ATLANTA — Outside of a stunning upset of Florida State, there hasn’t been much to cheer about at Georgia Tech.
Injuries and lackluster play have turned the Yellow Jackets into one of the country’s most disappointing teams.
Yet there’s a minor consolation prize still within reach.
If Georgia Tech (3-6, 1-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) can close the regular season with three straight wins, it will likely extend one of the nation’s longest active bowl streaks.
The Jackets have been to a postseason game — granted, some aren’t even in business anymore — every season since 1996. That run of 18 consecutive bowls is tied with Georgia for the second-longest active streak in the country.
No one wants to be part of a team that has to stay home over the holidays.
“Certainly it’s there,” coach Paul Johnson said. “They’re aware of it.”
In an interesting twist, the only team with a longer streak is the opponent in Thursday’s prime-time game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Virginia Tech (4-5, 2-3) has made 22 straight bowl appearances, which is also in jeopardy if the Hokies don’t win two of their last three contests.
Given what he’s seen so far, Johnson doesn’t sound like he expects the bowl streak to suddenly arouse his underachieving team.
“It didn’t help much the last time we played,” he said, sarcastically referring to a 27-21 loss at Virginia. “I guess we’ll see.”
If anything, the Hokies would seem to have a motivational edge. Longtime coach Frank Beamer recently announced he’ll be retiring at the end of the season. His players would love to send him out in style.
But Johnson shrugged off the notion of either team having an emotional advantage once the game begins.
“All that Knute Rockne, win one for the Gipper, play for this and that, is probably the most overrated thing in college football,” he said. “Guys are going to play hard when they want to play hard. They spend all year getting reach to play.
They only get to play (12) times. I can’t fathom why anybody wouldn’t go out there and play hard in every game.”
The Yellow Jackets had high hopes for this season after going 11-3 a year ago, a campaign that included an overtime victory over Georgia, their biggest rival, and a rout of Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
But Johnson thinks his players might have spent a little too much time listening to all the praise.
“This has been a great example of, ‘Don’t believe everything you hear,’” he said. “When you get hung up on listening to everybody else, you forget how you got there.”
Georgia Tech’s bowl streak began in 1997 with a victory in the Carquest Bowl in Miami, which has since moved to Orlando, Fla., and is now known as the Russell Athletic Bowl.
At least that game technically still exists. The Yellow Jackets’ run includes a pair of games — the Seattle Bowl in 2001, followed a year later by a trip to the Silicon Valley Bowl — that have since gone out of business.
The Gator Bowl (three times) has been Georgia Tech’s most frequent destination. There have also been two trips to far-away Boise, Idaho, as well as a pair of appearances in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, which is played about a mile from campus in downtown Atlanta. In all, the Yellow Jackets are 7-11 during their bowl streak.
Given the ever-increasing number of bowls, there’s a chance Georgia Tech could get an extra game even if it finishes 5-7.
That wouldn’t be much of a salve for a team that is already assured of its first losing mark in the ACC since going 0-8 in 1994.
“When you look back on the season, it’s frustrating,” Johnson said. “But you either quit playing or you don’t quit. I know I’m not going to quit.”