It took a second-half resurgence, the fallout of a booster gone wild and Virginia Tech’s worst season since 1992, but Georgia Tech is going to the ACC championship game.
A day after most expected the decision to be made public, Miami announced Monday morning that it will self-impose a postseason bowl ban in anticipation of NCAA sanctions in the wake of an investigation into allegations that Hurricanes booster Nevin Shapiro provided players with thousands of impermissible benefits with the knowledge of coaches. The ACC does not allow bowl-ineligible teams to compete for the ACC championship. As a result, Tech will play Florida State for its third ACC title Dec. 1 in Charlotte. Kickoff will either be 7:45 or 8 p.m., depending on the broadcast outlet, either ABC or ESPN.
The Yellow Jackets’ 42-24 win over Duke Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium turned out to be the clincher. Tech’s 5-3 league record cannot be matched by any bowl-eligible team in the Coastal Division.
It is a stunning turn of events. Oct. 6, Tech fell to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the ACC with its third consecutive loss, to Clemson by a 47-31 score. It was the third consecutive game in which the Jackets had allowed 40-plus points, a first in the team’s history. The dismissal of defensive coordinator Al Groh followed two days later.
With division losses at that point already to the Hokies and Hurricanes, Tech’s shot at Charlotte was still mathematically alive, but that seemed about it. For Tech to reach the ACC title game would likely require Virginia Tech to lose four conference games, something the Hokies hadn’t done since joining the ACC in 2004. It would seem to have also required the Hurricanes, whose possible bowl ban had yet to surface, to do likewise.
The Hokies lost to North Carolina to drop to 1-1 that day, and then after beating Duke Oct. 13, lost three consecutive games to drop to 2-4 in the league to give the Yellow Jackets a second chance. Virginia Tech has not had a three-game since 2002. Tech has since remained perfect in the league, defeating Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina and Duke with a loss to BYU mixed in.
It is coach Paul Johnson’s second appearance in the ACC title game in his five years at Tech. Were the Jackets to defeat Florida State – Tech will almost certainly be a heavy underdog to the 10-1 Seminoles – Johnson would become the only coach in school history to win two ACC titles. (The first, in 2009, was vacated by the NCAA as a result of impermissible benefits violations.)
The news sets up an interesting week in the state of Georgia. For the first time, both Georgia and Tech will be playing in their respective conference championship games in the same season. While the game carries heavy meaning, both teams will be playing for more in a week’s time. The Bulldogs may be playing for a spot in the national championship game. Tech will have a spot in the Orange Bowl on the line, a remarkable prize for a season that started so auspiciously.
Johnson may have to make a decision on A-back Orwin Smith, who suffered an ankle injury in the second half of Saturday’s game. After the game, Johnson said he didn’t know if Smith would be available for the Georgia game.
The Tech ticket office will likely make information available soon. Tickets are also available at the ACC’s championship game site here.