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Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25: No. 17 Georgia Tech

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

August 18, 2009|Chris Dufresne

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

No. 17 Georgia Tech

Barry Switzer almost jumped across his desk in Norman a few years ago when Rankman dared to suggest that the option offense in college football was dead.

"There is no magic playbook," he snarled.

Oklahoma, the school Switzer coached to national titles running the Wishbone, had since won the national title in 2000 after converting to the pass-happy "spread."

And Nebraska -- talk about sacrilege -- junked the option made famous by coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne.

Fact: A Nebraska quarterback had never thrown for 300 yards in a game until Coach Bill Callahan arrived in 2004 and implemented the pro-style "West Coast" offense. (Ask Nebraskans how that worked out.)

Switzer insisted the option offenses Oklahoma and Nebraska employed to squish and stomp and demoralize the Kansas States of the world would still work. The key, he said, is having superior personnel.

"If I coached today, I'd run Tom's offense of the '90s," Switzer said of Osborne. "I'd run his playbook."

Switzer's theory is presently being put to serious test . . . at an experimental lab in Atlanta, at a place called Georgia Tech, in a Bowl Championship Series conference called the Atlantic Coast.

It was thought the option was only a serious consideration for the military academies because it helped to equalize the disparity in talent.

Navy was 1-20 in the two years before Paul Johnson arrived in 2002 from Georgia Southern, where he had won two I-AA national titles.

Johnson went 45-29 in six seasons at Annapolis and, deliriously in 2007, coached Navy to its first win against Notre Dame since 1963.

Johnson took his triple-option attack to Georgia Tech last year and led the Yellow Jackets to a 9-4 season.

Maybe, though, Georgia Tech just caught the Atlantic Coast Conference by surprise. The big question is whether the Yellow Jackets, with the burden of higher expectations and a year's worth of film for defensive coordinators to study, can sustain success and make a run to an ACC title and BCS bowl.

Last year, Georgia Tech won nine games despite finishing 116th out of 119 major college schools in passing. Demaryius Thomas led the team with 39 catches; no other player had more than eight.

The quarterback in Georgia Tech's triple option is junior Josh Nesbitt, but the monster is 235-pound running back Jonathan Dwyer, the ACC's leading rusher and a Heisman Trophy candidate this year.

The prevailing theory is that Nesbitt and Georgia Tech must improve the passing game, if only marginally, to keep ACC defenses honest.

Johnson says balance is overrated, and he's out to prove his offense can thrive on college football's largest stages against the trendy, modern-day, no-huddle spread attacks.

Switzer says the key to a powerhouse offense is not the system -- it's the ability to create mismatches on the perimeter.

USC has won big for years out of a pro formation, with a quarterback under center and a position player people may vaguely remember as "the fullback."

It will be interesting to see how far to the top Johnson can take Georgia Tech, but he's already in heady company.

Johnson is 116-43 as a head coach. The only coach to win more games in his first 12 seasons was . . . Tom Osborne.

The countdown so far: 25. UCLA; 24. Nevada; 23. Notre Dame; 22. Oregon State; 21. Florida State; 20. Nebraska; 19. North Carolina; 18. Utah; 17. Georgia Tech.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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