Pretend you’re down in Ocean City, and you’re really thirsty. So you decide to be willingly extorted for a bottle of water and mirthfully chug it down.
“That’s good stuff,” you think to yourself. “Clearly, all water is that refreshing.” You then proceed to run out to the ocean, since there’s a bunch of water there and it’s plenty convenient. Alas, your hypothesis is soon proven wrong and you spend the rest of the day feeling a bit woozy, even if the water you bought from a vendor indeed was really, really good.
It never ceases to amaze how two things only tangentially related can be linked together in an argument. And such is the case when sizing up the chances of Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson to get his offense to work in the ACC and his record against major-college opponents while at Navy.
A number I’ve seen a couple places in the last few weeks declares Navy went 11-19 against BCS conference foes under Johnson (that might not be the number listed, but that’s what I came up with thanks to some research). Take out a miserable 2002 season, and that number improves to 11-13.
Well, that’s it, right? It’s awfully convincing. There’s no reason to stop and think about this. Keep moving along, there’s nothing to see here.
Uh, not so much.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Johnson will be successful in Atlanta. One, past performance is often an indicator of future coaching results. Two, Johnson’s a pretty sharp guy. Three, opponents will be pulling out their hair trying to prepare for a one-shot deal against an option offense. Four, he has a better chance of pulling it off in a league that isn’t, shall we say, as top heavy as the SEC or Big 12.
But his record against BCS conference schools while at Navy? Please don’t trot that argument out.
Let’s take a look at two little charts. The first lists all of Navy’s losses to BCS conference teams between 2002 and 2007. The second lists all of the wins. Here are the setbacks, with score and opponent’s final record included:
OK, that’s not especially interesting on the surface, other than the point that after Johnson’s first season, the Mids didn’t lose to a BCS conference school that finished worse than 5-7. Digging a little deeper, the Mids averaged 18.5 points in losses against teams with .500 or better records from the BCS leagues.
Now let’s look at the wins:
Would you look at that? ZERO victories over BCS conference teams with winning records. Not one!
So what does that 11-13 record really prove anyway, other than if conditions at Georgia Tech are identical to Navy, the Yellow Jackets won’t finish last in the Coastal Division by virtue of Duke’s presence?
None of this is meant to knock Johnson. He did a heck of a job at Navy, but one of the most crucial decisions he made was to make the schedule more manageable. There’s nothing wrong with beating up on bad and mediocre teams and getting a few shots a year against more formidable competition.
It’s a strategy that’s helped produce five straight bowl berths, and there isn’t a Navy fan out there thinking “Gosh, it sure would be great to bring back those days of earlier this decade when the schedule featured more big names.” No one in Annapolis wants to deal with a 1-20 record over two years and losses in that span by scores of 48-7, 45-14, 49-26 and 70-7.
It’s also not a slight that Johnson didn’t upend a BCS conference school that wound up with a winning record – he isn’t exactly in a cult of one. Charlie Weatherbie didn’t either. Neither did George Chaump. Or Elliot Uzelac.
You have to go all the way back to the 1985 season opener (under Gary Tranquill) to find an eventual BCS conference member that (a) Navy beat and (b) went on to post a winning record. That was Virginia, which produced a 6-5 season that year. In fairness, California was 6-5 in 1996 before losing to Navy in the Aloha Bowl.
OK, history lesson over. The point is there are many ways to argue Johnson will succeed at Georgia Tech with a scheme that’s been seen in major college football about as much as a coelacanth in the last five years.
But pointing out all of those glorious victories over Duke and Vanderbilt is a thoroughly uncompelling and unconvincing way to go about it.