Georgia Tech special-teams coordinator Ray Rychleski had the meaning of the Yellow Jackets’ win over Virginia Tech pegged last week.
“The only thing the Virginia Tech game did was make the Miami game more important,” he said. “That’s all it did. Nothing else.”
Georgia Tech will face Miami with indeed plenty on the line – early control of the Coastal Division.
All but Miami have seven games left to play, and only four of the seven (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami and Duke) have played division games. And I’m not big on touting things as “best” or “most.” (Or, for that matter, "worst" or "least.") (I do like saying things are "average," however.)
But the Tech-Miami game is of huge importance for Tech’s chances to win the Coastal and probably vital for Miami's. If the Jackets can stop Miami’s five-game winning streak in the series, the Hurricanes would drop to 1-2 in the ACC with Tech holding a tiebreaker. That would mean that in order for Miami to win the Coastal (barring a tie between Tech, Miami and one or more teams), the Jackets would have to lose three of its final six ACC games. And that scenario would require Miami to run the table with a game against Florida State remaining.
And if Tech has enough of a team to beat Miami, it doesn’t seem likely to me that the Jackets would finish ACC play 3-3 against Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, N.C. State and Clemson. If Tech were to beat Miami, a 6-2 finish in the league wouldn't seem unreasonable.
Tech has won 10 games in a row against Duke. The Jackets have won eight of the past nine against North Carolina, and the Tar Heels are giving up an average of 44 points per game, third worst in the country. Pittsburgh has lost back-to-back games to Iowa and Akron (Sagarin rating: 90), the latter at home. Virginia actually appears considerably better than expected, as does N.C. State, but, again a Tech team capable of beating Miami would presumably be able to also beat either the Cavaliers or Wolfpack. Clemson would appear to be the toughest ACC test.
With an improving quarterback and a formidable defense, Miami might be the Jackets' biggest obstacle in the division. So all but knocking the Hurricanes out of the race with a win on Saturday would be a considerable leg up.
But if Tech were to lose to Miami, the Jackets would fall back to .500 in the league and keep Miami in the race with a tiebreaker over them. That would then require Tech to finish one win ahead of the Hurricanes to win the Coastal. So, if, for instance, Miami finished 6-2 (with a loss to Florida State), Tech would then need to get through the ACC at 7-1, which doesn’t seem likely for Tech or any other Coastal team.
This is advancing the cart far past the horse, I realize. I don’t have a firm grasp on what the Jackets are capable of doing. They could win big or lose by a large margin on Saturday, and neither would really surprise me. You can argue that “Tech is 4-0 without playing that well, Justin Thomas is a special player, just think how good the Jackets will be once they start playing well” or “Tech could easily be 2-2, has clear weaknesses and will start losing once the Jackets start playing teams capable of capitalizing on those weaknesses” and both hold water to me.
I’d be very surprised if the Coastal is won at 8-0 or 7-1. It seems pretty clear that no team in the division is overwhelming. A record of 6-2 or maybe even 5-3 to win the Coastal seems more likely, which makes the possibility of a first-place tie more probable. And that makes winning division games, particularly home games like the one Tech is playing Saturday, so important.
As I mentioned above, 6-2 doesn't seem out of the question if Tech can get past Miami, a record that would put the Jackets very much in the picture for the Coastal title, particularly with two division wins already in hand.
The overall strength (or weakness) of the division is another matter. It's pretty clear this isn't a powerhouse. But that only reinforces the importance of the game. It would behoove the Jackets not to squander the opportunity at hand. (I can envision chaplain Derrick Moore reciting that line in the locker room Saturday night at 7:20 p.m. to fire up the team.)
Prior to the season, I think most fans and media would have found the idea of Tech playing for a spot in the ACC title game fanciful (many still do). You may remember the Jackets were picked to finish fifth in the division in the preseason media poll. But if the Jackets can find a way to defeat Miami, it will be far more than a pipe dream.