Georgia Tech could wind up in the Orange Bowl, or it could grace no bowl at all. At this moment, the Jackets are bowl-eligible; come Saturday night, they might not be. Got that?
“It’s been a different year,” Paul Johnson said Tuesday, which is an understatement on a par with, “Bill Gates isn’t hurting for money.”
After a full regular season, Tech is neither a winning or a losing team — but it might yet be a conference champion. Generally speaking, when serendipity takes a hand it lifts a good team to greater heights. Somehow serendipity seems to have taken a shine to these middling Jackets, who lost by 21 points to Middle Tennessee and by 32 to Georgia.
The Jackets have played 12 games, losing half. They have beaten one team (North Carolina) that finished above .500. Carolina was one of three teams that tied for first place in the ACC Coastal Division, but the Tar Heels couldn’t play for the conference title because the NCAA won’t allow it, and Miami decided not to play for the ACC championship for fear of what the NCAA might do. Ergo, Tech to Charlotte.
“You want to be playing for your conference championship,” Johnson said. “Would you have dreamed it would be with this record? Probably not.”
Should the Jackets lose to Florida State — they’re a two-touchdown underdog — they’ll be 6-7, which would render them bowl-ineligible after they’d moved heaven and Earth to get bowl-eligible. Tech people absolutely believe the Jackets will be afforded a postseason berth even with a losing record; neutral observers are less sure. “You guys (meaning the media) are having more fun with that than might actually be,” Johnson said, though “fun” mightn’t be the proper word.
The coach’s Tuesday briefing wasn’t nearly as acidic as his post-Georgia address, but he didn’t miss the opportunity to hammer home a Talking Point. “This is the third time in five years these players have finished with the best record in their division,” he said. (Not incidentally, five years is how long Johnson has been in place.) “To hear some people talk, you’d probably think the sky is falling. But that’s probably better than they’ve done here in a long time.”
True. Before Johnson arrived, Tech had finished first in the ACC or the Coastal three times: In 1990, the UPI national championship season under Bobby Ross; in 1998 under George O’Leary, and in 2006 under Chan Gailey. But it’s also worth noting — and here we risk being included on a list of “some people” — that Johnson’s Jackets are 21-20 since Thanksgiving 2009, and that the biggest victory of that span (the ACC championship over Clemson) was officially vacated, and that their last game marked the second-largest margin of defeat of Johnson’s five years.
Even with Tech playing for the ACC title, it’s impossible to call this season a smash. (Though, as Johnson said, “If we can win the conference championship, it’d be hard to say they underachieved.”) It would also be impossible to characterize the program as being in the prime of health. That said, it would be utterly in keeping with this crazy-quilt season for Tech to topple Florida State and break its bowl losing streak, which stands at seven years, in a BCS game against a true heavyweight like … Kent State?
As Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports has outlined, if Kent State beats Northern Illinois for the Mid American Conference title on Friday and finishes in the top 16 of the BCS rankings, and if the Big East champion is ranked below that, the Golden Flashes would almost surely land in the Orange Bowl, which gets last choice in this year’s BCS rotation. (Dodd also calls a potential Tech-Kent matchup “a game you wouldn’t pay to see in September.”)
The Golden Flashes lost to Kentucky by 33 points, and Kentucky didn’t win an SEC game and fired its coach. (And just hired Mark Stoops, the Florida State defensive coordinator. Small world, huh?) And to this outlandish possibility, we say: Why NOT?
Nothing else about Tech has made a lick of sense, so why not go the full Monty? Upset Florida State, beat Kent State and stick around afterward to help welcome the Georgia Bulldogs to Miami. See, the Orange Bowl will be staged at Sun Life Stadium — the home field of the Miami Hurricanes, whose step-aside put Tech in in the ACC title game — on New Year’s night. Six days later, the BCS title game will be played at the same place. Could this strangest of Tech seasons reach any more suitable end than to have both Jackets and Bulldogs take their respective talents to South Beach?
Further reading: Heat Check — Destiny’s Dogs? No-bowl Jackets? Whoa, Nelly.
By Mark Bradley