Georgia Tech will bleed Carolina blue this week.
The Yellow Jackets’ improbable season now stands one North Carolina win away from another achievement many would have thought far-fetched or more at the season’s start, and perhaps even only a month ago – a spot in the ACC title game Dec. 6 in Charlotte, N.C.
By winning its past four games after discouraging losses to Duke and North Carolina, No. 22 Tech completed ACC play Saturday at 6-2 with its 28-6 defeat of No. 19 Clemson, ensuring the Jackets no worse than a share of the Coastal title. It’s their fourth in coach Paul Johnson’s seven seasons.
The prize would become far sweeter with one more Duke loss, which would grant the Jackets the outright Coastal title and a spot in the ACC title-game opposite No. 3 Florida State. The No. 21 Blue Devils lost to Virginia Tech 17-16 Saturday, dropping their ACC record to 4-2. Duke plays North Carolina Thursday night in Durham, N.C., and finishes with Wake Forest Nov. 29, also at home.
With Miami also falling to 3-3 in the ACC with its 30-26 loss to No. 3 Florida State on Saturday, the race is down to Tech and Duke. If Duke wins out to finish 6-2 in the ACC for a first-place tie with the Jackets, its win over Tech on Oct. 11 will be the tiebreaker. Tech can only go to Charlotte as the Coastal’s outright champion.
The Seminoles clinched the Atlantic Division when Clemson lost to Tech. They then stayed alive for their third consecutive ACC title and the four-team CFB playoff when they rallied past Miami. Tech is off this week and finishes the regular season Nov. 29 against No. 15 Georgia.
Tech fans can have some hope in North Carolina, which has lost its past two games to Duke, and can look to the fact that the Tar Heels are 5-5 and need one more win to gain bowl eligibility. There’s also the fact that North Carolina certainly wouldn’t mind denying the rival Blue Devils a second consecutive ACC title-game appearance.
What is also at play for Tech is an Orange Bowl trip, which could happen even if the Jackets don’t win the ACC. If, as many project, Florida State remains undefeated and wins the ACC, the Seminoles will almost certainly be selected for the inaugural College Football Playoff. In that event, the ACC’s next highest-ranked team by the College Football Playoff selection committee will represent the conference in the Orange Bowl.
In all likelihood, Tech will gain that status Tuesday when the new CFP rankings are released. The Jackets were elevated into that position in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls Sunday, at No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 16 in the coaches poll, rising seven spots in both. Duke is No. 25 in both polls while Clemson fell out. The Jackets will merely need to defend that positioning when it plays the Bulldogs in Athens with either a win or potentially even with a respectable loss.
It would seem unlikely for Duke to be able to leapfrog past Tech unless the Jackets lost decisively to Georgia. Clemson finishes with Georgia State and South Carolina, also lacking the opportunity for an attention-getting win.
Tech, of course, could get into the Orange Bowl the old-fashioned way, by going to Charlotte with another Duke loss and then beating Florida State for the ACC title.
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