When Georgia Tech stormed to the 2009 ACC Championship and played in the Orange Bowl, Omoregie Uzzi, then a redshirt freshman, thought it would be routine.
“Yeah, definitely,” the Tech guard, now a senior, said with a laugh. “But the more you play, the more you see how difficult it is to accomplish something like this.”
The “this” he referred to is the Yellow Jackets’ appearance in the ACC Championship game, Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C., against Florida State. As it turned out, it’ll be the first title-game appearance for Tech and Uzzi since his freshman season. The three seasons since have had their share of successes, but also doses of failure, hence Uzzi’s perspective.
Tech may be 6-6 and it may have gotten into the game with help from Miami’s self-imposed postseason ban, but if the Jackets pull the upset over the No. 13 Seminoles, the ACC champion rings will be no less shiny, the Jackets’ smiles no less broad. And these graduating Jackets will have accomplished something no Tech class has ever achieved —two ACC titles, though one was vacated.
“It’d be a great opportunity to accomplish one more thing while I’m here,” Uzzi said. “It’d be great to go out like that.”
A solid second half of the season and a serendipitous turn have given Tech and its seniors another chance to find satisfaction in a season that has not granted much. Should the Jackets follow conventional wisdom and lose to FSU, the team’s likely epitaph will be one fired defensive coordinator, two overtime losses and six games allowing 40-plus points (thus far).
The 4-2 record in the second half and the stunning 68-50 win over North Carolina, which set an school record for most points in an ACC game, will deserve mention, too, as will numerous missed opportunities, shaky defense and an inability to meet the biggest moments.
It would be a hollow conclusion for Tech’s seniors, members of coach Paul Johnson’s first two recruiting classes.
“They’ve had some good wins, and they’ve had some very tough losses,” Johnson said of his seniors. “It’s been kind of up and down, which is kind of the way it is most of the time in a lot of places.”
There’s no shortage of ways to slice their four playing seasons. In ACC play, they were 21-11, fourth best over that span behind Virginia Tech (25-7), Clemson (23-9) and FSU (22-10). They were 4-0 against North Carolina and 3-1 against Clemson, but 1-3 against Virginia Tech and 0-4 against Georgia and Miami. They have extended Tech’s bowl-game losing streak to seven games, but also run the Jackets’ bowl streak to 16 games, tied with Georgia for fourth longest in FBS.
The class also continued Tech’s string of seasons in which the team had a .500 record or better in conference to 18, the longest active streak in FBS and an ACC record. However, Tech has finished only one season in the Top 25, in 2009.
Of the 20 members signed to Johnson’s first signing class, a group cobbled together after his hiring weeks before signing day, 15 have earned degrees or will earn them this spring. The remaining five transferred before completing degree work at Tech. Interestingly, at least four of them have earned, or are on track to earn, degrees elsewhere. Of the 12 seniors on the roster, which includes walk-ons, transfer Chris Jackson and members of the 2009 signing class, all have earned their degrees or are on schedule to graduate by next summer.
However, only two members of either the 2008 or 2009 signing classes, Uzzi and former linebacker Julian Burnett, have earned All-ACC recognition.
Largely, they have won and lost the games they were supposed to, with one or two exceptions annually. They had no business losing to Kansas in 2010 or Middle Tennessee State this season. The 2009 season aside, when the current seniors were freshmen and largely played backup roles, the biggest trophy was last season’s takedown of 8-0 Clemson at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Over four years, “we’ve done some good things; we’ve done some not good things,” quarterback Tevin Washington said. “In the totality of the whole situation, I feel like the good outweighs the bad.”
A victory over the Seminoles would be, without question, Tech’s greatest achievement since the 2009 season. An Orange Bowl win would end the bowl losing streak and go far to tilt the scale that measures the season and the seniors’ career.
Fifty-two of their 54 games are in the books, but there’s still plenty of time to make history.