Georgia Tech's intrigue makes for must-watch football
Posted September 19, 2013
There are a few games every season that ACC football fans make sure to circle on their calendar. They don't necessarily have to be against the No. 1 team in the country, they are just the can't-miss games. You know, the games — the ones you would skip work for or postpone your own wedding to attend.
The first matchups to get the circle treatment are usually rivalries or in-state contests. The second probably involve opponents that happen to be good that year, the highly-ranked teams, which generally are accompanied by a great start time and/or a national television broadcast. But there's another type of game that fans make sure to catch, even if it doesn't involve their favorite school. These are the teams that are, for no other reason, ‘interesting.’
For college football in the 1990s, it might have been Florida State - no matter how up-and-down the Seminoles have been playing in recent years. In the 1980s it was the Miami Hurricanes, no matter how you feel about recent allegations involving casual drug use and boat-owning boosters. It's the same reason people will still flock to watch Notre Dame — because it's Notre Dame.
But nowadays, if you’re a fan of football, the game itself, you’re interested when your team plays Georgia Tech.
It's not because of their pedigree, or because making George O’Leary jokes will never get old. And it's not because people particularly care about head coach Paul Johnson (in fact, most fans hate Paul Johnson). Regardless of how good Georgia Tech is in a given season, the Yellow Jackets will be can't-miss so long as Johnson is running his Wishbone, triple-option variant offense in Atlanta.
The triple option is always intriguing because it showcases the internal struggle that defines football: a sport sold on traditional conservative values (culturally speaking, not getting political here), that is in fact the most progressive and ever-evolving sport in major American athletics.
What do we think of when we think of football? Grizzly old coaches, cold beer, comfort food, big hits, Homecoming Queens and Sunday afternoons? That might as well be the definition of conservative. Remember, this is a sport where teams voluntarily give the ball away by punting just to rely on their defense. That's like a basketball team letting the shot clock run out on purpose so not to potentially give up a fast break. If that isn't conservative, then what I don't know what is.
But in reality, football is the most inventive and constantly changing sport in the American landscape. With the exception of a few more three-pointers, basketball hasn't changed much since Eisenhower was in office. Soccer hasn't changed since they invented cleats, and baseball hasn't changed since, well, I couldn't think of a joke there but I'm sure there are several.
On the other hand, football strategies seem to change faster than a new Madden video game can come out. While most sports (generally speaking) reached their current forms by the time they were being televised in color, football was just getting started. In the 1970s, the west coast offense would place more emphasis on passing than running, which was totally shocking at the time. There are present-day high school teams that always go for it on 4th down, citing that the statistics are in their favor. And while the NFL has become a totally pass-dominant league, Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly is trying re-write the book in the pros by using a spread offense that runs the ball twice as much as it passes.
And remember that whole 'Wildcat' formation experiment from a few years ago that eventually fizzled out? Nothing that radical has happened in baseball since Babe Ruth started slugging balls 400 feet on a nightly basis.
Of course, the history is what's so fascinating about all of this. The triple option is super old school, but by using it in 2013, it's somehow progressive and new school.
Most importantly, it's just interesting to watch - which is why fans watch sports in the first place (at least, that's supposed to be the reason).
It's why most football fans in the Triangle probably took a peek at the Blue Devils attempt to stop Johnson's offense in Wallace Wade last Saturday even if they weren't interested in the outcome. It was just to see if the Jackets would rush for 500 yards or actually throw it on a third and long (or maybe to see if they would throw it at all).
Johnson's offense can be phenomenally frustrating — something both Duke and UNC fans are probably discussing right now. Then again, it's also incredibly frustrating wondering how no one else realizes that Bernie is dead in Weekend at Bernie's. In fact, it's probably that frustration that keeps us coming back. We want to see if this crazy idea is going to keep working, or fail miserably at some point.
Seeing the Yellow Jackets on the schedule might cause Triangle fans to cringe, but it also causes them to watch. And isn't that the whole point?