ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson got right to the point Saturday moments into the Yellow Jackets' media day.
"Clearly, the month of September is going to be huge," Johnson said.
The Yellow Jackets will start their season Sept. 3 at No. 20 Virginia Tech.
It's been a while since the Jackets jumped in so deep so fast. In the first four openers of Johnson's tenure at Georgia Tech, his team beat Jacksonville State twice, South Carolina State and Western Carolina by a combined score of 182-62.
The Jackets were to play Sept. 1 against Southeastern Louisiana, but ACC officials tweaked the schedule to put the league's two most successful teams before a national television audience on Labor Day evening.
"It's a conference game, and a big one," Johnson said. "The motivation might be greater, and that may be why we had a really good offseason and summer."
Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have represented the Coastal division in every ACC Championship game since the league split into divisions in 2005. They are 1-2 in wins in the ACC since '04 (84 for Virginia Tech, 64 for Georgia Tech), and members of the ACC media picked them to go 1-2 in the Coastal again — with the Hokies outpointing the Jackets.
"Guys were excited to come to camp this year, which seems different to me because usually people are like, 'Ah, we got to get through this,'" senior guard Omoregie Uzzi said. "This year, guys are trying to get better and take it to the next level."
Uzzi will have help leading the way for a ground game that was No. 2 in the nation last season with an average of 316.5 rushing yards per game.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Tevin Washington has started 17 straight, senior A-back Orwin Smith — who has an ACC-record career rushing average of 9.7 yards per carry — is healthy after surgery to repair turf toe, and an experienced line give Johnson's unique option offense a sense of comfort.
Washington's passing numbers have left something to be desired, and Tech has to replace wide receivers Tyler Melton and Stephen Hill, who was drafted in the second round by the Jets. The Jackets will have size to choose from in wideouts Jeff Greene (6-feet-4, 210 pounds), Darren Waller (6-5, 228), Jeremy Moore (6-3, 183) and Alabama transfer Chris Jackson (6-1, 207).
"We had goals last year that we didn't reach," said Washington, who passed for 1,652 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and also rushed for 987 yards and 14 scores. "We didn't throw those goals away . . . first and foremost, the goal is to be the ACC champion."
The Jackets rolled to a 6-0 start last season while playing a schedule that started with Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Kansas. Tech won those games by a combined score of 178-66. Over the second half of the season, though, the opponents grew tougher and a suspect defense and passing game were keys to an 2-5 finish that included a heart-breaking 30-27 overtime loss to Utah in the Sun Bowl.