ATLANTA - During the early years of the Bobby Bowden era at Florida State, the Seminoles would return from a big road victory with a piece of turf cut from the home team's field.
Georgia Tech (2-0) would like to bring something different back from Chapel Hill, N.C., after Saturday's clash with No. 11 North Carolina (2-0) - a ranking.
Once a mainstay in the college football polls, Tech hasn't even had a short stay in the Top 25 for nearly four years now. After appearing in 17 consecutive weekly polls during the height of the Bobby Ross era in 1990-91, the Yellow Jackets haven't been recognized by either major poll since Oct. 19, 1992.
Beating North Carolina, which has defeated Clemson and Syracuse impressively, would undoubtedly earn Tech a ranking.
"It's pretty important to the players because we haven't been ranked in a while," said Yellow Jackets offensive tackle Curtis McGee, a fifth-year senior. "I think all of the players would like to see us be a ranked team. It's an incentive, but I think the main incentive is winning the game and taking a step toward our goal of going to a bowl game."
Unlike in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when Tech was ranked almost as regularly as Alabama and Notre Dame, ranked teams now have a substantial advantage over schools that are ignored.
Ranked teams get more media exposure. Television networks are more apt to show their highlights, radio stations mention their scores more often, and newspapers outside a school's region often run separate stories.
"The rankings probably help recruiting," Tech coach George O'Leary said. "The kids see that you're ranked, and that's big with them. Overall, it probably helps with the team's psyche as far as, `Hey, we're ranked.' But I think it's more important where you're ranked in November than September."
North Carolina jumped 12 spots in the Associated press poll after beating No. 9 Syracuse on the road two weeks ago, then moved up another spot last week without playing. The No. 11 ranking is the Tar Heels' highest since being ranked 11th in the final 1993 poll.
"In the past, I've been like every other coach, and said, `Oh, it doesn't matter where you're ranked,"' said Carolina coach Mack Brown. "But it does matter. That's why you play. It makes the game more important to your players because they have more to lose. And I'll tell you this, it's better to be ranked 11th than 43rd, where Sports Illustrated had us before the season."
North Carolina is an early 10-point favorite - a large margin, considering the fact Tech won last year's meeting in Atlanta and has started impressively this season with a 12-point victory over North Carolina State on the road and a 20-point win over Wake Forest at home.
Then again, Tech hasn't won at Kenan Stadium since 1945, and Carolina has an 11-4-1 advantage in the series since Tech joined the ACC in 1980.
"I kind of like being the underdog going in," said McGee. " Think the (point spread) just shows that people don't think we've come as far as I think we have. So we're going to have to keep on showing people that we're for real here."
Added defensive tackle Derrick Shepard: "In my mind, I feel like we're the favorites because we have everything going our way so far."
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