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Yes, It Is A Big Game

They say Saturday’s Tech- Wake game doesn’t mean much. True, the best the Hokies can hope for is to remain on course for another ten-win season, not too shabby in a rebuilding year. Yes, no matter what happens in Groves this weekend, the ACC’s Atlantic Division will not be settled until Wake travels to Maryland next Saturday. But, this game does have serious ramifications beyond bragging rights. There are people vitally interested in the outcome.

Few people outside the Hokie nation will be rooting harder for Tech to knock off the Deacons than Little Johnny Swofford and the folks running the Bowl Formerly Known as the Peach. As is usually the case late in the season, the guys running the second-tier bowls are angling for the best teams possible for their games.

Following Tech’s win over Clemson, the boys in Atlanta let it be known in no uncertain terms they wanted the Tech from Virginia in their game. It has been twenty long years since the Hokies and their tens of thousands of traveling and free-spending fans have been there. They want a Tech and haven’t been shy about naming their choice among the ACC’s two.

That hasn’t gone over too well at the ACC’s other Tech, the hometown one in Atlanta . While the Coastal champion Yellow Jackets from GT will likely be favored in the ACC championship game, Chan Gailey has been their coach long enough for them to realize that an unexpected loss is never lurking too far away and that eventuality must be factored into things.

The GT guys have broadcast it loud and clear that if they happen to lose in Jax December 2, they expect to be taken by the bowl holding the ACC’s second choice, the Bowl Formerly Known as the Peach, now playing under the name the Chicken Bowl.

That the GT fans are famous for rarely filling their own modestly-sized stadium and are one of college football’s great non-travelers to bowl games matters not a hoot to the brass Jackets, but it does to the Chicken Bowl. To them, their bowl game is counted on as an economic engine, an asset that fills hotel rooms and causes millions to be spent along Peachtree. The hometown team with its lackadaisical fan base most definitely does not do that. The ACC’s other Tech does.

This situation is also playing out at the ACC’s other desirable bowl, the Gator. The Jax gang is already faced with looming financial disaster for the ACC’s championship game with Georgia Tech facing either Wake, Maryland or, the deity forbid, Fredo. Yikes! Considering the numbers of fans likely to be on hand, they might as well cancel that terrific fireworks show and go ahead and shut down the Landing for the night before. So much for the guy in the Jax Chamber of Commerce who a couple of months ago was openly wishing for a VT-Clemson ACC championship.

The Gator is looking to recoup its losses with a bowl pitting Clemson against Oklahoma . If Mikey states on national television that he doesn’t care whether a Li’l E team is in the MNC game, why should they care whether one is in the Gator? It would be a dandy. Both the Tigers and Sooners have multitudes of fans who would hit town ready to spend large amounts of cash. It would also be a pretty good game and give the Gator a fighting chance in its annual television ratings hammering by the same-time Cap One Bowl.

The last thing the Gator wants to hear is entreaties to take people named GT, Wake, Maryland or, gasp, Fredo. If Little Johnny is going to stick them with no-drawing Georgia Tech and any of the Atlantic ’s Gang of Three in early December, by cracky, he owes them a decent draw for the Gator.

This does not make life particularly easier for Little Johnny. Publicly he has to express joy at any conference team doing well. Privately, however, he has to deal with griping bowl committees, or angry coaches and ADs. The ACC claims that it has ‘partnerships’ with its bowls. Partnership implies there is something in it for both sides. The Gator and Chicken bowls certainly will do there part, which is writing fat checks to the league. The ACC sticking them with the millions of dollars in losses that will come from dumping Wake or Fredo, or GT and Maryland is not the basis for a good working relationship.

The hard facts of the matter are that few outside the Southern Baptist Convention really want Wake to accomplish much in football, subsequently gumming up the ACC’s bowl works and the good Baptists don’t buy a lot of football tickets [Wake depends on 10k or so Tech fans to sell out the ACC’s smallest stadium to observe two ranked teams and they expect a decent bowl bid?]. Fredo might bill himself as the nation’s ‘Number Two Catholic Institution’ but most attention is focused on Number One.

This is a perpetual problem for the ACC that expansion only partially cured. With most of Florida State ’s bowl attendance consisting of day trips that don’t do much for a city’s hospitality industry, the ACC really has only three proven bowl draws. That would be Clemson , NC State and Virginia Tech and the Pack doesn’t seem to be eligible for a lot of bowls these days.

That leaves two teams that bowls can count on to provide the cash for those large payouts. It is not coincidental that Tech and Clemson are the first two teams desired by those holding the first two bowl selections. The traveling power of the rest of the ACC ranges from the mediocre to, in the case of Wake and Fredo, awful.

Tech fans became accustomed in the Big East years of listening to Tom O’Brien gripe about the lousy bowl awarded to his outfit for a successful season. That carried right over into the ACC last year when every single bowl holding contracts with the ACC, and a couple that didn’t, passed on the Eagles until bottom-of-the-barrel Boise got stuck with them. That harkened back to the old days when the surest way for the BE to lose a bowl affiliation was to stick it with Fredo, or Pitt, or Syracuse , or most any team except for Tech and the Cousins. Not much has changed.

The ACC still has problems with bowls whose primary interest is in providing jobs and business for their communities. It is why a scrambling Little Johnny ended up with bowl affiliations in San Francisco and Boise , just a bit out of the ACC’s home range. You don’t see the SEC, a conference loaded with large state universities overflowing with alumni bases that will get off their butts and travel to games, with such meager bowl pickings. This is also what happens when you allow your expansion candidates to be determined by Denver television consultants instead of common sense.

So Tech travels to Wake this weekend in a game that has very little bearing on the championship, but plenty in bowl selections. You can bet Little Johnny and the Chicken Bowl are really hoping Tech can reach ten wins so that there are very good public reasons for the Chicken Bowl to override having to take the championship game loser. The Gator will also have more than a passing interest in seeing Clemson knock off the Cocks next weekend and reaching the nine-win level, too.

Little Johnny will likely be somewhat subdued in his rooting for Tech this weekend. It is doubtful he will be donning a Tech cheerleader’s uniform and leading the throng of maroon in ‘Let’s Go Tech’ cheers He probably will not dash onto the field to argue an official’s call against Tech. He might not even inform the guys in the replay booth that they have their jobs at HIS pleasure.

All the same, it is highly probable that Little Johnny will join the Chicken Bowl in rooting hard for Tech this Saturday. In a conference built on large amounts of revenue being accumulated and distributed to members, it makes good business sense. It also makes for a very important game.

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