Georgia Tech (6-5) automatically claimed a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Monday when Miami self-imposed a postseason ban for the second straight year, looking to lessen the sanctions from an NCAA investigation into its compliance practices.
The Hurricanes (7-4) could have clinched the Coastal Division title with a victory over Duke, which would leave both Miami and the Yellow Jackets with 5-3 conference records. The Hurricanes were positioned to win the tiebreaker since they defeated Georgia Tech 42-36 on Sept. 22.
Now, it doesn’t matter. By self-imposing a postseason ban, Miami is ineligible to play in the Dec. 1 title game at Charlotte, N.C.
“Playing for an ACC championship was one of our goals when we began the season, so we are pleased that we will have that opportunity,” coach Paul Johnson said.
“I’m proud of our players and coaches who, when things weren’t going too well early, remained focused and determined.”
The Yellow Jackets gave up late leads to Virginia Tech and Miami, losing both games in overtime. There also was that embarrassing 49-28 defeat to Middle Tennessee, which came in the midst of Georgia Tech giving up more than 40 points in three straight games for the first time in school history.
With his team at 2-4 after a 47-31 loss to Clemson, Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh, saying the defense was too complicated and the players weren’t sure of their assignments.
“It’s not in my nature to quit or give up,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t going to throw the season away. I never was convinced the season was over.”
Turns out, he was right.
The defense continues to struggle but Georgia Tech has won three in a row, mostly on the legs of its explosive triple-option offense. The Yellow Jackets defeated North Carolina 68-50 two weeks ago, knocked off Duke 42-24 last Saturday and are averaging 38.6 points per game, which ranks 16th nationally. As usual, the run-oriented team ranks near the top of the country in rushing yards (third at 324.9, trailing only Army and Air Force).
Defensively, it’s another story. The Yellow Jackets are 61st in yards allowed (393.1) and 76th in points (29.6 per game).
Not to worry.
Georgia Tech will get to play for the ACC title against the Atlantic Division champion, No. 10 Florida State (10-1).
In an interesting twist, the Yellow Jackets are getting a shot at the conference championship thanks to another school’s wrongdoing just three years after losing an ACC crown under similar circumstances. Georgia Tech defeated Clemson in the 2009 title game, only to be stripped of the championship later when NCAA violations were discovered.
“Did the season to this point turn out the way we would like? No,” Johnson said. “But it’s not a complete wash either.”
This Saturday, the Yellow Jackets will face No. 3 Georgia (10-1) in the regular-season finale. The Bulldogs have a shot at playing for the national title if they win the next two weeks, but Johnson isn’t conceding anything.
He also stressed that his team is focused solely on its state rival this week.
“Who knows? I’m sure nobody gives us much of a chance,” the coach said. “But that’s why you play the game.”