The stars are aligning perfectly for Georgia Tech to upset defending national champion Florida State in the ACC Championship game one week from Saturday in Charlotte.
Florida State’s remarkable run of consecutive victories will come to an end in the Queen City, most likely ending any chance for an ACC team to be a part of the four-team national college football playoff (although back-to-back wins over Georgia and FSU would actually put Tech into the conversation).
Does Florida State have more 5-star recruits than Georgia Tech? No question. More future NFL players? Probably. But, so did Clemson, which Georgia Tech throttled last week.
Here are the reasons why, in my opinion, Tech coach Paul Johnson will be accepting the championship trophy from ACC commissioner John Swofford on the evening of December 6th:
1. Never fear, Underdog is here. Georgia Tech has historically played its best football when no one gives the Yellow Jackets a chance to win. Heading into this game, there will be more conversation about where Florida State should be ranked in the College Football Playoff poll, NOT whether FSU can beat Georgia Tech.
2. The stage is not too big. Two years ago in the same stadium, the same two teams met for the ACC title, and many of those Yellow Jackets will be playing key roles in this year’s championship game. Tech won’t be intimidated by Florida State. After narrow victories over Boston College, Clemson and Notre Dame, among others, there are too many chinks in the FSU armor to be in awe. Plus, I’m not sure there’s a more confident football team right now than the Yellow Jackets, who haven’t lost in a month, and seem to be getting better as the season progresses.
3. It’s not the same Jameis. Let’s be clear, even on a bad ankle Jameis Winston is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. But that ankle is clearly bothering him and it showed against Boston College this week. More than that, though, this is not the same fun-loving Winston we saw last year. It’s not the same guy who always had a smile on his face as FSU whipped foe after foe. Perhaps the negative attention he’s received all season is wearing on him, or maybe he’s fatigued from carrying a team that waits until the fourth quarter to play above the level of competition, but something is different about him this year.
4. For one night, Tech will be “America’s Team.” Don’t underestimate the power of having an entire nation of college football fans — well, at least those outside of Tallahassee — sending positive vibes to the Yellow Jackets. Florida State has become the nation’s most-hated team — in part because of their on-going remarkable success, in part because there’s a perception the star quarterback is allowed to do whatever he pleases off the field, and maybe because even Seth Greenberg thinks head coach Jimbo Fisher complains about committees too much.
5. Watch the knees, boys. Let’s get this out of the way. Georgia Tech’s cut-blocking (blocking below the waist, usually at knee-level) is legal, every team employs it to some extent, and there has never been any data proving cut-blocking causes more injuries than traditional blocking. Yet, linebackers and defensive backs in the ACC despise preparing for Georgia Tech. Your head has to be on a swivel, constantly looking for Tech A-backs diving at your ankles, like 190-pound gnats.
Florida State, meanwhile, has a roster full of guys who will eventually play on Sundays. Many will be playing their next-to-last college football game December 6th. Sure, they want to win a title, but they just want to get to the finish line in one healthy piece. The last team on the planet Florida State wants to play is Georgia Tech.
Meanwhile, the team Georgia Tech wants to play more than any other is Florida State.
Make that “undefeated” Florida State. Should the Seminoles get knocked off by Florida on Saturday — and that’s possible because we’ve been told by ESPN that every team in the SEC could win the NFC South — then that would change the dynamics of the ACC championship game.
One of the most overblown storylines next week will be about Florida State defensive coordinator and all-around great guy Charles Kelly, who previously worked five seasons under Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. Much will be written about Kelly’s familiarity with the Yellow Jacket offense, but I don’t consider it a huge factor because Tech and Johnson are equally familiar with Kelly.
Given the potential impact on the inaugural college football playoff, combined with Florida State’s propensity to live on the edge, this year’s ACC Championship has the makings of an Instant Classic.
Georgia Tech wins a thriller.