ATLANTA — As the Georgia Tech students strolled out of Bobby Dodd Stadium early Sunday, they seemed more focused on upstaging their biggest rival than making a statement in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“To hell with Georgia!” they shouted in unison, finally heading home after a rousing upset of undefeated Clemson.
For the Yellow Jackets, however, the 31-17 victory was more significant to the ACC race. Suddenly, a team that appeared in big trouble finds itself just two wins away from having a shot to make up for the conference title that was snatched away by the NCAA this past summer.
If Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2 ACC) can knock off Virginia Tech and Duke, it very likely will be playing in the ACC championship game for the second time in three years.
“It makes the next game that much bigger,” coach Paul Johnson said.
The Yellow Jackets, who climbed back into The AP rankings at No. 22, are off next weekend, then play host to No. 12 Virginia Tech (8-1, 4-1) in a prime-time game Thursday night that will likely decide the Coastal Division title. Virginia is the only other team in the division with just two conference losses, and the Cavaliers still have road games at Maryland and Florida State, plus the season finale against their state rival. It’s hard to imagine a rebuilding program making it through all those games without at least one more loss.
Georgia Tech’s players and coaches know they have a chance to make this a very special season after Saturday night’s win.
“I am really proud of our guys,” Johnson said. “I could not be prouder.”
Thousands of gold-clad students stormed the field after the game, many of them apparently more pleased about matching Georgia’s victory over Florida earlier Saturday than knocking off an unbeaten conference foe.
For Clemson, there was nothing but anguish. The Tigers (8-1, 5-1) came into the game ranked No. 6 – and fifth in the BCS standings – with a shot to make an improbable run at playing for the national championship. Now, having slipped to 11th in the new AP poll, they’ll have to focus on winning the ACC title.
The Tigers can still clinch the Atlantic Division with a win in their next game, at home against second-place Wake Forest on Nov. 12. For coach Dabo Swinney, that would be proof that a once-powerhouse program is back on the right track.
“It’ll be senior day and we have a chance to win this division for the second time in three years,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to do, and they we’ll have an opportunity to play for this conference (title).”