NOTE: This is part of our series ranking Georgia's most important games in 2012, beginning with the least important, and continuing on to No. 1.
The criteria for ranking the games follows this basic criteria: Their role in shaping the ultimate success (or not) of the season, but with consideration given to rivalry, context of season, and caliber of opponent.
And now ...
5. GEORGIA TECH
LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 8-5
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 7
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 5
WHEN: Nov. 24 (regular-season finale)
HOW THINGS WILL LOOK THEN: As always, both teams will be done with conference play. They will either be awaiting a conference championship game, or a far-off bowl appearance. (Since the ACC started its title game in 2005, Georgia Tech has made two appearances in it, most recently in 2009, but both times it lost to Georgia the week before. Georgia has been in the SEC title game four times, each time beating Georgia Tech the week before. At no time have both Georgia and Georgia Tech both made their respective title games.)
LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE: Major, if Georgia is a serious contender for the BCS championship. Minor, if that’s out of the question, and Georgia wins. But major, if Georgia somehow loses to Georgia Tech, because it will lead to questions about the Bulldogs’ dominance, what it all means, whether the sky will fall, etc. In other words, this game has become a high-risk, low-reward game for the Bulldogs.
MORE ABOUT GEORGIA TECH: On paper, the Yellow Jackets have solid talent all-around, and the main two questions will be at quarterback, and whether the defense can be better than average. The offensive line could be a strength, led by all-ACC guard Osmoregie Uzzi. Running back Orwin Smith had some eye-popping stats last year (11 touchdowns, 10.1 yards per rush, in just 61 rush attempts.) The secondary sets up to be the strong point of the defense, led by safety Isaiah Johnson. Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu had six sacks last year, and could build on that. But the Yellow Jackets need to get more pressure in general – they ranked 77th in the nation in sacks last year – and the run defense needs to be much better. The Yellow Jackets yielded 161.5 rushing yards per game last year.
WHO TO WATCH: QB Tevin Washington is entering his senior season, and while his numbers are pretty good (1,652 passing yards, 11 passing TDs, 987 rushing yards, 14 rushing TDs) he doesn’t get much mention on all-ACC lists. (The analyst Phil Steele left Washington off his preseason first, second, third and fourth teams. A recent ESPN.com blog post ranked Washington as the ACC’s eighth-best quarterback) The problem for Washington is he had eight interceptions last year, and that’s bad for an offense that depends on ball control. The Yellow Jackets just need Washington to be efficient as a passer, and occasionally spectacular as a rusher. If he does that, Georgia Tech’s offense could look all season the way it did to start last year, when it started 6-0 and averaged 46.5 points.
LAST TIME THEY PLAYED: Georgia won 31-17 last year at Bobby Dodd Stadium, in a fairly convincing manner.
THIS TIME: We refer you to our previous story on the Georgia Southern game, which comes the week before this one. Georgia Southern, where Johnson coached from 1997-2001, also runs the triple option. That should help Georgia a lot. So while it’s impossible to project injuries and whatever else will have changed between now and Nov. 24, it’s easy to predict Georgia will be a favorite to get a fourth straight on its in-state rival.