After Georgia Tech’s humbling home defeat to Duke two weeks ago, a division title seemed a longshot.
However, after Georgia Tech’s emphatic win over Virginia Tech on Thursday and a couple of cooperating results over the weekend, the possibility of the Yellow Jackets winning the Coastal Division at 5-3 doesn’t seem quite so outlandish as it did previously.
It would require the Jackets to win their remaining ACC games, but if that happens, the other results that would have to fall Tech’s way are within the realm of possibility. It’s another carrot to motivate the Jackets as they begin preparations for their Saturday game at North Carolina.
On his Sunday teleconference, coach Paul Johnson conceded nothing, saying that the race isn’t over yet.
“It could go crazy,” Johnson said. “Anybody could beat anybody on our side. Really, other than Clemson, anybody can beat anybody in the league. They’re all about the same, honestly.”
ESPN’s Football Power Index metrics assign Tech a 6 percent chance of the stars aligning to send the Jackets to the ACC title game in Charlotte, N.C.
Here’s what would most likely have to happen for Tech to play for the ACC championship for the fourth time in Johnson’s tenure: First, Tech would have to beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., then win home games against Miami and Virginia to finish league play at 5-3.
The Jackets would also need every other team in the division to finish at no better than 5-3, and then also the right teams. First, Tech would be well served to have Duke and Pitt, which own tiebreakers over the Jackets, fall to 4-4. The Blue Devils, who appeared so promising after beating the Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Oct. 13 to improve to 5-1 overall and 1-1 in the ACC, have dropped games to Virginia and Pitt to fall to 1-3.
In the Tech-wins-out scenario, all the help the Jackets would need from Duke is to lose one of its final four games, at Miami, North Carolina, at No. 2 Clemson and Wake Forest.
Pitt, which beat Duke Saturday to improve to 3-1, finishes with a road game at Virginia, home against Virginia Tech and on the road at Wake Forest and then Miami. Losing three of four would be great for the Jackets. Pitt losing two to finish at 5-3 could be doable for Tech, as long as other results fall into place. (The same also holds for Duke.)
Tech would lose a two-team tiebreaker with Duke or Pitt, but it’s conceivable it could win a tiebreaker of three teams (or more) that included the Blue Devils or Panthers.
The two bigger obstacles could be Virginia (4-1) and Virginia Tech (3-1). Georgia Tech can give the Cavaliers one loss on Nov. 17 at Bobby Dodd, but then they’d have to take another defeat from Pittsburgh or Virginia Tech. The latter seems the more plausible, as the Hokies have beaten their in-state rival in 14 consecutive meetings and will meet UVA this year in Blacksburg, Va.
“Virginia’s probably in the driver’s seat,” Johnson said. “They’ve already played five games. Most everybody else has played four.”
The Hokies’ final four games are Boston College, at Pittsburgh, Miami and Virginia. Losing to Miami and Boston College would best help the Jackets, as then the Hokies could help the cause by giving Pittsburgh and Virginia losses.
The Jackets can take care of Miami themselves in their Nov. 10 meeting at Bobby Dodd, where a Hurricanes defeat would hand them their third ACC loss with Tech owning a tiebreaker over them.
It’s not the most likely scenario, and there’s little certainty that the Jackets can even carry out their end of the bargain. ESPN’s metrics project a 24 percent chance of Tech winning its final three league games.
Johnson warned that North Carolina is “a lot better” than its 1-6 record. Miami, while it has stumbled from its top-20 ranking with consecutive road losses to Virginia and Boston College, has still beaten the Jackets eight of 10 times in Johnson’s tenure. Virginia, picked to finish last in the Coastal, is the surprise team of the ACC and also beat the Jackets last year in Charlottesville, Va.
But, with Georgia Tech getting healthy, the defense improving and the offense showing fearsome form in the win over the Hokies (as well as Louisville and Bowling Green), it’s not out of the question for the Jackets to make things interesting.
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