Georgia-Georgia Tech-Paul Johnson-Kirby Smart
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson (left) and Georgia's Kirby Smart care immensely about the result when their teams meet on Saturday. But the rest of the nation probably won't pay close attention to the game, which will kick off at noon.

Tech, Georgia need to do their part to give rivalry national significance

ATHENS – Most everybody in this state is fired up about the renewal of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry on Saturday. I know I am. The rest of the nation, not so much.

These two programs need to pick up on that front. In the words of legendary blues singer Bonnie Raitt, they need to “give ’em something to talk about.”

The game Saturday between these two proud programs is at noon. It could have been at 8 p.m. But ABC-TV, which will broadcast the game to a national television audience, exercised the six-day option last weekend to decide between Tech-Georgia and Clemson vs. South Carolina for its coveted prime-time slot. They went with the Palmetto Bowl rather than the rivalry known as Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

That came as no surprise, really. That game in Columbia, S.C., will feature a pair of Top 25 teams, including the defending national champion, Clemson. The Tigers (10-1, 7-1 ACC) are ranked No. 3, and South Carolina (8-3, 5-3 SEC) popped into the College Football Playoff rankings this week at No. 24.

Georgia (10-1, 7-1 SEC), of course, is ranked No. 7, so the Bulldogs are doing their part. Tech (5-5, 4-4 ACC) is unranked this year, the same as last year and four of the last five.

And therein lies the issue. While Alabama and Auburn annually seem to wage monumental matchups with championship implications – the game this season features the nation’s No. 1- and No. 6-ranked teams ― the Tech-Georgia rivalry just hasn’t had all that much significance from a national standpoint lately.

Of the 17 matchups so far this century, both Georgia and Tech have been nationally ranked six times. None of those games featured a top- 10 matchup. The best we’ve seen recently was the 2014 game, which featured a No. 15-ranked Tech team against No. 8 Georgia. And that was a good one. The Yellow Jackets won 30-24 in overtime.

In 2011, No. 13 Georgia defeated No. 25 Tech; No. 18 Tech beat No. 13 Georgia 45-42 in 2008; No. 5 Georgia edged No. 24 Tech 14-7 in Atlanta in 2005; No. 19 UGA defeated No. 21 Georgia Tech 31-17 in 2001; and No. 18 Tech beat No. 19 Georgia 27-15 in 2000.

Lately, though, the matchup has been a stinker from a national standpoint. Neither team was ranked in three of the last four years and in four of the last seven.

And other than in 2014, when one team has been really good, the other one wasn’t in recent years. Tech wasn’t ranked when it faced No. 3 Georgia in 2012. Likewise, the Bulldogs weren’t ranked when they took on No. 7 Tech in 2009, though UGA pulled off a 30-24 upset that year. Tech was unranked when Georgia was a top-10 team in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2007.

However, as anybody who has been paying attention will tell you, that has not had any bearing on the competition itself. Tech-Georgia games are usually very well contested. Fifteen of the last 17 have been decided by 2 touchdowns or less, with the last four coming down to one score.

Only the 2012 and 2002 contests fall in the category of blowouts. Georgia won those by 32 and 44 points, respectively. For what it’s worth, Tech coach Paul Johnson compared the matchup on Saturday to the 2012 game, which also happens to be the last time the Bulldogs were bound for the SEC Championship Game. I doubt he’s predicting a similar result.

Locally, this game means everything. There is still a great number of Georgia fans who circle it as the Bulldogs’ most important contest every season, no matter what the circumstances. I think that’s definitely the case for longtime residents of the state.

I’m probably like a lot of the local citizenry in which I came from a house divided. My father attended Georgia Tech and my grandmother worked at UGA (at the time, it was the Yellow Jackets who were the program of national prominence). One of my brothers actually went to both schools, starting at the Institute and finishing at the state university.

So Tech-Georgia will always be an intense rivalry in my house, as I’m sure it is for most Georgia residents. But it just doesn’t move the needle much from a national perspective.

Of course, this is rivalry week all over the country. Some of the matchups are better than others.

As always, all eyes Saturday will be on the Iron Bowl in Auburn (3:30 p.m., CBS). The only other games featuring a pair of ranked teams are Clemson-South Carolina, No. 8 Notre Dame vs. No. 21 Stanford and No. 13 Washington State vs. No. 17 Washington.

Interestingly, the most meaningful matchup in the Sunshine State this year is not Florida vs. Florida State, but rather the Friday game between No. 15 Central Florida and South Florida.

But like Georgia with the Jackets, there will be a lot of folks on upset alert on Saturday. No. 4 Oklahoma (vs. West Virginia), No. 5 Wisconsin (Minnesota), No. 9 Ohio State (Michigan) and No. 10 Penn State (Maryland) all have major postseason stakes on the line.

All that’s worth tuning into, for sure. And Tech-Georgia will be, too. The Bulldogs are 2-touchdown favorites this year, but I expect the game to be competitive as always. At least for a good while. It has been a special year for Georgia so far, so it should win by 14 points, I’d say.

But unless one possesses that inbred hatred indigenous to the people of this state, there probably won’t be that many people who care.

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