One of the wildest ACC football seasons in recent memory draws to a close on Saturday in Charlotte. Clemson lost their first ACC game to Florida State, then never lost again over the course of the ACC schedule. Maryland lost every scholarship quarterback to injury and finished the season with a linebacker playing quarterback. Maryland was not done making news, though, as they announced their intent to leave for the Big 10 in 2014. Miami imposed a postseason ban on their team that kept them from appearing in the championship game. Larry Fedora had a successful first season in Chapel Hill, despite his team being ineligible for a postseason spot. The bounces Virginia received in 2011 did not come their way in 2012, causing them to finish with just four wins. Virginia Tech needed a victory over that Virginia team in the final game of the season to clinch a 20th-straight bowl game.
All of this — and much more we did not even outline — leads us to a Florida State-Georgia Tech matchup on Saturday night with a spot in a BCS bowl on the line. This may be the only bowl berth Georgia Tech is able to claim, as a loss in this game would give them a 6-7 record on the season. Tech has allegedly filed a waiver to afford them a bowl berth even in the event of a loss, but no word has come back on the status of their appeal as of press time. We have just one destination on the trip around the ACC this week, but let’s ask this week’s trivia question before we start the car!
ACC Trivia, Championship Edition (answer at the end of the column): What was the average attendance for the ACC Championship game during the last two games in Charlotte?
Georgia Tech (6-6, 5-3) vs. #13 Florida State (10-2, 7-1), Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Last week’s episode: Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10; Florida 37, Florida State 26
Program guide: The finish of Tech’s season aside, it is reasonably fair to say that very few fans expected them to be here after they were ripped for 601 yards of total offense in a 47-31 loss to Clemson. That loss was the final game for defensive coordinator Al Groh. Since that loss, the Jackets reeled off four straight ACC victories. While the defense did not drastically improve, Paul Johnson’s squad got back to the style of offense for which they are the most famous, enabling them to simply outpunch those four opponents in many cases. Georgia Tech compiled an astonishing 2001 yards of total offense (500.25 per game) in those final four ACC victories.
Florida State rode that Clemson victory and survived a loss to NC State in Raleigh to find themselves playing another game of consequence in the Tar Heel State. The Seminoles are the proud owners of the longest active bowl streak in the FBS, having made a bowl game every year since 1982. The FSU defense has been a huge key to the continuance of that streak this year, having allowed fewer than 250 yards of total offense to six of their opponents. Opponents rush for just 2.65 yards per carry against that defense, and it should be the irresistible force (Georgia Tech’s 5.6 yards per carry and third-best FBS 323 1/3 yards per game) against the immovable object for the ACC crown.
The Yellow Jackets actually outgained Georgia in last week’s game 426-379, but were done in by a number of factors. Georgia Tech fumbled five times — despite only losing one — and threw an interception. Georgia had almost as many points (42) as they had plays on offense (49). Georgia scored twice in the first 8:03 of the game, then two more times in the first 8:22 of the second half.
Florida State is also coming off a loss to a rival, having gained just 300 yards against Florida while turning the ball over five times. Seminole quarterback EJ Manuel struggled against the Gators, completing just 18-of-33 passes for 182 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Manuel led the somewhat anemic Florida State rush offense with just 54 yards on the ground. The Seminoles gained just 112 rushing yards, well shy of their season average of 203-plus yards per game. Their rush defense — who had allowed under 100 yards in five of the last six games — was also gashed by the Gators for 244 yards. Mike Gillislee accounted for 140 of that total on his own, rushing 24 times and adding two scores.
The two teams last played over three years ago, facing off on October 10, 2009 in Tallahassee. That game resulted in a 49-44 victory for the Yellow Jackets. Current Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas hauled in a 73-yard touchdown pass from Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, while Minnesota Vikings (and former Florida State) quarterback Christian Ponder went 26-of-38 for 359 yards and five scores in the loss. Florida State has won 12 of the 14 ACC contests between the two clubs. Also of note: the ACC points out that Georgia Tech has never played in Charlotte.
If Georgia Tech is to leave Charlotte 1-0, they will need to continue to flex their muscle running the football. The only team to rush more than 40 times in a game this year against the Seminoles was Florida in last week’s contest. Georgia Tech, for their part, averages just under 58 rushing attempts per game. The Jackets have 50 rushes or more in every game this year except for two, losses to Clemson and BYU.
Florida State needs to get EJ Manuel back on track after his struggles last week. They will have a reasonable opportunity to do so in facing the nation’s 78th-ranked pass defense. The Tech pass defense has allowed a double-digit average per pass attempt in three separate games, including last week against Georgia. Both facets of the Seminole offense struggled last week, but with Manuel and his third-best career ACC completion percentage under center, the odds do not seem to favor a prolonged slump for the signal-caller.
A trip to the Orange Bowl awaits the winner. A convoluted road awaits Georgia Tech if they do not win. We’ve had a crazy year in ACC play, and that craziness continued this week with the addition of Louisville to the conference. Who will raise the trophy in Charlotte? In a year like this one, it may not be safe to place a guess.
ACC Trivia, Championship Edition: I asked earlier: What was the average attendance for the ACC Championship game during the last two games in Charlotte?
Answer: c) 73,027. Last year’s game between Virginia Tech and Clemson set an ACC Championship attendance record, with an announced crowd of 73,675.