Since 2004, The postseason fortunes of the Georgia Tech football team have been well short of expectations, to say the least.
After wrapping up the 2004 season, Georgia Tech would eventually dismantle Syracuse in the Champs Sports Bowl (now Russell Athletic Bowl) 51-14, and would sit a the top of college football with the nation’s best bowl winning percentage.
With a 22-10 record and percentage of 68.6, the Yellow Jackets towered above the nation versus teams with a minimum of 20 bowl appearances.
The following nine years proved to be a different tale than most Tech fans would have liked.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Since that victory shortly before Christmas in 2004, this program is a disappointing 1-8 in bowl games (now 23-18 overall). Some of those games have been tough loses no question, and some have been not-so-close.
Paul Johnson has taken the brunt of criticism for this streak, but in all honesty it started years prior to his arrival under former coach Chan Gailey.
The streak began in San Francisco in the (former) Emerald Bowl. Georgia Tech would draw Utah Utes who at that time were still in the Mountain West.
In another miserable performance by Reggie Ball, the Jackets could only muster 10 points in a display that appeared to match the California sky that afternoon, dreary and gloomy. Even with superstar WR Calvin Johnson, the offense sputtered as it seemed to do so often under Gailey’s regime.
That season ended oddly for the Jackets. After defeating the No.3 Miami Hurricanes in a primetime game at the old Orange Bowl late in the season, the Jackets came oh-so-close to defeating the eventual SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs.
Tech’s stout defense lead by coordinator Jon Tenuta gave UGA QB D.J. Shockley fits all night, but QB Reggie Ball would throw and interception late in the game as Tech was driving to force OT.
Still, with the inaugural ACC Championship game looming in Jacksonville, Tech appeared bound for the Peach Bowl.
Virginia Tech was favored to beat the Seminoles, who had lost 4 games, and GA Tech was likely the ACC’s next best option.
Unfortunately, FSU upset Marcus Vick and VA Tech, and the Peach Bowl, faced with different pecking order circumstances, extended an invitation to Miami instead of the Jackets, sending the team to the West Coast.
History tells us that teams in college football who are unhappy with their bowl selection tend to underperform in those games. Maybe the Emerald Bowl was an example of that, but what exactly is the reasoning behind some of the others?
Fast-forward to 2008. After a huge inaugural season for new head coach Paul Johnson, Tech, coming off an impressive win over Matt Stafford and the 13th-ranked Bulldogs, entered the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta facing the unranked LSU Tigers.
It’s hard to say Tech came out flat in that game because they initially moved the ball well.
But after a fumble, then a questionable fake punt deep in Tech territory early, as well as other sputters on offense, the game seemed out of hand by halftime at 28-3. The Jackets would go on to lose that game 38-3.
Then move on to the very next season. After winning the ACC Championship in 2009, Tech received the automatic BCS bid to the Orange Bowl.
This marked the first major bowl game since the 1967 Orange Bowl that Georgia Tech would play in. Even in the 1990 National Championship season, the team played in the Citrus Bowl.
In the coldest Orange Bowl ever recorded (yes, how is the Orange Bowl kickoff temp at FREEZING!?), Tech’s offense sputtered again, and this may be more a testament to Iowa’s defense more than it was Tech’s offense. DE Adrian Clayborn headlined an NFL-ready, stout defensive unit that likely was the best in all of college football that season.
Nevertheless, Tech only mustered 14 points in that contest, and the drought continued, and at that point sat at five straight losses.
Move on to 2011, as Tech received a bid to face Utah in the Sun Bowl. Tech lit up the scoreboard, proving many pundits wrong who said Johnson’s offense could easily be shut down with multiple weeks to prepare, but Tech’s defense, as they so often did earlier in Johnson’s tenure, buckled and allowed the Utes to fight back to force OT, where Tech eventually lost 30-27.
Dec 31, 2012; El Paso, TX, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson receives the Sun Bowl trophy after defeating the Southern California Trojans 21-7 in the 79th Sun Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports
The next season, after reaching the ACC Title Game by virtue of Miami and UNC being ineligible to appear (it is worth noting though that Tech was tied for the division championship anyway), Tech would head out to El Paso again due to the conference’s rules protecting the ACC Championship loser.
ACC rules stipulated at the time that the title game loser could not fall past the Sun Bowl in the selection order process. The Jackets would face Lane Kiffin’s USC team that was picked preseason #1 by many.
FINALLY, Tech would grab that elusive bowl win that has been so hard to get in this last decade. Tech pretty much dominated the Trojans, and the offense operated at will, to compliment the defense shutting down the Trojans anemic offense.
Unfortunately, the team would go right back to the unfortunate trend of disappointing fans on New Years, as last year’s squad dropped the Music City Bowl to the Ole Miss Rebels by a touchdown, behind another underwhelming performance by former QB Vad Lee.
Heading into this years Orange Bowl, it’s been a fantastic ride for the Yellow Jackets and their fans so far for 2014.
Tech has punched their ticket to get a second chance at the Orange Bowl trophy after the disappointment of the 2010 game.
What this team has accomplished so far — winning a division they were picked 5th in, beating their biggest rivals, and earning a spot in Charlotte with a respectable performance against the reining champs — is huge for the program to go out and legitimize this season by capturing this win.
The SEC West is almost unanimously considered the best division in college football, and that’s hard to argue. Mississippi State garnered the No.1 spot for a few weeks earlier this season, and as late as Nov 15. MSU finished 2nd in the big, bad SEC West. Had it not been for an unexpected loss to their arch-rival Ole Miss, Miss State was still a possibility for the Playoff.
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Miss State has likely the best defensive line in all of college football, which is very similar to Tech’s situation in the 2010 game against Adrian Clayborn and Iowa.
It’s time for the Jackets to prove even more doubters wrong and show the nation that regardless of time, regardless of talent and/or size on the opposing defense, regardless of stature of conference, that Tech can get the job done.
If they can do that, this team will likely be preseason top 10 heading into 2015. With Justin Thomas at the helm for two more seasons, and a defensive unit that keeps improving, nothing paints the picture prettier than a bowl full of oranges.