The college football season may still be weeks away, but Telegraph reporter Coley Harvey is here to start getting you ready. As teams across the ACC prepare for the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. on July 25-26, they can’t help but turn their attention toward the fall. With the conference as competitive as it has ever been, the ACC schedule boasts several key matchups this year that could help determine its eventual champion. Here is game No. 10 on our countdown:
No. 4 — Georgia Tech at Clemson
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Date: Oct. 23
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
A better than 80,000-person crowd likely will be backing Clemson as the Tigers run down the hill Oct. 23. After winning twice last year, how will the Yellow Jackets respond? Photo Credit: thetigernet.com
Last meeting: When these ACC rivals last met, the Yellow Jackets eked out a 39-34 win in last December’s ACC championship game, giving them an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl. It was their first Orange Bowl appearance since 1966. During the conference title game, former Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning dagger with less than two minutes remaining. Placekicker Scott Blair also converted all four of his field goal attempts. Indeed, the night was the Yellow Jackets’ finest hour of the season. While the finish went to Georgia Tech’s liking, the rest of the game was also highlighted by Tigers running back C.J. Spiller’s 233-yard rushing performance which was enough for him to be named game MVP.
Recent history: The last five seasons have gone much as Georgia Tech would hope, as the Yellow Jackets have won six of the seven meetings they have had with Clemson since 2004. In addition to beating the Tigers for the conference championship, the Yellow Jackets won an earlier meeting last season, edging Clemson at home 30-27. Blair had another memorable game that night, nailing three field goals and passing to former Yellow Jackets receiver Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown on a controversial fake. Clemson later argued Thomas wasn’t lined up properly before the play, and that the touchdown shouldn’t have counted.
What’s at stake: Naturally, what’s at stake in this game is bragging rights. As cross-division rivals in the ACC, Clemson and Georgia Tech have enjoyed several close finishes in recent seasons, with six of those same last seven games being decided by 10 points or less. But in addition to wanting to beat one another for the sake of it, both teams know the importance this game could have on their chances of seeing one another in the title game once again. While to some, expectations are muted for the Yellow Jackets to make a repeat trip, this midseason showdown can help dismiss naysayers. For the Tigers — who got news Wednesday that starting quarterback Kyle Parker was turning down first-round major league baseball draft money and returning to Clemson — the expectations are even lower with Spiller now gone. They, too, need a key midseason conference win to keep their place in the Atlantic Division race alive and well.
Subplots: Parker’s return will force Georgia Tech to place an added emphasis on strengthening its secondary. A unit that struggled last season to corral Spiller and receiver Jacoby Ford in the deep passing game, the Yellow Jackets’ safeties and cornerbacks will have to cover the Tigers better than they did in last season’s two meetings. If not, a now experienced, revenge-minded Parker could rip them apart. Speaking of revenge, Clemson fans likely have had this date circled on their calendars since Dec. 5, when they watched oranges being hurled at Yellow Jackets players instead of theirs. With the game held inside Clemson’s “Death Valley,” expect Georgia Tech to face one of the most hostile crowds it will see all season.