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ACC Championship Game Preview: #16 Wake Forest versus #23 Georgia Tech

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Who knew the ACC brand of football would be so disappointing in 2006? Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, Maryland, and Clemson all were down this season and at times all of these teams looked horrible. And teams like Virginia, North Carolina, North Carolina State, and of course Duke were – for the most part – downright embarrassing.

The last week of the season was pretty typical for the ACC — BC lost to Miami and as a result will be in a lesser bowl, Clemson lost to SEC rival South Carolina despite being up by two TDs late in the game, Virginia Tech didn’t impress against a lousy Virginia team, Florida State fought hard but lost to in-state rival SEC member Florida, Georgia Tech lost to a down in-state rival and SEC member Georgia and NC State lost to East Carolina.

On an almost weekly basis teams rose and fell. And as a result of an overall putrid level of play, the ACC recaps were pretty boring.

Clemson looked phenomenal in outclassing Georgia Tech – ranked 13th at the time – 31-7 on October 21 but was putrid on the following Thursday when they lost to Virginia Tech 24-7.

Boston College got off to a good 3-0 start with victories over Central Michigan, Clemson and BYU before losing 17-15 in the last seconds of the game to a down NC State team in week four. Then BC made a good run only to look terrible in a 17-14 loss to lowly Miami on the last week of the season.

Virginia Tech has been beset by all kinds of problems all season and as a result has had an up and down season. Rolling through their first 4 opponents of the season – all softies – probably set the Hokies up for some unrealistic expectations. Losing two ACC games in a row to Georgia Tech and BC in weeks five and six did in Tech’s ACC hopes. However, they did rebound over the last half of the season and have a chance to finish the season on a positive note.

Miami had a nightmare season that even their biggest enemies wouldn’t have wished upon them. For not only were they terrible on the field most of the time – both from execution and sportsmanship standpoints – but they suffered through the tragedy of having a team member murdered. Despite having a great start as the head coach and winning a national championship, Larry Coker was fired after beating BC last weekend.

Fortunately for the ACC, Wake Forest’s unexpected success this season was a feel-good story for the conference that garnered a lot of positive national attention. After years of bad news, Wake has had the best season in school history and has gained a lot of fans in the process. There’s not really a high-profile guy in the bunch, but Wake has played great, team football for most of the season and has a lot to build on for the future.

Georgia Tech – despite the disappointing loss to Georgia last week – has had a lot of positives this season. If ever a loss was considered a positive thing, Georgia Tech used their loss to Notre Dame week one as a springboard to success for the rest of their season. They have one of the two best wide receivers in the country in Calvin Johnson, a talented and hard-nosed running back in Tashard Choice and a gritty, experienced quarterback in Reggie Ball.

Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida Wake Forest (10-2) and Georgia Tech (9-3) – two evenly matched teams – will meet to determine which team will be this year’s ACC champion.

Wake Forest is probably the sentimental choice among fans since the Demon Deacons have not had much football success over the years, but these two teams are so evenly matched that this game is up for grabs and should be a great game to watch.

The team that makes the least mistakes will win this game. This is an overly simplistic summation, but nevertheless is the truth. In games of this magnitude between evenly matched teams, mistakes are almost always the determining factor.

Statistically these teams are pretty much the same. Tech scores a few more points per game and passes for more yards per game than does Wake, but Wake’s quarterback Riley Skinner has a much higher completion percentage (over 20 points better) and quarterback rating than does Tech QB Reggie Ball. Ball has more passing yards and more TDs, but is prone to make the big mistake.

Despite the fact that Ball is a senior with a lot more big game experience than the freshman Skinner, Ball has the reputation of making bad decisions that lead to big mistakes. If Ball is off Saturday it could be a bad day for the Yellow Jackets.

Rushing the ball there is basically no difference in the outputs of these two teams – both teams rush for about the same yards per game and average about five yards per carry – but while Wake runs by committee Tech relies heavily on the battering-ram like legs of junior Tashard Choice.

When you consider that defensively Wake has given up two points fewer per game than has Tech, while offensively Tech averages two more points per game you’re looking at two teams that are evenly matched. Interestingly, since 2001 Wake is 14-11 in games that have been decided by seven points or less while Tech is 8-10,

Which brings us back to mistakes. Both teams have been very good at holding on to the football this season, but Tech’s Ball has thrown 12 interceptions this season to Skinner’s four.

Ball’s penchant for throwing INTs combined with his low completion percentage – combined with Tech’s losing record in close games – will hurt Tech’s chances this Saturday. For these reasons Wake has the razor’s edge advantage to win the ACC title.

In a close game, Wake will prevail 24-17.

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About Sal Marinello


    Good analysis, but I think the advantage goes to GT in this one b/c of their defense alone. Wake relies on downfield blocking schemes by the QB, and Tenuta should be well prepared. Look for Gailey to sub out Ball if he starts to perform poorly b/c Tech either wins or gets stuck in a bad situation despite all its success this season. This team usually performs well after losses and UGA game is leaving a bad taste in their mouths. Look for Tech’s linebacking core and punting game to be the difference. Tech 24-13.

  • sal m

    i would think that if tech has to pull ball – given that he’s an experienced senior – that would hurt the team…but it should be a good, close game either way.

    that’s what i’m hoping for as i like both teams.

  • ArkyTech

    Virginia Tech losses were actually to Georgia Tech and BC. They beat Wake handily on 11/18.

  • sal m

    that would be correct sir…