DURHAM, N.C. — Georgia Tech could have been playing for a division title. Duke could have been playing for its first bowl game in quite a while.
Those goals are gone, yet both teams insist there's still plenty to play for when they meet Saturday.
For the Yellow Jackets, it's a chance to beat up on one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's worst teams before facing a hated instate rival.
For the Blue Devils, the only thing on the line is pride.
"Obviously, we had a goal that we wanted to make it to a bowl game, and now we know we're not going to achieve that goal, and it's tough," cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "But we know we have two games left and we have two more opportunities to play for these seniors, to play for our coaches, to play for ourselves, even.
"We worked all year round just for these 12 weeks," he added, "and just because we're not bowl eligible, we're not going to just give up the rest of the season."
The longest postseason drought in the Bowl Subdivision will last at least one more year after the Blue Devils (3-7, 1-5) were eliminated from bowl contention with last week's loss at Virginia, prompting coach David Cutcliffe to call Duke "a good football team with a bad record."
Georgia Tech (7-3, 4-3) was looking to reach a second ACC championship game since 2009, but those hopes evaporated in a home loss to No. 10 Virginia Tech. The Yellow Jackets wrap up the regular season next week against No. 13 Georgia.
They've lost three of four, but the victory in that stretch was a big one — an upset of then-No. 6 Clemson that spoiled the Tigers' perfect start. And they can reach the eight-win mark for the third time in four seasons under Paul Johnson while also keeping alive its bid for a second 10-win season in three years.
"If you're not ready to play, you're going to be in trouble," Johnson said. "Hopefully, what we're going to be is mad as hell when we get up there."
The Blue Devils have lost five straight since a three-game winning streak in early October rekindled the notion that this might have been the year they'd make their first bowl appearance since the 1994 season.
Instead, they're left to take solace in what might have been and try to conjure up a strong finish to yet another losing season — their 17th straight. Duke, which hasn't beaten Georgia Tech since 2003, faces rival North Carolina next week.
"Two-game win streaks, period, for us right now are critical," Cutcliffe said. "They're critical. Back to back wins are critical. Just go back in our recent history. We've been able to do that, but you want to make that more of a habit. This thing's not very far away. ... How critical are these next two games? They're big."
If the Blue Devils are to gather any sort of offseason momentum, they'll have to figure out a way to slow Georgia Tech's triple-option offense that ranks third nationally with an ACC-best average of nearly 320 yards. Duke has been decent at slowing the run, but has been vulnerable through the air, ranking 103rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
That could give Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington a chance to get back on track. The Hokies held him to 97 yards on 5 of 10 passing.