Georgia Tech football players already had the near-perfect ending before the season began.
Another great season. Another major bowl. A shot at a second consecutive national championship.
And who could blame them?
The Yellow Jackets (11-0-1 last year) returned eight defensive and seven offensive starters from last year's co-national championship team including All-America candidate Shawn Jones (United Press International's coaches poll named the Yellow Jackets national champions while the Associated Press' sports writers poll picked Colorado.)
The expectations, however, have turned into frustrationsInjuries, turnovers and the lack of big plays have toppled Georgia Tech (2-3 overall, 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) from national rankings.
Barring a few major upsets, the Yellow Jackets will be hard-pressed to even repeat as ACC champions. All of which makes Georgia Tech's home game against Maryland tomorrow at 12:10 p.m. important.
"I would really like to start this season over," said Georgia Tech senior cornerback Willie Clay. "We wanted to repeat, show everybody last year was no fluke. We're looking for a win, to put this losing behind us and play in a major bowl. For us to stay in contention for the league title, we're going to need some help. But we have to do our part which is to win, and it starts with Maryland."
The big difference from a year ago, said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross, who coached at Maryland from 1982 until 1986, has been turnovers. Last year the Yellow Jackets lost only 13 of 28 fumbles, and recovered 16 of 22. They threw only 13 interceptions and were penalized only 54 times for 397 yards.
After five games in 1991, Georgia Tech has lost nine of 13 fumbles and recovered six of 12 from the opposition. Jones has thrown nine interceptions, second worst in the conference. Georgia Tech has been penalized 34 times for 263 yards.
"Last year we were the least penalized team in the league, and now we're the most [actually, second worst to Virginia]," said Ross, 2-1 against Maryland while at Georgia Tech. "Statistically, we're a better team than last year after five games except turnovers."
"Last year, we seemed to get all the breaks and we were on a roll," said Ross, whose team had to play four of their first five games on the road. "This year, we haven't gotten a break. A lot of it has been self induced."
Like the fumble by fullback Michael Smith that enabled Ricky Turner to score a 26-yard touchdown and give North Carolina State a 28-21 victory over the Yellow Jackets last week. Or the 5-yard illegal procedure penalty which moved place-kicker Scott Sisson further back. With the final seconds ticking away, he missed a 44-yard field-goal try in a 9-7 loss against Clemson.
"We're three or four plays away from being 4-1," said senior offensive tackle Mike Mooney, from Mount Airy, who played at South Carroll High. "The only team that completely outplayed us was Penn State."
Last year, the Yellow Jackets made big plays to compensate for the turnovers with players like tailback William Bell, fullbacks Stefen Scotton, Carl Lawson and Jones. But Bell was suspended for allegedly selling illegal textbooks, and Scott and Lawson graduated. No. 3 fullback James Reese, a sophomore, was declared ineligible.
Their absences, plus an offensive line that has only two returning starters, seem to have put pressure on Jones. He has completed 75 of 149 passes for 916 yards, but is inconsistent.
"He might be struggling with his self confidence about right now," said Mooney.
Ross said that he may have been a little conservative on offensebut he plans to open it up more against the Terps (1-3, 1-0). But that's only part of the Yellow Jackets' problems.
They will be missing or limited to using three starters for the game because of injuries.
All-American strong safety Ken Swilling, who has played only a game and a half this season, is out with a hamstring pull, and all-conference tight end Tom Covington will see limited action because of a similar injury. Swilling is contemplating an appeal to the NCAA for a medical redshirt. All-ACC receiver Emmett Merchant is doubtful with a lower leg contusion and has been hampered by arch and ankle problems all season.
Mooney said: "It's time for us to regroup. We lose to Maryland and we drop to 2-4. Then we totally drop out of everybody's picture."
Year.. .. Team.. .. .. Rec... .. Next
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .year
1981.. .. Clemson.. .. 12-0.. .. 9-1-1
1982.. .. Penn State.. 11-1.. .. 8-4
1983.. .. Miami (Fla.).11-1.. .. 8-5
1984.. .. BYU.. .. .. 13-0.. .. 11-3
.. Oklahoma.. . 11-1.. .. 11-1
1986.. .. Penn State.. 12-0.. .. 8-4
1987.. .. Miami (Fla.) 12-0.. .. 11-1
1988.. .. Notre Dame.. 11-0.. .. 11-1
1989.. .. Miami (Fla.) 11-1.. .. 10-2
1990.. .. Ga. Tech.. . 11-0-1