Coach Paul Johnson’s final game as Georgia Tech coach will be played far from the Yellow Jackets fan base in a bowl that has left players feeling slighted.
Sunday, Tech was selected to play in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26 against Minnesota. The initial reaction from Jackets players on Twitter was displeasure over being sent to the bowl with the eighth pick of ACC teams (not including Clemson) despite having finished the season strong (four wins in final five games), tied for the fourth best league record (5-3) and beaten three teams ahead of them in the bowl lineup – Virginia (Belk), Miami (Pinstripe) and Virginia Tech (Military).
Quarterback TaQuon Marshall: “I’m baffled at this bowl game.”
Safety Tariq Carpenter: “No respect.”
Nose tackle Brandon Adams: “The disrespect.”
A-back Qua Searcy: “How do we finish FOURTH in the ACC and get the lowest bowl in the ACC!!!! HOW!!!!!”
Offensive lineman Scott Morgan: “Feels like a slap in the face.”
Searcy later tweeted that “We’re excited to play in Detroit, it’s just disappointing to see our hard work is being overlooked.”
The Belk seemed like a logical destination for the Jackets, as the Charlotte, N.C., bowl game is close to the Tech fan base and one that Tech has never played. Jackets fans may well have been eager to see their team play an SEC team (South Carolina) and witness Johnson’s final game. Further, the motivation of Virginia fans to travel would seem questionable, given the Cavaliers’ three losses in their final four games, including one to Tech on Nov. 17. But the Belk and UVA were consistently linked in the week leading up to Sunday’s announcement.
The Pinstripe would also have been a favorable destination, a trip to New York to play in Yankee Stadium. However, Miami, another team that Tech beat, nabbed that spot. The Hurricanes’ appeal as a national brand with fans across the country likely factored in their selection.
The Military (Annapolis, Md.) was another cruel rejection, as not only did Virginia Tech lose at home to the Jackets, but squeaked into bowl eligibility at 6-6. However, Virginia Tech has tens of thousands of alumni in the Washington area, making the Hokies a seemingly easy decision for Military officials. This week, after Johnson’s decision to step down became public, the bowl considered the opportunity to grant him a sendoff at the Naval Academy stadium where he coached for six years seasons prior to coming to Tech before deciding to stick with the Hokies.
The Military’s selection of Virginia Tech is indicative of the factors at play that go beyond a team’s merit in selecting bowls. Georgia Tech’s fan base has not traveled well in recent seasons, and the home attendance average this season (43,087) was the lowest since 2001, which was before Bobby Dodd Stadium’s capacity was expanded. Virginia Tech and Miami in particular are bigger brands nationally that might be expected to deliver bigger television audiences.
It will be Tech’s first bowl game outside of the Southeast or Texas since playing in the Humanitarian Bowl in 2007 in Boise, Idaho. It will also be the Jackets’ first-ever game against Minnesota, which was 6-6 and 3-6 in Big Ten play.
Quick Lane Bowl executive director Brad Michaels said that, during the bowl trip, teams will have the opportunity to attend a Detroit Lions game at Ford Field (where the bowl game will also be played) and visit the Henry Ford Museum. Michaels told the AJC on Friday that “we’re confident that, no matter who we get, they’re going to leave here wanting to come back.”