- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 5, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney don’t feel they have to the defend the honor of the ACC.

Saturday night’s conference championship game may not have national title implications, but the coaches for the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets and No. 25 Tigers aren’t going to apologize for how their teams got here.

Johnson and Swinney disagree with anyone who believes losing regular-season finales to SEC also-rans has taken some of the luster off what otherwise figures to be an entertaining matchup at Raymond James Stadium.

Georgia Tech (10-2) lost to struggling Georgia, plummeting out of the Top 10. Clemson (8-4) was trounced by rival South Carolina and nearly dropped out of the poll.

Johnson and Swinney’s reaction? It’s time to move on.

“Nebraska is playing in [the Big 12] championship game, and they lost to Virginia Tech. Do they need to apologize? Pitt’s playing for the Big East championship and lost to N.C. State. … Stanford’s had a pretty good year, and they lost to Wake Forest,” Johnson said. “I can understand the storyline because the teams played SEC teams. Last year, us and Clemson both beat Georgia and South Carolina, and there didn’t seem to be any kind of story line. No one was saying the ACC is dominant. Every team has good players.”

Before stumbling, the Yellow Jackets and Tigers were two of the hottest teams in the country. Georgia Tech had won eight straight since losing to Miami in September. Clemson was riding a six-game winning streak after losing three of five to start Swinney’s first full season at the helm.

“Teams from our conference have had a lot of good wins this year,” Swinney said. “We didn’t play very well, and I am sure Georgia Tech feels the same way. But we have to move on. It is all about this championship game. … That is all that matters.”

The winner will end a lengthy drought between league titles and earn a spot in the Orange Bowl. Georgia Tech shared the ACC crown with Florida State in 1998. The Yellow Jackets have not won the championship outright since 1990 - the year before Clemson won its most recent title.

Georgia Tech won the regular season-meeting 30-27 in Atlanta, kicking two fourth-quarter field goals after blowing a 24-0 lead.

The Yellow Jackets and Tigers are the top two scoring teams in the conference. Georgia Tech is second in the nation in rushing at 305 yards a game, and Clemson’s explosive offense features ACC player of the year C.J. Spiller, who has scored 16 touchdowns - seven rushing, four receiving and five on kick returns.

Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt, a distant second to Spiller for conference player of the year, are on pace to become the first teammates in the ACC to rush for more than 1,000 yards since 1993.

But after giving up 339 yards on the ground during last week’s loss to Georgia, it will be interesting to see whether the Yellow Jackets can contain Spiller, who’s close to becoming the first player in conference history with 1,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving in the same season.

“I’m concerned about everything - not just the defense,” said Johnson, who is trying to get the Yellow Jackets to a major bowl for the first time since the 1966 Orange. “We’ve had a lot of shootouts this year.”

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