GT-VT carries heavy weight in ACC race

It’s gotten to the point that Virginia Tech senior rover Eddie Whitley expects the annual game against Georgia Tech to determine the Coastal Division winner.

And why shouldn’t he?

In each of the past six games between the two programs, the winner has advanced to the ACC championship game. In 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010, Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech and won the division. The Yellow Jackets had the edge in 2006 and 2009.

“We know it comes down to us,” Whitley said. “We kind of see this as a semifinal ACC championship game. Between us two, we’re going to go to Charlotte.”

It’s not quite that definitive this year, but it’s pretty close. If Virginia Tech wins on Thursday night in Atlanta, Georgia Tech and Miami will be eliminated from the ACC race. If the Yellow Jackets win, they’ll be tied with Virginia for the Coastal Division lead. For the past six years, though, both programs have distanced themselves from the rest in the division. The biggest explanation is simple: good coaching. The stability and consistency of Virginia Tech have been unparalleled in the ACC, not only in the win column but also on the staff, as turnover is rare. At Georgia Tech, coach Paul Johnson’s spread option offense has been a difference-maker and proved puzzling to opposing defenses.

“We’ve been fortunate to be where we are, and certainly they do a good job,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “There’s no question. You look at who’s the top rushing team in the country, and they’re going to be in that mix right there year in and year out. You commit so much to stop the run, and they throw the ball down the field on you. … It’s a good football team. The program is for real, Georgia Tech is for real. They’re a hard team to prepare for in a week’s time.”

Both teams have had a bye week to prepare for this one, which will feature the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense against the No. 5 rushing defense. Virginia Tech has won an ACC-record 11 straight games on its opponents' home fields, but the last time the Hokies lost a true road game? In 2009 at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, though, will be facing their second straight top-10 team. Georgia Tech shocked then-No. 5 Clemson 31-17, and the Hokies enter this game ranked No. 10 in the latest BCS standings.

Georgia Tech has not defeated teams ranked in the top 10 in back-to-back games since 1959.

“Since I’ve been here, this game has been a big, big game every year,” Johnson said. “This game has been a big part of the division race. Again this year, if we lose we’re out of the race, so to speak, so it’s a big game for us.”

And again, it feels like it has playoff potential.