ATLANTA — After repeated bowl trips to the opposite side of the country, Georgia Tech wanted to stay closer to home this time.
How does two miles away sound?
No. 15 Georgia Tech accepted an invitation to the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Wednesday, staying at home to face a Southeastern Conference team on New Year’s Eve.
Bowl president Gary Stokan got permission from the Atlantic Coast Conference to make the announcement ahead of Saturday’s league championship game after the selection committee decided on the Yellow Jackets (9-3) over Florida State.
“It’s a marquee game,” said Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, named ACC coach of the year a day earlier. “Not winning the ACC championship this year, it’s the highest-ranked game we could get in.”
The Yellow Jackets will be making their 12th straight bowl appearance, but they’ve often had to travel long distances — far away from their fan base — for the chance to play an extra game. They’ve been to the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho, twice in the last six years, along with appearances in the 2005 Emerald Bowl (San Francisco), 2002 Silicon Valley Classic (San Jose, Calif.) and 2001 Seattle Bowl.
“I think the guys had a great time in Boise,” Johnson said.
“But they really had a goal to try to stay on the East Coast this time. It’s really a credit to those guys that they found a way to pull it off.”
The Chick-fil-A Bowl will be held at the Georgia Dome, which is just under two miles from Georgia Tech’s home field, Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I get to stay home for Christmas,” running back Jonathan Dwyer said. “I know my mom is very excited.”
Georgia Tech is certainly on a roll, beginning with last Saturday’s 45-42 upset of then-No. 13 Georgia.
This week, the Yellow Jackets had four players named to the All-ACC first team, more than any other school, and they claimed the top two individual honors when Dwyer was named player of the year Wednesday on the heels of Johnson’s coaching award.
Stokan said the win over the Bulldogs “was huge in the selection process.” Also working in Georgia Tech’s favor: The triple-option offense is unique among major colleges, rolling up more than 400 yards rushing in each of the team’s last two games, and the Yellow Jackets are the highest-ranked ACC team in the BCS standings at No. 15, ahead of the teams that will meet for the ACC championship at Tampa, Fla.
Virginia Tech beat out the Yellow Jackets on a tiebreaker for the Coastal Division title and will face Boston College for a spot in the Orange Bowl.
“It is always our mission to have the best teams we can,” Stokan said.
“Georgia Tech had big wins over Boston College, Florida State and Miami, plus they had a pretty big win in this state when they beat archrival Georgia.”
Stokan said the bowl will announce its other team on Saturday, about the time the SEC championship game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida is kicking off at the Georgia Dome.
LSU seems the most likely choice, though South Carolina is also in the mix.
Johnson said he doesn’t mind being at home for the bowl. He remembered a similar experience when coaching at Hawaii.
“We stayed in Honolulu to play in the Aloha Bowl and it was probably one of the best bowls we played in,” he said.
“It’s neat for the team to be tourists. They’ll be able to go do some things they normally wouldn’t do when they live here.”
Of course, there’s a major drawback to selecting a local team: many of its fans are already at home, which severely limits the number of people staying in hotels, eating out or spending money at local attractions.
That issue is of particular importance given the sorry state of the economy.
“We know what the economy is, but we hope some Georgia Tech fans will be tourists in their own city,” Stokan said. “The hotel and hospitality industry could certainly use the business.”