Dodd Stadium Saturday. The Jackets can't win the division. But they can certainly lose it.
"In the league, you are going to get this good caliber of opponents every week. You have to play them sometime. To have three division games in same month was something.
If we could have come out of the month of September undefeated, we'd have been in good shape. If we can come out 2-1 in the league, then we still have a heartbeat and we're still fighting. That's what the goal is."
One message Johnson had for his players last week remains true this week.
"If you want to be in the conference race," Johnson said, "you can't lose conference games at home."
That makes Saturday's game against Miami as big as any played on The Flats since well, since the Virginia Tech game last year.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at email@example.com.