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ACC gets less-than-intriguing matchup with Tech, Wake

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded to 12 teams and added a lucrative championship game, officials figured either Florida State, Miami or Virginia Tech would be there every year and bring along national title implications.
    They never envisioned this.
    Georgia Tech? Maybe.
    Wake Forest? Not a chance.
    But the No. 23 Yellow Jackets and the 16th-ranked Demon Deacons exceeded expectations and earned spots in the ACC title game today at Alltel Stadium. They also set up a less-than-intriguing matchup.
    Neither team has national championship hopes. Neither does much for television ratings. And as of Friday afternoon, about 12,000 tickets remained, leaving it far from a sellout.
    But don’t expect Georgia Tech or Wake Forest to apologize. They prefer to consider this a well-deserved opportunity to win a championship and secure a spot in the Orange Bowl.
    ‘‘This is to hang that banner in your stadium for eternity,’’ Tech coach Chan Gailey said. ‘‘They’re going to remodel the stadium, they’re going to remodel the campus, but that banner will still be hanging there and you’ll have that ring forever.’’
    The Yellow Jackets (9-3) already have two conference banners, winning titles in 1990 and ’98. The Demon Deacons (10-2) have one league crown, in 1970.
    Somebody will add one more Saturday — and that one alone will be one more than Miami has in three years in the league.
    ‘‘When we added Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College, people thought that was going to be a negative for Wake Forest because the league would be too tough,’’ Wake coach Jim Grobe said. ‘‘But I always felt that in reality, by dividing the league into two divisions and having a championship game, it gave us a little better chance to make it to that game.’’
    But few outsiders gave Wake Forest much of a shot.
    When the league held its annual preseason kickoff in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach in July, Georgia Tech was picked to finish a distant third in the Coastal Division behind Miami and Virginia Tech, while Wake Forest was predicted to finish last in the Atlantic Division.
    But the Demon Deacons stunned most everyone with consecutive wins against Boston College and Florida State — a 30-0 shocker in Tallahassee that prompted Seminoles offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden to resign.
    Wake Forest lost badly to Virginia Tech the following week, but rebounded by beating Maryland last Saturday to clinch the division title.
    ‘‘We’ve had a pretty remarkable season,’’ Grobe said. ‘‘We’re really a football team without a lot of individual stars, but we’ve found a way to win some games. We’re not the most talented group, but we play pretty well as a team.’’
    Georgia Tech punched its ticket to Jacksonville three weeks ago with a 7-0 win at North Carolina. But the Yellow Jackets lost against rival Georgia last week, taking some luster off their season.
    ‘‘Would we like to be undefeated walking into this game? Sure. Who wouldn’t?’’ Gailey said. ‘‘But we’re not. We’ve won nine times and we lost three times. One just happened to come last week in a big ballgame, a very emotional ballgame. I don’t believe that has had any type of hangover affect whatsoever.
    ‘‘If anything, in my opinion, there’s a little bit of a burning in the pit of the stomach of some of these guys. And the way to get rid of that is to win this ballgame.’’
    If the Yellow Jackets lose, they probably will return to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl — a situation that has been debated this week between the conference and the bowl committee.
    The Gator Bowl would prefer to select a team that didn’t play in the title game a month earlier, but the ACC has a rule that won’t allow its bowls to pass one team for another if there is more than a one loss difference in conference records. Georgia Tech is 7-1, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are 6-2, and Clemson, Maryland and Boston College are 5-3.
    If Wake wins, it would go to the Orange Bowl. The Chick-fil-A Bowl would likely then take Virginia Tech to face Georgia, and the Gator Bowl would be stuck with the Yellow Jackets and unable to select Clemson, Maryland or Boston College.
    So Gators Bowl officials are privately rooting for Georgia Tech — about the only intrigue in this matchup.
    The players couldn’t care less. They just want their surprising seasons to continue with a championship.
    ‘‘It’s big,’’ Tech receiver Calvin Johnson said. ‘‘You never know when you’ll be in this situation again. You can’t say that you’ll be in the ACC championship again next year or ever again. You have to take advantage of it now.’’

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