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Steve Cameron: Tech's coaching switch could help Bulldogs

Steve Cameron

On paper, they deserve the touchdown.

Oddsmakers have installed Georgia Tech as a 6-point favorite in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl.

And why not?

The Yellow Jackets might be lugging a 7-5 record to Boise, but three of those losses -- and one of the victories -- came against ranked opponents.

For that matter, Tech itself was 15th in the Associated Press poll through the third week of the season.

These guys have a boatload of talent -- including the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading rusher, Tashard Choice.

And they can play hardball: Tech's defense allowed just 311 yards per game, 11th-best in the country.

Sounds like a doggone tough bunch.

On the other hand...

I'm guessing longtime coach and current TV analyst Lou Holtz would tell you to take the points and bet on Fresno State when they tee it up at 11 a.m. this morning.

Holtz is a savvy guy who's been around college football forever, and this game falls into a category that gets him seriously wound up on ESPN.

To simplify Lou's golden rule: Teams in transition generally lay giant eggs in bowl games.

"When you've got a group of guys who've been coached by one man all year, and then all of a sudden he's gone, things are just not going to be the same," Holtz said.

"If a coach is fired or he quits between the end of the season and the bowl, either he stays around for that last game -- which is disastrous because his mind is in two places -- or he leaves and you've got a group of assistants who all have new roles.

"It's just a bad, bad situation and the results usually prove it."

Georgia Tech fired coach Chan Gailey the week after his team lost the season finale 31-17 to rival Georgia.

Gailey never won less than seven games in six seasons at Tech and the Jackets went to a bowl game every year -- but Gailey couldn't beat Georgia.

So...

Out the door.

Once Gailey was booted on Nov. 26, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta was named interim coach -- then less than two weeks later, Navy's Paul Johnson was hired to run the show.

Johnson's mandate sounds familiar. He's supposed to lift Tech "to the next level."

Translation: Get into the rankings every year and beat Georgia at least half the time, dadgummit.

Meanwhile, Pat Hill and the Bulldogs probably aren't too interested in how well Johnson handles those long-term goals at Georgia Tech.

What matters to Fresno State is how the Jackets -- bossed by Tenuta today -- get themselves organized for this one game.

Holtz would argue that Hill and his staff will have everyone on the same page, that the Dogs are likely to play darn close to their best after a month of preparation.

Fresno State had won four consecutive bowl games prior to last season's meltdown -- including a 30-21 victory over Georgia Tech at the Silicon Valley Classic in 2002 and a thrilling 37-34 overtime victory against 18th-ranked Virginia in the 2004 Humanitarian Bowl.

The Dogs finished the regular season playing their best football -- and remember, if it weren't for a very shaky replay ruling at Texas A&M, Fresno State would be 9-3 and aiming at a spot in the national rankings.

The Bulldogs are comfortable in Boise and will have the crowd firmly in their corner, they're thrilled to get a match with Tech and certain to be fired up right from coin toss.

Holtz would question how Georgia Tech might handle all those same intangibles.

Do the Jackets really want to be in Idaho on the New Year's Eve instead of playing a so-called glamour team the next afternoon?

Football is a blend of emotion and organization, and with Tech in limbo between head coaches...

Both of those issues could be a mystery.

Over the past few days, several teams in lame-duck coaching situations have gone down: UCLA lost to a BYU team it defeated earlier in the year -- and with Johnson headed to Tech, Navy got rumbled by Utah.

Oh, and Texas A&M lost to Penn State.

Holtz believes that Michigan and West Virginia both might suffer from Rich Rodriguez' season-ending decision to change schools.

So...

Could Fresno State benefit from the coaching carousel at Georgia Tech?

Yes.

Nobody's questioning Tech's ability, nor the fact that Tenuta's rugged defense has been toughest against the run -- a match-up that suggests Fresno State faces a serious test.

But for what it's worth, I agree with Holtz.

The Bulldogs are prepared to the max, and they want this game so badly they'd probably chew Boise's awful blue turf just to win it.

No promises here, but I'm guessing upset.

Steve Cameron is the Sun-Star sports editor. He can be reached at scameron@mercedsun-star.com.

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