Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are the only two programs in the ACC’s Coastal Division that have won their side in the eight-year history of the ACC championship game.
Historically, no game has meant more in the division race.
It still does.
“Every ACC game is like a playoff game,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “It’s been a tight division, so your head-to-head play has been a big part of the end result when you have teams that are maybe 6-2 or tied. It’s been us or them. I know everybody is talking about Miami, but in my eyes, it’s us or them. That’s how we approach this game.”
For Georgia Tech, Thursday night's game in Atlanta is a chance to separate from the Hokies and set up a Coastal Division showdown with Miami on Oct. 5. The Canes were picked this preseason to win the division, but Georgia Tech already has a slight lead in the race thanks to back-to-back wins over Duke and North Carolina. A victory would put the Yellow Jackets at 3-0 in league play and give them eight consecutive regular-season ACC wins, tying for the program’s longest such streak. Many have already deemed the Georgia Tech-Miami game next week the one that will determine this year’s Coastal Division winner, but in order for that to be the case, the Jackets first have to get by the Hokies.
For Virginia Tech, it’s a chance to validate the team’s chances as a contender this year in the division race. The Hokies are 3-1, with their lone loss to No. 1 Alabama, but needed three overtimes to beat Marshall last week. Virginia Tech is No. 102 in the country in total offense, but No. 5 in total defense. It’s a trademark Virginia Tech team; the Hokies are struggling on offense and depending heavily on the D, but many wonder whether the offense can be just good enough to stay in the race. So far, Georgia Tech has looked like the more complete team, but Virginia Tech has a knack for finding a way to win the games that mean the most.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, though, isn’t convinced that this is a season-defining game.
“Well, we don't know about this year,” Beamer said. “It's early in the year. You don't know how good we are, how good they are, how many games they're going to win, how many games we're going to win. But it's certainly being on national TV on Thursday night that's different for your kids. So I know they'll come out and play extremely hard and hopefully we can play well.
“Any time you play in the conference and play your team on your side of the conference, there is certainly a sense of urgency,” he said. “But to say, 'Hey, this game's going to determine our season,' I don't think we can say that right now.”
History tends to disagree.
Since Paul Johnson arrived at Georgia Tech before the 2008 season, the Yellow Jackets have won 28 ACC games. Only Virginia Tech (30 wins) has more. Clemson and Florida State also have 28 wins over that span.
“I think that if you look just since I've been here, sometimes the programs get overlooked a little bit,” Johnson said. “But if you take Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, they're probably in the top three or four in total conference wins over the whole span that I've been here. It's just kind of worked that way. So it's always a big game and a game that has a lot of meaning in the Coastal Division race.”
The same will hold true again tonight.