A year ago, Georgia Tech squeezed into the ACC Championship game with a second-half rally, Virginia Tech’s collapse and Miami’s self-administered postseason ban.
Speaking after Tech’s 21-10 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday, Yellow Jackets B-back David Sims knew better than to abandon hope for a second consecutive trip to the title game in Charlotte, N.C.
Said Sims, “We wanted to get bowl-eligible as soon as possible and put ourselves in a good position because you never know what’s going to happen with the ACC race.”
While Tech’s back-to-back losses to Coastal Division-rivals Virginia Tech and Miami all but knocked the Jackets out of the ACC race by early October, recent developments have caused Tech’s chances to flicker just a little more brightly.
The Jackets are firmly in long-shot territory, but their odds improved after the Hokies lost back-to-back games to Duke and Boston College and Miami lost running back Duke Johnson for the season with a broken ankle and also lost to Florida State on Saturday.
By conference record, Virginia Tech is 3-2 with games remaining against Miami (away), Maryland (home) and Virginia (away). Miami is 3-1 and has Virginia Tech (home), Duke (away), Virginia (home) and Pittsburgh (away). Tech is 5-2 with one league game left at Clemson Nov. 14.
The most likely scenario for Tech to advance to Charlotte starts with the Jackets finishing at 6-2 in the division. Then, the Hokies and Hurricanes would have to cooperate by both falling to 5-3. For Miami, that might mean losing to the Hokies and then maybe at Duke, which is on a four-game winning streak and lost 52-45 to the Hurricanes last year. Virginia, while it has lost six in a row for the second season in a row and probably is the worst team in the ACC, has defeated Miami three consecutive years.
Assuming a win over Miami, Virginia Tech would have to lose to either the Terrapins or Cavaliers to take its third loss. Neither Maryland nor Virginia looks as if it has much resistance to offer, though the Terrapins’ defense is better than average. The best bet is that Virginia Tech’s slide continues. The Hokies have lost back-to-back games to Duke and Boston College, with eight combined giveaways. They had won their past five against Boston College and past 12 against the Blue Devils.
A three-way tie at 6-2 between the Jackets, Hokies and Hurricanes would be fruitless for Tech. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and the Jackets would be the first out with an 0-2 record against the other two teams.
A three-way tie with Duke (which, at 2-2, is the only other Coastal team with two or fewer losses) and either Virginia Tech or Miami at 6-2 also would eliminate the Jackets.
The second tiebreaker after head-to-head is division record. If Tech, Duke and Virginia Tech all won out to finish 6-2, all three teams would be 1-1 against each other to eliminate the first tiebreaker. Virginia Tech would win the second tiebreaker with a 5-1 division record, compared with Duke and Georgia Tech’s 4-2 records.
If Duke and Miami each finish 6-2, with Duke beating Miami on Nov. 16, the situation again would be the same — all three would be 1-1 against each other, but Miami would win the second tiebreaker with a 5-1 record in division games.
What hope can Tech fans hold that Miami could lose two of its final four games?
The biggest lies with the loss of Johnson, who ranks No. 4 in the country in all-purpose yards (174.1 yards per game) and No. 13 in rushing yards (115.0). He’ll be replaced primarily by Dallas Crawford, who is not a shabby backup. Crawford filled in for Johnson against North Carolina last month and ran 33 times for 137 yards with two touchdowns.
“It’s unfortunate what happened to Duke,” Miami offensive coordinator James Coley told the Miami Herald, “but I’m looking forward to seeing Dallas in this role because he does so much for this team.”