ATHENS, Ga. -- The monotonous stretch of Route 78 that extends from Atlanta to Athens rests surprisingly quiet this week.
The in-state hate-fest between Georgia and Georgia Tech looms just a day away, and for the first time since 1966 both teams are ranked in the top 25. But little chatter and fewer jabs litter the landscape between the two rivals.
Considering the subplots Saturday afternoon, the silence seems rather peculiar. From Georgia's precarious bowl hope to Tech's desire to end its seven-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
Oh, and then there's that little matter of Quincy Carter, Tech's former golden boy lining up against the team to which he once committed.
"I'm sure there's some animosity there, that goes with the territory," said Georgia coach Jim Donnan said. "He knew that when he came here."
But you wouldn't know it from speaking with Tech's players and coaches.
Responses to Carter's ticklish link to Tech have been relatively limited this week. Most questions -- to either party -- get rebuked with little mind.
"I don't think anyone wants Quincy's head on a platter," Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton said.
It's been nearly three years since the prized quarterback signed a letter-of-intent to play for Georgia Tech. Three years since Jacket fans prepared to welcome one of the nation's best players, a Parade All-American who just finished leading Southwest DeKalb to the class AAAA state championship.
But when Carter takes the field for Saturday's noon kickoff, he'll be clad in red and black, surely unleashing some enmity across Sanford Stadium.
After all, Carter originally signed with Tech. He then chose professional baseball, and when he sought to return to play college football -- at Georgia -- Tech was adamant about making him honor his prior commitment.
When the NCAA released Carter from his letter-if-intent, Tech filed an unsuccessful appeal to keep Carter off the field for two seasons.
"I think people have a point in their life where they have to make decisions," Tech coach George O'Leary said. "He made one, and I think he's had a tremendous year for them."
But underneath that seems to lie the lingering tension. O'Leary wouldn't address Carter by name, referring to him only as "that quarterback" during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
Then there's Tech athletics director Dave Braine growing increasingly incensed over questions related to Tech's former prize catch.
"Why do you want to talk about that now?" Braine asked Tuesday night. "That was nine months ago. I'm not going to address that, not this week."
One person certainly watching his words is Carter, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound freshman. Never one to offer incendiary or controversial remarks, Carter has tightened his reins even further this week.
He says he's almost forgotten the entire ordeal with Tech, even saying this game means no more than any other.
"I knew you guys would be looking for some good horror stories about the process," Carter said. "But, you know, I've kind of forgotten it myself. It's really in the past."
The bigger the situation, the more Carter seems to be able to hide his true feelings. Heck, three months ago, when he learned that he earned the highly-anticipated starting quarterback job, Carter kept the news to himself.
No high-fives. No celebration. He didn't reveal the secret to friends or family. He walked into the locker room and donned his equipment like any other afternoon. While teammates offered congratulations, Carter brushed off the attention.
"I just kept it to myself," Carter said. "You feel for other people, you want to make sure everyone knows first."
Carter's well-chronicled saga began more than three years ago when he was one of the nation's top recruits coming out of Southwest DeKalb. He verbally committed to Georgia, but reneged when Ray Goff was fired.
Carter then said he committed to Auburn, but when national signing day arrived in the spring of 1995, Carter inked his name with the Jackets and seemed on course to compete with Hamilton, a redshirt freshman, and Brandon Shaw for the starting job that fall.
Before he ever made it to Atlanta, the Chicago Cubs took Carter in the second round of the Major League draft and offered the 18-year-old a $425,000, baseball-only contract. Two years in the minor leagues did nothing to diminish his love of football.
"I missed football," Carter said in late summer. "Everyday I thought about football. It was affecting my concentration in baseball. I'd be going up to the plate thinking about third down."
Last fall, with his batting average hovering under .250 in rookie league, Carter sought, then was granted permission from the Cubs to head back to college to play football.
"We knew Quincy had a great desire to play football again," Cubs general manager Ed Lynch said. "and it probably affected his play (last) season. We thought the best thing for his long-term future and our organization was to let him explore this and get it out of his system."
With permission granted, Carter asked an NCAA steering committee to release him from the letter-of-intent he signed with Tech.
The request was granted in November, but Tech appealed, saying that Carter should be forced to sit out two years if he were to enroll at another school.
Tech lost its appeal in mid-January and, "The whole recruiting process started again," Carter said.
He considered a number of schools before settling upon Georgia. He denies any suggestion that Hamilton's presence at Tech led him away from the Atlanta school. Then moments after saying it played no part, Carter seems to contradict himself.
"It was a good opportunity, where Georgia just lost a quarterback coming off a good season, and the program is on the rise," Carter said. "Mike Bobo was leaving and I just wanted to come in somewhere and compete for the starting job."
He arrived on Georgia's doorstep this fall without participating in spring practice or playing in a game since December 1995.
Yet he became the first freshman to start in Athens since John Rauch opened his string of 45 straight starts back in 1945. Carter tossed a touchdown on his second collegiate play. Three weeks later, he was named SEC player of the week for his 318 yards and 15 consecutive completions in a stunning 28-27 victory against LSU in Death Valley.
"I saw Quincy play in high school," Georgia linebacker Dustin Luckie said. "I had never seen anything like it. He was running timing patterns with his receivers and the ball was right there every time.
"I knew he was a special quarterback. You could tell that even before he put his pads on."
This is Carter's first Georgia-Georgia Tech game. But he knows a little bit about the rivalry. He attended one of these games during his senior season at Southwest DeKalb as a way of keeping the following night's playoff game off his mind.
Most of the focus centers on him this time around, although nobody seems to think he'll be intimidated by the pressure.
"I don't think it's going to hurt him, but actually help him," offensive guard Jonas Jennings said. "This will jack Quincy up. He may have the game of his life against Tech."
If he does, it would drive yet another stake deep into Jacket faithful.
Georgia Tech (8-2) at Georgia (8-2)
Saturday, noon, CBS
Jackets' offense: Tech owns one of the nation's most versatile offenses and is producing 37 points per game, good for 11th in the country. This year's team ranks fifth in school history with an average of 386.5 yards per outing. QB Joe Hamilton is 4 yards shy of his second straight 2,000-yard season, although he hasn't hit for 200 yards in four games. He has 16 TD tosses, nine of which have landed in Dez White's hands.
Bulldogs' offense: Georgia has finally found an effective running attack, with Olandis Gary gaining 262 yards over the last two weeks. But the offensive line almost certainly will be without center Miles Luckie and tackle Matt Stinchcomb is wearing a harness for his bruised right shoulder. QB Quincy Carter has thrown for 2,259 yards (a Georgia freshman record) and 12 TDs and is the key for the Bulldogs.
Jackets' defense: Tech's defense has improved steadily from its abominable opener, but still yields 398.9 yards per game. The Jackets rank eighth in the ACC in total and rushing defense, allowing 175.2 yards per game on the ground. Tech leads the ACC in sacks with an average of 3.4 per game, led by DE Jesse Tarplin, who has nine.
Bulldogs' defense: Georgia hasn't seen much of the option this fall, but must learn quickly against Tech's versatile attack. The Bulldogs are allowing only 127 yards per game on the ground. Jim Thorpe finalist Champ Bailey likely will be assigned to stop White, the Jackets' top deep threat.
Key matchup: Special teams. The Jackets have scored four special-teams touchdowns this season and lead the ACC in kickoff returns, punt returns and net punting. The Jackets own a big advantage against Georgia's kicking game, which has been a concern all season. Hap Hines has made just five of eight field goals, and Wynn Kopp is averaging only 36.2 yards per punt.
Injury update: For Tech, LB Delaunta Cameron (knee) is questionable. For Georgia, TE Randy McMichael (knee) is out. C Miles Luckie (knee), TB Nick Callaway (shoulder) and OT Kelvin Williams (ankle) are doubtful. OT Matt Stinchcomb (shoulder) is questionable.
1998 Georgia Schedule
Sept. 5 -- W, Kent, 56-3
Sept. 12 -- W, South Carolina, 17-3
Sept. 19 -- W, Wyoming, 17-9
Oct. 3 -- W, LSU, 28-27
Oct. 10 -- L, Tennessee, 3-22
Oct. 17 -- W, Vanderbilt, 31-6
Oct. 24 -- W, Kentucky, 28-26
Oct. 31 -- L, Florida 7-38
Nov. 14 -- W, Auburn, 28-17
Nov. 21 -- W, Mississippi, 24-17
Nov. 28 -- Georgia Tech, noon (CBS)
1998 Georgia Tech Schedule
Sept. 5 -- L, Boston College, 31-41
Sept. 12 -- W, New Mexico State, 42-7
Sept. 26 -- W, North Carolina, 43-21
Oct. 3 -- W, Duke 41-13
Oct. 10 -- W, N.C. State, 47-24
Oct. 17 -- W, Virginia, 41-38
Oct. 24 -- L, Florida State, 31-7
Oct. 31 -- W, Maryland,
Nov. 12 -- W, Clemson, 24-21
Nov. 21 -- W, Wake Forest, 63-35
Nov. 28 -- @ Georgia, noon (CBS)
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