UPDATED, 11:26 p.m. – A day after a tough but encouraging loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship game, Georgia Tech learned Sunday it will play another formidable opponent in familiar surroundings for its bowl game.
The Yellow Jackets were booked Sunday for another week in El Paso, Texas, for the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl. Tech, which lost in overtime to Utah last year in the Sun Bowl, will play Southern California in a game to be broadcast on CBS.
In their 16th consecutive bowl – tied with Georgia for the fifth longest active streak in the country – the Jackets will try to stop their seven-game bowl losing streak.
“I think we had a great trip last time, all except for losing the game in overtime,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I know that USC will be a formidable opponent with a lot of tradition, and Coach (Lane) Kiffin is an outstanding coach with some outstanding players, so that’ll be a huge challenge.”
USC began the season No. 1 and started 6-1 but collapsed down the stretch with four losses in its final five games of the regular season to finish 7-5. The Trojans and Jackets have one similarity – their seasons resulted in job losses for their NFL veteran defensive coordinators. For Tech, it was Al Groh, fired after six games and 2 ½ seasons. Monte Kiffin, father of coach Lane Kiffin, has resigned and will coach his final game in El Paso.
It will be the third consecutive game that Tech plays a team stocked with NFL talent, following Georgia and Florida State. Pending the decisions of a few juniors, the Trojans could have as many as five players taken in the first two rounds of the draft. The most notable is quarterback Matt Barkley, whom Kiffin said he expected to play after suffering a shoulder injury in the Trojans’ Nov. 17 loss to UCLA.
“I’m sure they’ll be excited to have a chance to play a program like USC,” Johnson said of his players.
Having played the Sun last year, Tech officials offered to the ACC to waive the rule that protects the ACC title-game loser from falling no lower than the Sun, which has third pick of ACC teams after the BCS bowls.
“I don’t think that was ever part of the discussion,” said Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas of working with the ACC to allow Tech to drop. “We knew what the contract said. We were going to abide by the contract.”
The Chick-fil-A Bowl, which has first pick of ACC teams after the BCS games, took Clemson after it was passed over by the BCS bowls. The Tigers will play LSU. The Russell Athletic Bowl selected Virginia Tech to play Rutgers, leaving Georgia Tech for the Sun. The final two matchups were Duke-Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl and N.C. State-Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl. FSU plays Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
It won’t be an easy trip for fans. On travel website kayak.com, the least expensive flight listed Sunday evening that departed Atlanta Dec. 29 and returning Jan. 1 was a nonstop Delta round trip for $472. For Dec. 30-Jan. 1, it was an American Airlines round trip with a layover in Dallas-Fort Worth for $584.
It’s a 1,400-mile drive from Atlanta, a drive made last year, among others, by the family of former team captain Steven Sylvester and the outgoing and incoming drivers of the Ramblin’ Wreck.