There is an added sense of excitement for both Clemson and Georgia Tech players heading into Saturday’s ACC championship game, and that’s because none of the players on either roster have had the opportunity to win the conference crown.
It’s been over a decade since both programs have won the ACC title. Georgia Tech came close in 2006, but lost in the title game to Wake Forest. Georgia Tech was co-champion with Florida State in 1998 and Clemson has not won the title since 1991. Tech was last outright champion in 1990, the year the Jackets won the national championship.
“It would mean a great deal,” said Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan. “First off, for our fans. They're kind of down right now as far as the loss to Georgia. But for us, in-house, we worked so hard this offseason and the previous two years to get to this point, and the opportunity is right in front of us. It would mean a great deal to everybody associated with this program, the whole Georgia Tech family. It would mean a great deal.”
Clemson has never been to the ACC title game before, and offensive guard Thomas Austin said it’s an opportunity the Tigers can’t miss.
“Well, it's absolutely vital for us as a program,” Austin said. “We have a winning tradition here at Clemson. That's something we take pride in, as does Georgia Tech. We have won a lot of championships here. But to not have won a conference championship in 18 years is something that we see as a unique opportunity for us to capitalize on that and to play well this weekend and to have a chance to play in those big BCS January bowl games is something that is a goal as a player, and that's what we were sold on coming out of high school, that we were going to have that opportunity if we came to Clemson. To see that come to fruition the last couple years, just a lot of hard work, it's very rewarding for us.”
Both teams were picked by the media to finish second in their respective divisions this past summer. For Clemson running back C.J. Spiller, proving that pick wrong was one of the biggest reasons he came back for his senior year instead of entering the NFL draft.
“I mean, people remember champions, and that's one of the reasons I came back for my senior year is to try to win the championship game,” Spiller said. “That's something that hasn't been done here in 18 years, and I want to try to help this team accomplish that.
“I think if we win or lose, I think people are going to always have that -- I guess that fear or something about playing Clemson because they know with Coach Swinney that his team is going to be ready to play for four quarters or however long it takes to get the job done. Only time will tell if we're the powerhouse, but I think the way we played this year, teams surely have tremendous respect for us.”
Regardless of who wins the game, it will be a change in the ACC hierarchy, as Virginia Tech has won three of the past five ACC titles. The question is whether or not either Clemson or Georgia Tech can use this opportunity as a springboard for even better things or repeat championship appearances in the future.
For now, though, they’re only focused on this year.
“I know it's going to be good for our program if we win the game,” said Georgia Tech B-back Jonathan Dwyer, “and I hope we go out there and do what we're supposed to do, and hopefully luck gets on our side and we do win it.”