Chris Dufresne’s preseason college football top 25: No. 14 Georgia Tech

The Times’ Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 14 Georgia Tech

Last year’s dream season fell just short of REM, with late losses to archrival Georgia (ouch) and Iowa in the Orange Bowl sending the team home at 11-3 in Yellow Jackets that were fit to be tied.

The campaign, upon reflection, was anything but a rambling wreck, the bitterness of a Bowl Championship Series bowl loss proof of just how expectations have changed since Paul Johnson arrived three years ago.

Georgia Tech won the Atlantic Coast Conference outright for the first time since 1990 and Johnson claimed his second consecutive coach-of-the-year award.

And now?

“The expectations are higher than just an ACC championship,” senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt said recently at his school’s football media day.

Johnson doesn’t dispute his team is going to be good.

“We’ve got pretty good competition at every position,” he said. “That usually makes you better.”

Georgia Tech remains one of the most interesting teams out there, with Johnson in two years having debunked the notion his triple-option offense was a gimmick that was best practiced at service academies.

The spread offense may be all the rage, and the “pistol” suddenly in vogue at UCLA, and the “wildcat” being copied by the NFL, but the best option of the options might be the triple as it is run by Georgia Tech.

There is almost perverse pleasure in watching those “A” and “B” backs carve up sophisticated BCS defenses — sort of like watching Appalachian State run wild against Big Blue at Michigan Stadium.

One problem, though, is Georgia Tech’s defense suffers from not practicing against conventional offenses. The Yellow Jackets six times last year allowed opponents 30 points or more and must replace first-round pick Derrick Morgan from the line and third-round choice Morgan Burnett out of the secondary.

To shore up the weak side, Georgia Tech hired Al Groh, formerly the head coach at Virginia. Groh’s reputation as a defensive expert has not waned, and he’s switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

The offense returns seven starters but loses key components in 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Dwyer and 1,000-yard receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Few expect the production to drop off. Johnson is moving junior Anthony Allen from “A” back to Dwyer’s “B” position. Allen ran for 618 yards last year while averaging 9.7 yards a carry.

The schedule opens with a home softie against South Carolina State and then road games at Kansas and North Carolina. The Jackets also have late trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia.

The tough part, as always, is thinking last year’s 11-3 has anything to do with this year.

“We’re 0-0,” Johnson said. “We haven’t played a game … every year starts over.”

The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford; 18. Auburn; 17. Arkansas; 16. Oregon State; 15. Florida State; 14. Georgia Tech.