“Best of luck to all those guys competing against the SEC,” Watson said this week. “Let’s pull it out and take over.”
The ACC already has a 3-2 edge in games against SEC teams this season. The conference’s wins over the SEC, which carries more national respect, are no surprise to Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.
“I think it means our league is pretty good,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I mean, we’re probably the only team that’s an underdog this year.”
Johnson correctly pointed out that No. 4 Clemson and No. 11 Louisville are three-touchdown favorites over their respective state rivals. Florida State is favored by a touchdown.
“I think it’s just an example that the ACC doesn’t have to take a backseat in football to anybody,” Johnson said.
Georgia is a four-point favorite. The Bulldogs’ 13-7 win at Georgia Tech last season prevented a second straight sweep by ACC teams.
Georgia Tech already has a lopsided 38-7 win over the SEC’s Vanderbilt this season.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said he had to adjust to having Kentucky fans in his neighborhood.
“When I first got here I thought, ‘Man this is really weird,’ and it upset me and I’d get mad,” Petrino said. “You know, tell my kids to go egg their windows. … Actually, I didn’t tell them that, but I wanted to, but then you realize well this is the biggest city in the state of Kentucky and you’ve got both Louisville fans and Kentucky fans here.”
Here’s a look at this week’s intrastate rivalry games involving ACC teams:
Series began: 1958.
Series record: Florida leads 34-24-2
Trophy: Florida Cup.
Why it’s a big deal: Once dominated by the Gators, it was especially prominent in the 1990s between Spurrier’s Florida teams and Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles. The teams were both routinely ranked in the Top 10 during the 1990s. Both teams also have other big rivals, like Florida-Georgia and Florida State-Miami.
Best game: The two teams tied 31-31 in the regular season after Florida blew a 31-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Florida State won a Sugar Bowl rematch 23-17.
This year: Florida has already clinched an SEC championship game berth against No. 1 Alabama, with an outside shot at making the playoffs. The Seminoles, who made the playoffs two years ago, are 8-3 and out of the division race.
Series began: 1893
Series record: Georgia leads 65-38-5 according to its records and 65-40-5 according to Georgia Tech, including two wins during World War II which Georgia doesn’t count.
Trophy: Governor’s Cup
Why it’s a big deal: Each team is aiming for a strong regular-season finish to cast a positive shine on mostly disappointing records. Georgia is looking to give first-year coach Kirby Smart a win in his debut in the series, which Georgia Tech is looking for its second win in three years.
Best game: Georgia Tech 51, Georgia 48, OT, 1999. The teams combined for 1,102 total yards in the highest scoring game in the series. Georgia blocked the Yellow Jackets’ first field goal attempt in overtime, but Georgia Tech recovered to set up Luke Manget’s game-winning 38-yarder.
This year: There are many similarities. Each team is 7-4 overall and 4-4 in its conference. Georgia has won three straight, including a 13-7 upset of then-No. 8 Auburn. Georgia Tech has won four of five, including a 30-20 upset of then-No. 18 Virginia Tech. Each team features strong running games. A major difference is the Yellow Jackets are led by senior quarterback Justin Thomas, while freshman Jacob Eason starts for the Bulldogs.
Series began: 1912 (resumed in 1994 after a 70-year hiatus).
Series record: Tied, 14-14.
Trophy: Governor’s Cup.
Why it’s a big deal: The schools’ longtime basketball rivalry is obviously bigger but getting a head start on Bluegrass bragging rights never hurts. Kentucky dominated Louisville 220-0 in the series’ first six games before the Cardinals responded to win 14 of 22 since then with five straight wins. The programs’ opposite fortunes in recent years have helped fuel its intensity resulting in close games and short tempers, boiling over two years ago in Louisville with a pregame brawl at midfield.
Best game: Louisville 44, Kentucky 40, 2014. That contest was the series’ first as the season finale and the Cardinals trailed 13-0 before reserve quarterback Kyle Bolin entered to throw for 381 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout that denied the Wildcats bowl eligibility. (Note: Louisville did it again last fall with a 38-24 win after trailing 21-0.)
This year: Having ended a six-year postseason drought, Kentucky aims to enhance its profile for one of several bowls. No. 11 Louisville had its College Football Playoff hopes dashed with last week’s loss at Houston but remains in the mix for several bowls, including the Orange.
N.C. STATE-NORTH CAROLINA
Series began: 1894.
Series record: North Carolina leads 66-33-6.
Why it’s a big deal: College ties run especially deep in the North Carolina Triangle, home to three Atlantic Coast Conference schools, and North Carolina and N.C. State have had the two most successful football programs — and most energized fan bases for the sport — over the past half century.
Best game: North Carolina 43, North Carolina State 35, 2012. Giovani Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to help the Tar Heels snap a five-game losing streak in the series.
This year: North Carolina will play in the ACC championship game with a win and a loss by Virginia Tech to Virginia. N.C. State needs a win to become bowl eligible for the third straight year.
Series began: 1896.
Series record: Clemson leads 67-42-4.
Trophy: Palmetto Bowl Trophy
Why it’s a big deal: There are no pro sports teams in the Palmetto State, so the football game between the state’s two major universities is the marquee sporting event — something fans salivate over 365 days a year. It once, back in 2004, sparked a brawl that cost both teams bowl games as punishment.
Best game: Clemson 16, South Carolina 14, 2000. With Lou Holtz leading a turnaround season for the Gamecocks, South Carolina held a 14-13 lead in the final minute. Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler heaved a 50-yard pass to Rod Gardner that set up Aaron Hunt’s last-second field goal. South Carolina fans say Gardner pushed off, Holtz event slamming officials by saying there were “29 people on the field” deciding the game. Replays seemed to show Gardner gaining separation on Andre Goodman with a solid stiff arm.
This year: Clemson needs to win to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive. Spoiling that dream for Clemson would perhaps make this bowl eligible South Carolina’s greatest victory.
Series began: 1895.
Series record: Virginia Tech leads 55-37-5.
Trophy: Commonwealth Cup.
Why it’s a big deal: The rivalry has always been big, but became bigger when Virginia Tech joined Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. Some administrators at Virginia helped make that happen, which still rankles Cavaliers fans since the Hokies promptly dominated the league for the next several years, winning four ACC championships.
Best game: Depends on who you ask. No. 20 Virginia Tech erased a 15-point second-half deficit and rallied for a 36-29 victory at No. 13 Virginia in 1995, getting the go-ahead points on Jim Druckenmiller’s pass to Jermaine Thomas with 47 seconds left. No. 16 Virginia rallied from a 29-7 halftime deficit for a 36-32 victory at Virginia Tech three years later.
This year: Virginia Tech, with a victory, earns a place in the ACC championship for the first time since 2009. The Hokies can actually clinch before the game if North Carolina loses against North Carolina State on Friday night. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are looking to end a 12-game losing streak in the series, the longest for either team.
AP Sports Writers Gary Graves, Pete Iacobelli, Hank Kurz Jr., Joedy McCreary and John Zenor contributed to this report.
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