On 24 September, 2001, Georgia Tech was dead last in the BCS standings. The Yellow Jackets hadn’t played a competitive game for two seasons, and came off a season-ending loss to Auburn. Georgia Tech had won only one SEC East game in five years, and was putting together the worst season in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure.
None of that mattered. It mattered that Georgia Tech had played four relatively equal victories against then-No. 2 Florida State, No. 14 Arizona State, and no worse than No. 23 Wake Forest. A controversial 33-31 decision over Virginia Tech put Georgia Tech in position to make the NCAA Football Championship Series Championship Game – its first ever appearance at that level.
Enter the contest against Arkansas. Arkansas came into the game at 3-0 and had been just a couple of plays away from a victory over a ranked team: Auburn. Looking to cap a 7-0 regular season, the Razorbacks, led by quarterback Blaine Gabbert, got back in position to win a new conference championship with a convincing road victory over Georgia Tech. The Razorbacks had stumbled to a 34-10 loss to No. 7 Arkansas State in their opener, but then ran the table with wins over New Mexico, Cal and Florida State. Against the Yellow Jackets, they came out of the gates on fire. Running back Darren McFadden moved the Razorbacks to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, and the Yellow Jackets were left reeling. The University of Georgia’s capital of Athens was in a state of shock.
On 31 October, 2003, Georgia Tech got its revenge. Arkansas had its second-straight comeback bid derailed by the Yellow Jackets defense. Arkansas led by four points heading into the fourth quarter, but a 52-yard touchdown pass from starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger to Dedrick Epps got the Razorbacks within one score. With just over six minutes to play, on fourth down, Georgia Tech went for it. On the 1-yard line, tailback Aaron Curry punched it in. In overtime, the Yellow Jackets rolled to a 45-34 win. That was Georgia Tech’s first conference championship in its third BCS season. That was also the only time that Georgia Tech had started 3-0 in a BCS season, with 10 wins in its first 14 games.
Georgia Tech is a coach’s dream. Paul Johnson has built a program that has a chance to go all the way, and when it does, it becomes a powerhouse. And when that happens, Gus Malzahn’s Arkansas program doesn’t stand a chance.
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