The college football season may still be weeks away, but Telegraph reporter Coley Harvey is here to start getting you ready. As teams across the ACC prepare for the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. on July 25-26, they can’t help but turn their attention toward the fall. With the conference as competitive as it has ever been, the ACC schedule boasts several key matchups this year that could help determine its eventual champion. Here is game No. 10 on our countdown:
No. 5 — Georgia Tech at North Carolina
Date: Sept. 18
Where: Keenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
When last these two met, the Tar Heels were completely stunned by Joshua Nesbitt (9) and ability to carry the Yellow Jackets to victory. When Tech travels to Chapel Hill this year, what can fans expect? Photo Credit: Josh Weiss/Telegraph freelancer (joshdweiss.com)
Last meeting: Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt’s two-rushing touchdown day propelled the Yellow Jackets to a key 24-7 win last season over the Tar Heels. The victory started a string of seven straight victories, and ultimately, to Georgia Tech’s berth in the ACC title game. It could also be argued the meeting with then-No. 22 North Carolina marked the first time Nesbitt visibly took over the then-unranked Yellow Jackets, willing them as their true on-field leader. Late in the fourth quarter, Nesbitt ran the ball eight times on a 17-play drive that lasted more than eight minutes. It ended with his second score, a 10-yard rush to the left. During the rest of the season, he went on to have several other long, clock- and yard-eating drives like that one. Defensively, the Yellow Jackets were strong, with former safety Morgan Burnett coming away with two interceptions.
Recent history: The Yellow Jackets hold a 24-18-3 advantage in the all-time series, with 10 of those wins coming in the last 12 meetings. Georgia Tech’s previous trip to Chapel Hill was not one to remember, however, as it lost 28-7 in 2008.
What’s at stake: In this early-season matchup, there is much for both teams to play for. One of the top reasons for each to make it a competitive game: respect. This offseason, the Yellow Jackets have been slighted by pundits who believe they lost too much from last year’s team to repeat as Coastal Division champions. Indeed, the loss of key starters Derrick Morgan, Demaryius Thomas, Burnett and Jonathan Dwyer to the NFL draft could be challenging to overcome, but under head coach Paul Johnson, the Yellow Jackets have felt comfortable in the role of underdog, and hope their play will regain the critics’ praise early in the year. For North Carolina — one of those other Coastal teams some believe could trump the Yellow Jackets — this will be a chance to prove its full talents. Only their second game of the season, the Tar Heels could really set a high conference standard if they are 2-0 following this game. Two weeks before this game, they are scheduled to play a strong LSU program at the Georgia Dome as part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.
Subplots: In what likely will be its subplot for the season, North Carolina will have to find a way to bounce back from the negative light under which its program has been cast following the NCAA’s investigation for rules violations by current players. The Tar Heels will have to deal with distractions this season to be sure, but fortunately for them in terms of this game, they are hosting Georgia Tech, and won’t have to field criticism from Yellow Jackets fans in Atlanta. For the Yellow Jackets, this game will also be a good opportunity to try to prove wrong doubters who believe defensively, it is easier to get ready for Johnson’s option offense with more than a week of preparation time. Before bowl games, teams typically have three to four weeks to prepare for his rare scheme. Georgia Tech has lost the only two bowls Johnson has been part of with the program. This season, North Carolina and Virginia Tech face the Yellow Jackets following bye weeks.