ATLANTA — Georgia Tech has climbed 12 spots in the Top 25 in two weeks and comes into Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference game against Maryland at No. 13.
The Yellow Jackets (5-0, 2-0 ACC) have averaged almost 52 points thanks to lopsided wins over nonconference opponents Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Kansas. Georgia Tech leads the nation in rushing and ranks second in scoring and total offense.
Unranked in the preseason, Georgia Tech shot up in the Top 25 following ACC wins over North Carolina and North Carolina State.
Success has come fast for a team that went 6-7 last year. Coach Paul Johnson worries how his players will handle the compliments, and says the pats on the back could be a reason the Yellow Jackets faltered late in last week's 45-35 win against the Wolfpack.
Johnson has tried to make sure his players remain focused for Maryland (2-2, 1-0), which has struggled since opening its season by beating Miami.
When Johnson says he tells his players in every practice how good he thinks they are, the tone of his voice makes it clear he's not delivering daily compliments. He's trying to guard against overconfidence.
"You hope you learn some lessons from last week about not playing well," Johnson said. "Trust me, I tell them every day how good I think they are.
"We've got a challenge to try to get better every week and that's what we want to do. You want to go on a gradual process up. You don't ever stay the same. You either get better or worse and last week we didn't get better."
The focus of the players became a question when A-back Orwin Smith said after the win over N.C. State that Georgia Tech has not "played real competition to really test our skills."
Smith also said "I'm looking forward to the tough games — Virginia Tech and Clemson. Those really are going to make a statement on what this team is about."
Smith is averaging 15.1 yards per carry and 33.7 yards per catch and already has a team-leading 423 yards rushing and a combined eight touchdowns, making his stated search for "real competition" seem fair. Johnson said Smith made his comment while watching Clemson's win over Virginia Tech.
A-back Roddy Jones, who has two of the team's 24 rushing touchdowns, plus three scoring catches, insists the players' egos are not inflated.
"I don't think we could have asked for a much better start," Jones said. "We might have wanted to play a better game here or there and execute some plays, but you don't get much better than a 5-0 start.
"I think even more than ever, the cliche comes into play, one game at a time. You can't look ahead at any other games. You can't start to listen to what people say about what your ranking is or anything else. At the beginning of the year, it's the same people who didn't have much faith in us. We're focused on us and that's it."
Georgia Tech will play back-to-back home games against Clemson and Virginia Tech later in the season. Jones said the players must keep their focus to protect their stake in future big games.
"If you keep on winning, those games will definitely be big," Jones said. "Like coach says, if you win this game, it makes the next one bigger. We're just hoping to build until then. We have to take Maryland seriously. They're a very talented team and they're capable of coming in here and beating us. We have to respect that and prepare as if it's the most important game of the year."
Maryland first-year coach Randy Edsall doesn't have to worry about his players hearing too many compliments. The Terrapins led Towson 7-3 at halftime last week before winning 28-3. The win followed a 38-7 home loss to Temple.
"I learned that if we go out and execute we have a chance to be a good football team and win games," Edsall said. "I saw a team on defense that was opportunistic and created four turnovers. Our team saw that if we don't give turnovers on offense and commit penalties we give ourselves an opportunity to win."
This is the first of three straight ACC games against Top 25 teams for Maryland.
Sophomore quarterback Danny O'Brien hopes the Terrapins can build off their second-half performance against Towson. Two freshmen, tailback Justus Pickett and fullback Tyler Cierski, had their first touchdowns in the win.
"I think we're just getting a feel for how we approach games and how we get into things," O'Brien said. "We're kind of used to it now, we're comfortable, so it's just about executing, and we just want to get better each week. We want to pick up where we left off with the second half of the Towson game and take it to the next level."