A long, strange trip: Tech is headed for the ACC title game

"Really? Seriously? We're going to the ACC championshp game?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

"Really? We're going to the ACC championship game? How'd that happen?" (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Updated 9:55 a.m.

A team that wasn’t sure until Saturday night that it could play in a bowl is now bound for the ACC championship game. Georgia Tech learned this morning that Miami has decided to forgo postseason play, thereby handing the Coastal Division to the Yellow Jackets, who started 1-3 in league play and who still might finish the regular season 6-6.

It’s a stunning turn for a program that was reeling only six weeks ago. The Jackets had lost two ACC games in overtime after blowing late leads and been hammered at home by Middle Tennessee of the middling Sun Belt. Two days after his team lost at Clemson to slide to 2-4,  Paul Johnson moved to fire Al Groh, his defensive coordinator of 2 1/2 years.

At that point the season seemed all but lost, but the Jackets steadied — well, after another home thrashing, this at the hands of BYU — and the schedule eased and events coalesced. (Virginia Tech lost to Florida State in the final minute; Miami lost at Virginia in the final seconds.) And here, wonder of wonders, the Jackets are. They’ll play Florida State on Dec. 1 in Charlotte for the right to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl.

A cynic would say that Tech backed into the title of a weak division, but that would, at least at the moment, be only half-true. At worst, Tech will tie for first place. True, Miami held the tiebreaking edge over the Jackets, but a Duke victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday would hand Tech the Coastal title outright. (There’s a chance North Carolina can also tie for first place, but the Tar Heels have long been ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA penalities — and the Jackets beat them anyway.)

As for the weak division … no arguments. At this moment, only two of the four remaining Coastal teams — not counting Miami and North Carolina, who aren’t going anywhere — are bowl-eligible. The two best ACC teams by far have been Florida State and Clemson, and both reside in the Atlantic Division, and Tech didn’t have to play the Seminoles. (Then again, Georgia won the SEC East without having to play any of the four best teams in the West. Stuff happens.)

It would be wrong to suggest that Tech has had a great year.  Johnson himself conceded as much after his team beat Duke on Saturday, saying: “Has the season turned out the way we wanted? Not to this point.” But this strange season will leave the Jackets playing for the ACC title, which they’ve done only twice — losing to Wake Forest in 2006 in the worst game ever played, beating Clemson in 2009 in a victory since vacated by NCAA sanctions — since the conference split into divisions in 2005.

Oh, and since you asked: Even if the Jackets lose both to Georgia and Florida State, they’ll almost certainly play in a bowl. The loser of a conference championship game can petition for bowl acceptance even if it’s under .500, and Tech expects that the granting of its petition would be a formality. UCLA lost the Pac-12 title game last season to fall to 6-7 but faced Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. (It lost that game, too, setting the stage for Jim Mora, of all people, to ride to the rescue.)

We can’t yet call this Tech season a triumph. Only twice before in Johnson’s 16 years as head coach had one of his teams — Navy in his first year there, Tech in 2010 — lost five regular-season games, and these Jackets were widely considered the second-best team in the Coastal Division when play began on Labor Day in Blacksburg, Va. They lost to Virginia Tech that night, which augured badly: The Tech-Tech winner had taken the Coastal title every year there has been a Coastal Division. Not this time, though.

The road wasn’t straight or smooth, but somehow Georgia Tech has found its way to Charlotte, which was the idea all along. As quarterback Tevin Washington said Saturday: “We still have all our goals on the board.” And sure enough, it’s still possible for the team that lost at home by three touchdowns to Middle Tennessee to …

Beat Georgia for the de facto state championship.

Beat Florida State for the ACC title.

Win the Orange Bowl.

Not saying any of the above will happen, let alone all of it. But it wasn’t so long ago — 16 days, to be exact — that Georgia Tech was under .500 and guaranteed of nothing beyond a 12th game. Now it gets to play a 13th and a 14th. Now it gets a chance, as the late great Ernie Johnson Sr. used to say of the Braves, to give us a finish.

Further reading: Our weekly Heat Check – Hot ‘Dogs face a warm swarm of Yellow Jackets.

And further still: Can Tech ruin Georgia’s season? It’s possible. But probable?

And, not to say I told you so: Pigskin pickin’ — Tech wins its division; Georgia takes the SEC.

By Mark Bradley

134 comments Add your comment

GSU Eagle

November 19th, 2012
8:46 am

Mark Bradley

November 19th, 2012
8:47 am

Kudos, GSU Eagle

GSU Eagle

November 19th, 2012
8:47 am

Where’s the talk about Georgia Southern, the best football program in the state? Mark, you’re a failure.

HUH?

November 19th, 2012
8:48 am

GO NOLES!!! Two ugly losses (UGA being the other) will end the Tech season

GO JACKETS

November 19th, 2012
8:49 am

WE REALLY NEED ORWIN SMITH HEALTHY, NEED AN UPDATE ON HIS ANKLE. CPJ SHOULD THINK ABOUT UTILIZING JAMAL GOLDEN AT THE A BACK POSITION AS WELL IF ORWIN IS OUT,, JAMAL IS SUCH A PLAY MAKER

Kane337

November 19th, 2012
8:50 am

I hope Tech ruins UGA’s season.

Greg

November 19th, 2012
8:51 am

GT started 1-3 in league play. Not 1-4
They finished 5-3.

Ted M

November 19th, 2012
8:53 am

Who would be a likely opponent in Orange Bowl?

btgt69

November 19th, 2012
8:53 am

just beat uga thugs,,, another uga player arrested (baseball),, what a great tradition in the trailer park

Greg

November 19th, 2012
8:53 am

Mark do you think the fact gt will play in the acc champ game, that that will mean a better bowl? Cause all i see is the belk bowl as projection.

Greg

November 19th, 2012
8:54 am

Louisville Ted m. Ugh Have fun w that fsu!

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

November 19th, 2012
8:56 am

If I were Mark, I’d take back those kudos. :-)

ramblingbuzz

November 19th, 2012
8:57 am

we’ll win one of the 2 games, don’t know which one. I too hope smith is avaiable but if not someone else will have to step up, Godhigh, Days, Zenon?

Hairy Dawg

November 19th, 2012
8:58 am

Congrats to Tech. We need to beat ‘em to sleep on Saturday.

come on

November 19th, 2012
9:00 am

we got a chance to resurrect a season in shambles. Take the opportunity and go as far as we can with it.

Jacket Fan

November 19th, 2012
9:02 am

For a fan base that kind of (unfortunately) gets used to bad news, this is stunning. Its not like anybody else in the Coastal deserves it more than us.

Now the big question for Coach Johnson (not to belabor an overworked point) – Vad has a much greater chance (not to say he will) of defeating these teams than Tevin – much better arm, and much faster. Will Coach go for the win with everything he’s got?

GT fan forever

November 19th, 2012
9:03 am

how bout that Jackets! on to Charlotte

tooltime234

November 19th, 2012
9:04 am

Agreed Go Jackets, without Orwin, we have no chance in either of these games.

Paul

November 19th, 2012
9:06 am

When Ohio State beats Michigan next Saturday, this whole college playoff season of invitational and official bowls becomes one gigantic asterisk. =P

btgt69

November 19th, 2012
9:07 am

Coach should continue to alternate the first 4 series,,, then pick the best,,, Vad did not look comfortable against Duke,,, Tevin did not look comfortable in the NC game,,,, let CPJ coach the team

Snoozer

November 19th, 2012
9:07 am

Shows just how far the ACC has fallen. GT wouldn’t have been in the conversation with any other major conference.

GT George

November 19th, 2012
9:07 am

Without a doubt this is the most highly anticipated conference championship game in NCAA history!

FSU Class of 96

November 19th, 2012
9:07 am

Is Tech bowl-eligible if they lose both of their remaining games? One win against Presbyterian and five wins against FCS teams. Is it possible they can go to a bowl if they are 6-7?

Ted M

November 19th, 2012
9:08 am

Thanks Greg…sounds right too.

G

November 19th, 2012
9:09 am

Another indication of the mediocre ACC

Mark Bradley

November 19th, 2012
9:10 am

Tech would be bowl-eligible at 6-7. Same as UCLA was after falling in the Pac-12 title game last season.

Jack

November 19th, 2012
9:12 am

Mark, I apologize for my GSU Eagle co-hort above. Believe me, most of us Eagles fans would not accept kudos and then insult you.

If we do get deep in the playoffs, we would appreciate a small mention. Thanks for the great work you do.

Herschel Talker

November 19th, 2012
9:12 am

Nerds,

FSU 55, GT 12.

Enjoy your thumping.

HT

NERDS!!! NERDS!!! NERDS!!! NERDS!!! NERDS!!! NERDS!!!

Ted M

November 19th, 2012
9:12 am

I guess it could be Rutgers too. Neither one of those two have played anybody tough. Tech could beat them they just need a miracle against FSU.

GTT

November 19th, 2012
9:13 am

Fire Herschel Talker!

Jekylldog

November 19th, 2012
9:17 am

There’s a Southern Georgia?

Jekylldog

November 19th, 2012
9:17 am

Enter your comments here

LOL

November 19th, 2012
9:36 am

What a crock of horse manure!! ACC champs by default!! Thats good stuff!!

Ted M

November 19th, 2012
9:39 am

If Maryland leaves the ACC do the remaining schools split that $50 mil exit fee?

Steve

November 19th, 2012
9:40 am

BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP, that’s the Ga Tech football team backing in to Charlotte. If this happened to UGA, I would be quite embarassed. I wonder how many Tech “fans” will make the trip? Maybe a few thousand? Can’t wait to see what bowl Tech ends up at after finishing the season 6-7.

LawDawg

November 19th, 2012
9:43 am

From the GT blog: “Tech has since remained perfect in the league, defeating Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina and Duke with a loss to BYU mixed in.”

I wouldn’t exactly be bragging about making the title game.

Under The Bleachers

November 19th, 2012
9:45 am

Congratulations to Tech, I guess. Anytime a team plays in “playoff” game which it really is for FSU.

I have no doubt that FSU will beat Florida in Tallahassee this weekend, which will give FSU a little more computer clout.

As for Tech, getting into the title game does not resolve the lingering issues, lack of fan enthusiasm, lack of interest in the program, lack of drawing the big name available talent that a FBS team in the south playing in a big conference, in the 4th or 5th best state for High School talent.

The program WILL see some changes, when those will come will depend on the New AD and what his vision and level of competition he and the adminstration want it to be. Time is working against Paul Johnson and his type of program, the writing is on the wall whether he wants to read it or not. If Tech loses to UGA, FSU, and their bowl game, one can expect the heat to turn up on the ‘option” at GT.

But congratulations to Tech and their players for competing hard to even get the option to play in the ACCCG.

Festus

November 19th, 2012
9:46 am

Beating Florida State is more important than thumping THuga. So far the Poochies have played two teams: South Carolina and Florida. So they are 1 and 1. With luck THuga will have 3 loses going into the Viagra Bowl.

Class of '98

November 19th, 2012
9:49 am

on Stubhub.com, SEC Championship game tickets start at $300. ACC Championship game tickets start at $6.

That’s all you need to know about the two conferences.

Steve

November 19th, 2012
9:52 am

Festus, such good points! Amazes me that you nerds don’t like to go by facts still. Strength of schedule through Saturday, Tech #65, UGA #46. I love how you people every year come on here saying how Tech will beat UGA. I mean 10 losses in 11 years? WOW.

Bucky

November 19th, 2012
10:00 am

Hey Mark,

Were you not calling for CPJ’s head a few weeks ago? You are a fair weather journalist… and a BUM.

Next time I see an article of yours ill just skip it.

gt45

November 19th, 2012
10:00 am

Wow! Dog fans are amazing. Let’s look at the mighty UGA body of work. How does a team that gets pasted 35-7 wind up number three? Especially, when the 7 was a last minute score against the third string. So, that leaves one enormous victory over the prestigious Florida Gators. You know, the ones that somehow escaped the wrath of La-Monroe, and blew out Jacksonville. That leaves UT, UA, Ole Miss, Missouri, UK, and who else I am sure I am missing. Do any of those have a winning record? I hope, but I’m not sure. So beat your chest, and tell us how good you are. We shall see!

GFF

November 19th, 2012
10:02 am

Another asterick?

Steve

November 19th, 2012
10:06 am

HA HA HA. GT45, another jealous one. Again, current strength of schedule, Tech #65, UGA #46.

GTBob

November 19th, 2012
10:11 am

HA HA HA. GT45, another jealous one. Again, current strength of schedule, Tech #65, UGA #46.

Its pretty shocking that they are that close. I thought UGA played in a tough conference.

Tom Stewart

November 19th, 2012
10:13 am

Nice remarks about Ernie Johnson, Sr., Mark. A great man he was, a true class act. I’m old enough to remember he and Milo Hamilton calling the Braves game in the early to mid-seventies. Many a night listening on a transistor radio to them…

dbc

November 19th, 2012
10:14 am

How embarrassing for the ACC…

Buzzzed

November 19th, 2012
10:15 am

@ Bucky, I don’t recall MB calling for CPJ’s head. Do you have a quote?

Bandie

November 19th, 2012
10:17 am

I’m just glad I get to see my Jackets play in 12 of their 14 games this season. When we beat u(sic)ga the victory will be even sweeter knowing that I’ve clipped their hedges yet again. And when we beat f$u, I’ll throw my oranges at their heads.

GTBob

November 19th, 2012
10:18 am

Im proud of our guys for hanging in there and getting to a bowl game. The ACC championship game wasn’t really earned but it gives us one more meaningful game to play against a really good team, which isn’t a bad thing. If we found some way to win either of our next two games then we had a decent season. I never thought we would be able to possibly say that.