With one conference game remaining, Georgia Tech stands a real chance of winning the Coastal Division. This development is so outrageous as to shock someone who picked Georgia Tech to win the Coastal Division. Namely, me.
Know how bettors at the horse track turn losing tickets into a cascade of confetti? That’s what I’d done, albeit figuratively, with that prediction. Tech was 2-4 halfway through the season, 1-3 in ACC play. No way, I figured, that Virginia Tech and/or Miami — they’d beaten the Yellow Jackets in overtime — would lose the four conference games needed for Georgia Tech to finish ahead of both. Well, the Hokies have, and Miami might, and even if the Hurricanes don’t, the Jackets could still play for the conference championship. (More on this in a bit.)
There’s also the likelihood that Georgia Tech, should it squeeze into the title game in Charlotte, will do so at 6-6. (Assuming a victory over Duke on Saturday and a loss at Georgia on Nov. 24.) This wouldn’t be the greatest advertisement for ACC football, but the last great advertisement for ACC football came in the 20th Century. Somebody has to win this crazy league, and who better than these Jackets?
Georgia Tech is 68th among 120 FBS teams in total defense, 83rd in scoring defense. It dumped its defensive coordinator in midstream and has actually seen its points-against average rise since the change — from 30.17 under Al Groh to 30.25 under the interim Charles Kelly. The Jackets are still yielding 40-plus points every other game (three times in six with Groh, two in four without), and somehow they have a chance to be champions of one of the Big Six conferences.
Cold numbers don’t quite capture the degree of improbability. Tech needed three big things to happen last week, and all three did: Florida State scored with 40 seconds remaining to beat Virginia Tech on Thursday; Virginia scored with six seconds remaining to beat Miami on Saturday, and the Jackets won at North Carolina on a day when they yielded 50 points but scored 68.
If the Jackets beat Duke — they’re a double-digit favorite, which might not be a great thing — they’ll finish 5-3 in league play. Miami must win at Duke on Nov. 24 to get to 5-3. If Tech and Miami tie for first, the Hurricanes win the tiebreaker. (Thanks to their 42-36 victory here Sept. 22, a game the Jackets led by 17 points entering the fourth quarter.)
There’s another way Tech can make it, but it has nothing to do with Tech. Miami is facing NCAA sanctions, and the school is trying to decide if, in the attempt to lessen those penalties, it should impose a postseason ban on itself. The ACC will not allow Miami to represent the Coastal in the title game and then decide to skip a bowl; the conference has made it known that the Hurricanes must declare their intentions before the conference-championship match is made.
There’s no consensus as to what Miami will do. Given that the program has never played in an ACC title game, some believe the school will see this opportunity as too prime to punt. Others believe that the Hurricanes, who figure to be very good next season, don’t want to find themselves in 2013 occupying the space Ohio State does now — having a team capable of playing in a BCS bowl but being hamstrung by a postseason ban.
Miami hasn’t been forced to declare: At 5-5, it’s not yet bowl-eligible. But we could see something like this: The Hurricanes beat South Florida on Saturday for their sixth win, Georgia Tech beats Duke and then, on Monday, Miami announces that will forgo postseason play, thereby ceding the Coastal title to Tech. How might the Jackets celebrate this bizarre achievement? By tearing down the goalposts in an empty Bobby Dodd Stadium before practice on Day 1 of Georgia Week?
On Sept. 29, Georgia Tech was beaten at home by a Sun Belt opponent. Today Georgia Tech faces the possibility of becoming the first team ever to lose to Middle Tennessee by 21 points and then play in the Orange Bowl. Crazy league. Crazy season.
By Mark Bradley