Chan Gailey's two-plus years as Georgia Tech's head coach have hardly been uneventful. Gailey's turbulent journey has included just about every disaster possible, from key players suffering season-ending injuries in his first campaign, to last spring's academic debacle that resulted in 10 players failing out of school. Anything that could go wrong often did.
Gailey joked last season that his Yellow Jackets were overdue for some good things to come their way if life were fair. Well, it looks as if the storm clouds have started to give way. Tech returns 13 starters from last year's 7-6 team that shellacked Tulsa 52-10 in the Humanitarian Bowl. Chief among the returnees are tailback P.J. Daniels, the ACC's leading rusher last fall with 1,447 yards; charismatic quarterback Reggie Ball, the league's Rookie of the Year; and two of the conference's top defenders in junior defensive end Eric Henderson and senior free safety James Butler.
Add another solid recruiting class, and all of a sudden, the Jackets think anything is possible.
"That's a tribute to Coach Gailey and his staff doing the right things, even though we had more than a little adversity," Butler said. "If you do the right things, good things will happen."
The Jackets still some critical holes to fill, particularly at linebacker and along the offensive line, but they like their chances with the bulk of last year's unit back, including most of their skill players.
"Some positive things happened," Gailey said, "and we were able to weather the storm. Now, to me, we're in a building mode. Now you can build and keep building."
OffenseOnce its revamped offensive line finally comes together, things figure to run considerably smoother this fall for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets return six starters from last year's team that ranked last in the ACC in total offense at 330.6 yards per game.
The most notable returnees are Daniels and Ball.
"The skill positions are back," Ball said. "We know we're explosive and we know what we're capable of doing."
Senior Nate Curry returns as the Jackets' biggest deep threat at wide receiver, although top recruit Calvin Johnson figures to be a big factor from the outset as well.
But things will have to start up front if Georgia Tech is to reach its potential. Without graduated All-ACC center Hugh Reilly or three-year starting left tackle Nat Dorsey, the Jackets were toying with different combinations up front during the spring. Redshirt freshman Kevin Tuminello will likely get the first crack at center, while Kyle Wallace, the team's starter at right tackle the past three seasons, moves over to the left side to protect Ball's blindside.
DefenseExcellent overall team speed -- combined with defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's aggressive scheme designed to stuff the run -- helped Georgia Tech finish second in the ACC in total defense last fall, first in stopping the run.
Henderson, the league's sack leader with 11, and Butler were both first-team All-ACC picks and highlight the seven returning defensive starters. Gone, though, are standout linebackers Daryl Smith, Keyaron Fox and the underrated Ather Brown.
Junior Gerris Wilkinson, a starting end a year ago, will likely succeed Smith at middle linebacker, while former backup strong safety Chris Reis has been moved closer to the ball at the strong-side linebacker spot. Sophomore KaMichael Hall assumes Fox's spot on the weak side. The new linebackers have little time to grow into their roles because of a difficult schedule.
Butler was a semifinalist last season for the Jim Thorpe Award after recording five interceptions, six pass break-ups and 119 tackles. He heads a talented and speedy secondary.
SpecialistsPunting problems hurt the Jackets so much that coach Chan Gailey went against his traditional thinking and signed a punter, Kyle Belcher.
Walk-on kicker Travis Bell will likely get the first crack at succeeding Dan Burnett.
You can bet Tech will spend a lot of time working on kickoff coverage in August after last year's special-teams debacles. Inexperience and a lack of depth were contributing factors to weak kick coverage, but both have been addressed in the offseason.
Speedy backup tailback Rashaun Grant and Dennis Davis, a former All-ACC sprinter, could be the two players returning kicks.
Final AnalysisWith so many players returning from last year's surprising 7-6 team, Gailey and his players feel that anything is now possible.
A brutal early-season slate that includes games at Clemson on Sept. 11, at home against Miami on Oct. 2 and at Maryland the following week could decide whether the Jackets can be a factor in the new-look ACC. With the Hurricanes and Virginia Tech both coming to Atlanta, Gailey likes his team's chances.