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Go ahead and get those tickets punched, Jacket fans. You're headed to Jacksonville for the ACC championship game.
That fact became evident last week as Georgia Tech staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent history to beat Miami for homecoming, 30-23.
Here's my favorite stat of the game. The Hurricanes went ahead 10-0 with about seven minutes gone in the first quarter. Over the next 50 minutes of play, Georgia Tech outscored Miami by 30-6 and put the game away decisively. If Jamal Lewis and Avery Roberson hadn't been sloppy in their tackling, Miami would not have made that late touchdown pass and the final score would have reflected more accurately Tech's dominance. (I shudder to think what defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta had in mind to "correct" Jamal and Avery's lapse in practice this week.)
I don't know when I've seen a player turn his performance around so radically in the course of a game as quarterback Reggie Ball did. He got off to a miserable start by fumbling the ball on the game's first play to give Miami a cheap touchdown, then completed only 3 of 16 passes in the first half. It seemed as if the injuries that dragged Ball down to a subpar game against Clemson would do the same here, but Reggie magically regained his touch late in the third quarter and directed two nifty scoring drives that enabled Tech to score 10 points and grab the momentum.
The one quibble I would have with Ball was his bizarre decision to lay the ball on the ground just outside the goal line when it looked like he would be tackled in the end zone for a safety. I don't know what he was thinking, and he almost gave away another touchdown to Miami. Fortunately, Tech covered the ball and Durant Brooks (another of Saturday's heroes) boomed a punt out of the end zone for 63 yards - the greatest punting performance I've seen since the days of Rodney Williams.
A big factor in the turnaround was Ball's ability to reconnect with wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Running back Tashard Choice was another key to the comeback. Miami came into Atlanta having surrendered an average of less than 70 rushing yards a game. Choice busted that all by himself by running for 107 yards on 26 carries and scoring the late touchdown that turned out to be the game-breaker. Much credit is also due fullback Mike Cox, whose blocks opened up seams for Choice to run through on several big plays. When Cox is in the game, Tech plays with the equivalent of an extra offensive lineman. That can be a very good thing, as Choice demonstrated last Saturday.
With the exception of that late touchdown pass, Tech's defense kept Miami out of the end zone, whipped up on quarterback Kyle Wright for six sacks and forced a turnover that set up the final touchdown by Choice. A solid performance, especially by the big-play guys Philip Wheeler and KaMichael Hall.
I never thought I would see the day that Georgia Tech would be a five-point favorite over Miami - and beat the spread. Heckuva job, guys.
I know you're supposed to wait until the games are played and it's all official but as far as I'm concerned, Tech fans can start making their reservations for Jacksonville. The only way the Jackets don't make it to the championship game is if they lose two of the three upcoming games against N. C. State, UNC, and Duke.
There is a slight chance that the Jackets might lose one of those three games - most likely against N.C. State - and I would say there's a 25 percent chance of that happening. I don't see any possible scenario under which Tech would lose two games against three opponents who have won a combined four games among themselves. It's mathematically possible, but about as likely as the Libertarian Party candidate winning the Georgia governor's race. Just not gonna happen in the real world.
The opponent in the championship game will probably be the winner of the Boston College-Wake Forest matchup, which means the ACC championship game will not involve Miami, FSU, or Virginia Tech, the programs that get the most hype from the football writers every year.
With all the talk you hear about "one-loss teams" that have a shot at going to the BCS championship, two teams with one loss who never get mentioned are BC and Wake, showing you the ingrained prejudice among sportswriters towards ACC football.
Actually, Wake Forest could have been undefeated right now if not for a special teams breakdown. In the Clemson game, the Deacons dominated early and led 17-3 in the fourth quarter when they lined up to try a field goal that would effectively wrap up the game. The snap was bad, however, the kick was blocked, and Clemson DE Gaines Adams ran it in for a touchdown. That opened the floodgates and swung the momentum to the Tigers, who came roaring back late to defeat Wake by 27-17. But if the Deacs had made that FG, they could well be 8-0 at this point in the season.
They've done all this without their starting quarterback (Ben Mauk) or their best running back (Micah Andrews), who were lost for the season due to early injuries. That would be comparable to Tech having to play this season without Reggie Ball or Tashard Choice. In that circumstance, would the Jackets still be 6-2 right now? That's why I've been saying for years that Wake Coach Jim Grobe is one of the best coaches in the conference - he does more with less resources and talent than any coach I've ever seen, with the possible exception of the service academy coaches.
Not only that, but Wake Forest has completed a rare sweep by beating Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State in the same season for the first time since 1987.
Of course, it is impossible for both Wake Forest and Boston College to finish with 11-1 records because they play each other this weekend.
The Deacons' remaining games are against the Eagles, FSU, Virginia Tech, and Maryland. Even if they win only one of those four games, they would still have an 8-4 record and should get a reasonably good bowl invitation.
Boston College closes against Wake Forest, Duke, Maryland, and Miami. Right, the Eagles look like a relatively good bet to win all four of those games and finish 11-1. Even if they lose one, they still would be in command of a championship game slot.
Maryland still has a mathematical chance with a 3-1 conference record (6-2 overall), but they close with games against Clemson, Miami, Boston College, and Wake Forest. I think the Terps will lost at two and maybe three of those final four games to eliminate themselves.
Clemson too has a shot at it, and with league games remaining against N. C. State and Maryland, they probably will finish 6-2 in conference play. But because the Tigers lost head-to-head against Boston College, the Eagles would have to lose at least two more games to give Clemson a shot at it. I don't think that's going to happen but it is, still, a possibility.
While Tech was taking care of business against the Hurricanes, the overrated Clarke County Chihuahuas were losing yet again (for the 15th time in 17 years) to Florida. After that loss, Georgia is not only unranked - they didn't even get a single vote in the AP poll.
Chihuahua Nation fans were whining and moaning that a "phantom" face mask penalty on Quentin Moses enabled Florida to make a late first down and run out the clock. I guess they understand now how Jacket fans feel about that phantom holding penalty in 1997 that wiped out Tavares' Tillman late interception in the Tech-Georgia game. Doesn't feel good, does it?
Georgia looks like they are headed for a 7-5 record this season, which raises an interesting thought. I remember reading numerous postings on that team's message boards during the Jim Donnan era where fans said, in effect, "an 8-3 season is not acceptable." Georgia could well lose to Auburn and Georgia Tech, leaving them a total of five losses in all. Given that so many fans consider a season with three losses to be "not acceptable," that leaves only one course of action for athletic director Damon Evans: Fire Richt!!!
This week's picks -
Georgia Tech (-6) at North Carolina State. The Wolfpack isn't a very good team but they're a very dangerous team (just ask Boston College). The key to this one is Tenuta's defense putting the clamps on State QB Daniel Evans. There's no way I'd lay six points in this kind of road game, and for some reason I'm a little nervous about Tech winning it straight up.
Maryland at Clemson (-17). A lot of Jacket fans (me among them) were grousing about Reggie Ball's subpar game against Clemson and his slow start against Miami, but has anybody taken a look at Clemson QB Will Proctor lately? He played like kitty crap against Tech (although that didn't affect the outcome of the game) and may have put on the worst performance by a quarterback in ACC history when the Tiggers were pounded by Virginia Tech. This looked like an easy pick two weeks ago, but now I'm not so sure. I had pretty much written off the Terps after two losing seasons and an uninspired start in September, but damned if ol' Ralph hasn't pulled things together and somehow gotten Maryland bowl eligible. With a quarterback as bad as Proctor, I don't see how Clemson can cover 17.
Florida (-17) at Vanderbilt. The Gators are probably due for a letdown after the Georgia game, so Vanderbilt might be a good play with the points.
Arkansas State at Auburn (-31). The War Eagles are just marking time until the Chihuahuas come to town. They also don't do such a hot job of covering big spreads like this one.
North Carolina at Notre Dame (-27). The John Bunting death march continues. Brady Quinn would like to get back in Heisman contention, and the Tar Heel defense just might put him there.
Louisiana State (-3) at Tennessee. The conventional wisdom building amongst the sportswriters is that LSU will put Fat Phil and his Vowels back in their place. When are they going to wake up and realize that Tennessee not only smacked around the Cal Golden Bears, they only lost to Florida by a point? Even on a bad weekend, Erik Ainge is a better quarterback than almost anyone else you'll find in the SEC this year. I'd take Tennessee and the points.
Boston College (-4) at Wake Forest. The Deacons are the kind of scrappy underdog program you want to cheer for, but it's getting to that point of the season where their lack of depth starts to kick in (they're getting low on running backs, for example). Although I'll shed a tear to see it, I think BC wins and covers this weekend.
Arkansas at South Carolina (-2). The Razorbacks are riding a seven-game winning streak that has to end sometime - why not this weekend against the Gamecocks, when Arkansas might be looking ahead to Tennessee? I'd be very tempted to take South Carolina and the points if it weren't for the uncertainty surrounding QB Syvelle Newton's playing status (he suffered a concussion against Tennessee last week).
Virginia Tech at Miami (-2.5). This isn't quite the marquee matchup it's been in years past, and Miami could be that much closer to a complete meltdown after the spanking they took last week from Georgia Tech. If the Hokies cover - and I think they're fully capable - we could be hearing an announcement from Miami officials about Coach Larry Coker's future. I don't think the news will be good for Larry.
Georgia (-7) at Kentucky. The Trembling Chihuahuas do lose in Lexington every few years or so, and this is a time when Georgia is looking very erratic while Kentucky is on a bit of a upswing. Want to be daring and take the Wildcats? Go for it.
Virginia at Florida State (-12). Even as bad as Virginia is, this isn't really a sure thing for FSU anymore. I don't know if people living outside Tallahassee appreciate just how bad the situation is in Seminole Country. On the other hand, the Cavaliers traditionally stink up the joint when they play within the confines of the state of Florida. What happens when a program on the decline goes up against a team of underachievers? I think we're about to find out.
Dr Football - Game 9 of the Jacket's Season!
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