ATLANTA - Georgia Tech has done everything possible to make today's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl game against LSU feel like a reward for a 9-2 regular-season record.
The Yellow Jackets could have spent the week preparing for the 5 p.m. kickoff inside the Georgia Dome while staying on campus and eating dormitory food. After all, the campus is less than two miles away from the football stadium.
Coach George O'Leary, however, decided to create the illusion of a bowl atmosphere by taking the team to a luxury hotel five miles from campus. They have been bused to and from workouts instead of walking to the same practice field they've used since early August.
"It was good to get out of the dorms and into a hotel," said defensive end Felipe Claybrooks. "It makes it feel more like a bowl game. It wouldn't have felt that way if we were still on campus.
"The other thing is, we don't have to worry about breaking curfew. We already know the town. We know where to go, where not to go. There's no reason for us to get into any trouble."
For 15th-ranked Georgia Tech, today's game before a sellout crowd is about compromise. The team thought its opponent would be either Auburn or South Carolina but had to settle for the unranked 7-4 Tigers.
At the same time, the team will make a hefty profit from their $1.8 million cut of the game's proceeds, since they don't have to pay for any significant travel and their stay in the northern suburbs was limited to just four days.
Equally important for the Yellow Jackets is the very real opportunity to make a first impression on the 2001 season - and beyond. The game could go a long way in establishing Georgia Tech as a top-10 team in the preseason, as well as solidifying the team's stranglehold in statewide recruiting.
"As a coach, you can't spend time looking in the rearview mirror," O'Leary said. "You have to look ahead. A game like this gives us the kind of national exposure that means a lot to the kids you're trying to recruit. There's a lot of competition out there for talent. You need players to win games. Sure, you can win a game or two with coaching, but you still need players.
"Recruiting is a lot like shaving: If you miss a day, you look like a bum."
Tech's fan base seemed energized by staying close to home. All 21,000 tickets allotted to the Yellow Jackets and the Tigers were bought before Nov. 21, making the Peach Bowl the third-quickest bowl game to post a sellout this year. Only the Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl enjoyed faster sellouts.
The demand for tickets at Georgia Tech was so great, the school created a lottery-like system to distribute their tickets. Those who weren't lucky enough to win a chance to buy tickets to the game will have their money refunded.
"I pushed hard for (the Peach Bowl), and I didn't have to push hard because the seniors voted unanimously to go here," O'Leary said. "It's a tough ticket. There are no tickets out there. You should see all the requests I've got on my desk for tickets, and I don't have any. It's a good situation for us to be in."
To get ready for 71,500 fans, Georgia Tech spent much of this week's practice inside the Georgia Dome with loud speakers blasting the sound of jet engines. O'Leary had a sound system mounted on a golf cart, and with the volume turned all the way up, the cart followed the offensive huddle throughout practice.
"It's loud," quarterback George Godsey said. "You better have a pretty good visual system and a good check-off system. We'll probably go on a silent count some of the time."
As the second-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Jackets could have played on New Year's Day at the Gator Bowl. But after playing two consecutive years in Jacksonville, Fla., the team opted to take a smaller payday and stay at home for the Peach Bowl.
"This is a stepping stone for us to prove we belong here," Tigers coach Nick Saban said. "In a game like this, it's a one-game season because it's so far removed from what they're used to doing. Some teams prepare for bowls better than others. That's why you see so many surprises in bowl games."
Georgia Tech went to extremes this week to reduce some of those surprises. They've turned the Peach Bowl into a home game with the illusion of a bowl atmosphere.