Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A season on the brink: Tech's 2-3 and headed to Clemson

Paul Johnson thinks happy thoughts. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

On Sept. 19, Georgia Tech was favored at Notre Dame . By Oct. 3, the Jackets weren't even a .500 team. That's how quickly this season has come undone. And here's the odd part: Tech has been favored in every game.

That's about to change. The Jackets are a touchdown underdog for this week's game at Clemson. Given that Florida State and Georgia are in the Top 25 (and Tech no longer even receiving votes), you'd guess the Jackets will be home underdogs against those teams. Which means: They'll have to upset somebody to go 7-5.

A quick Tech check: Offense isn't working to specifications, defense collapsed against North Carolina, special teams have again been nothing special. That suggests this team is 2-3 on merit. (And the two victories were against Alcorn State and Tulane, neither of which looked capable of winning a game at the time but neither of which has lost since playing Tech. Go figure.)

After Saturday's doings in Athens , there's reason to believe Clemson is the best team on Tech's schedule. But if you're going to play Clemson at Clemson, this is the week. The Tigers are coming off a hairbreadth victory over Notre Dame that  thrust them into the College Football Playoff discussion. Given how excited Dabo Swinney gets over big victories -- and Saturday's qualified, especially since Clemson nearly blew it -- it's reasonable to assume that his players get pretty excited, too. That's exactly the sort of good team you want to play.

Tech even got a break from the TV schedulers. This could have been an 8 p.m. start, but in the early minutes of Sunday morning it was announced that ABC had opted for Miami-FSU in prime time. Night games on the road are rough. A 3:30 start in Death Valley is no day at the beach, but it beats the alternative.

It's hard to believe that, in Week 6, Tech is already in last-stand mode. It's possible to win the Coastal Division with two ACC losses. (Tech should know; it did last year.) It might not be possible with three. (Although Tech finished in a three-way tie with North Carolina and Miami in 2012, the year the other two couldn't or wouldn't play for the conference championship.) But to go 2-4 with only Virginia remaining as a gimme -- though Virginia Tech, which amassed 100 yards of offense in a home loss to Pittsburgh, is pretty close -- would put this program in real danger of missing a bowl for the first time since 1996.

It would be galling to go 5-7 (or worse) in any season. It would be a stunning reversal to have a losing record the year after winning the Orange Bowl. Upsetting Clemson would stop the gloomy talk. But here we note that Tech's past three treks up I-85 have yielded losses of 14 points, 16 points and 24 points.

Oh, and speaking of that game in Athens: Mark Richt? Good coach. Nick Saban? Great coach.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.