Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Tech is headed to Charlotte, and FSU better take note

Three cheers for the Charlotte-bound Jackets. (Hyosub Shin/AJC photo)

On Sept. 14, Georgia Tech was 3-0 and received nary a vote in either the Associated Press or USA Today  polls. Think about that. Of the 121 ballots cast that weekend, not one voter considered the Jackets even the 25th-best team in the land.

On Sept. 20, the Jackets went to Blacksburg, where they hadn't won since Chan Gailey was their coach, and won on a last-second field goal. This brought them some measure of attention, but not all that much. In both polls released the next day, Tech ranked 33rd.

On Oct. 5, the Jackets made it into the Top 25 of both. (They were 5-0, having followed their victory at Virginia Tech by beating Miami here.) They stayed six days, losing at home to Duke. Then they lost to North Carolina. On Oct. 19, Georgia Tech was back where it started, which was to say nowhere: In the polls released that day, the Jackets drew -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- no votes.

It wasn't until Nov. 9 -- not quite two weeks ago -- that Tech nuzzled back into the Top 25 of the two polls, and by then it was 8-2. Which is a very long-winded way of saying: It took the Jackets an unusually long time to get noticed, but now there's no escaping them.

With Duke's emphatic home loss to North Carolina on Thursday night, Georgia Tech is headed to Charlotte to play Florida State for the ACC championship on Dec. 6. And, unlike in 2012, there's no asterisk attached. These Jackets won the Coastal free and clear.

We can quibble about Tech's schedule -- they've played one ranked team, and the one (Clemson) is always the ranked team you'd most like to play -- but we cannot quibble with the results. Provided it doesn't finish 0-3, Tech will notch 10 wins for the first time since 2009 and only the fourth time since 1956.

And to think: This team was picked fifth in the seven-team Coastal Division. (Full disclosure: I tabbed the Jackets to go 7-5.) But these Jackets won enough close games early (Georgia Southern, Virginia Tech) to put them in position to roll when the schedule softened. Of the past last four victories, the closest has been by 22 points.

It would wrong to call this a great team, but its offense has been much better with Justin Thomas at quarterback than with Vad Lee or Tevin Washington, and its defense has developed the knack of turning turnovers into points. I'd be lying if I said I think the Jackets will beat Georgia on Nov. 29 -- I still see the talent differential as too vast -- but I believe a great opportunity will await in Charlotte.

Florida State has acted bored all season: It doesn't start playing until it's two touchdowns behind. If the Seminoles try that against a team that can control the ball and the clock via the run, they'll get four touchdowns behind and they'll lose. It would be no great shock if the team that took forever to get noticed is the one to deal FSU its first loss since Nov. 24, 2012.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.