DURHAM, N.C. - Georgia Tech entered the season with hopes of returning to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. That goal is now gone, but the Yellow Jackets still look poised for a strong finish to the regular season anyway.
The Yellow Jackets (5-4, 2-4 ACC) are one win away from being bowl eligible for the 11th straight season and are playing their final road game today against Duke. Not to mention it appears that Tashard Choice, the league's leading rusher, could return from a knee injury against the Blue Devils.
It could add up to a needed boost of confidence for a team that has seen some frustrating ups and downs this season, including a 27-3 home loss to Virginia Tech on Nov. 1.
'We're better than a 5-4 team,' quarterback Taylor Bennett said. 'We have more talent than that. Things haven't fallen our way this year. We've got to get everybody's confidence back up. That's something I don't think we'll have a problem with.'
Facing the Blue Devils (1-8, 0-6) certainly could help. Georgia Tech has won 11 of 12 meetings, with Duke last winning in 2003 while current head coach Ted Roof wore the 'interim' title following the firing of Carl Franks.
But the Yellow Jackets figure to get their biggest spark from the possible return of Choice, who has rushed for 864 yards, an average of 108 per game, despite hamstring and knee injuries.
The knee injury suffered against Army required surgery and sidelined him for the Hokies loss. Georgia Tech has said Choice isn't definite to play, but he sounded ready to go this week.
Bennett could be the biggest beneficiary after throwing four interceptions in the Yellow Jackets' six-turnover performance against Virginia Tech without Choice.
'I just feel the offense is coming back as a unit,' Choice said. 'We're going to be ready to go Saturday. We've got to be. We don't even have a choice.'
While the Yellow Jackets are playing for postseason positioning, the Blue Devils are reduced to playing for pride in their 13th straight losing season. Duke seemed to have made progress under Roof, a Lawrenceville native, earlier this season, beating Northwestern to end a 22-game losing streak while playing close in losses to Wake Forest, Miami and Navy.
But over the last three weeks, the Blue Devils haven't gotten closer than 19 points in losses to Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson to erase early optimism. Duke has now lost 23 straight conference games and haven't won in the ACC since November 2004. The Blue Devils have also lost 15 straight home games heading into their home finale against the Yellow Jackets.
'I'm disappointed they haven't won more football games,' Roof said of his seniors. 'But at the same time, the value that they've added to this football program has not been underestimated by any of us. We like nothing better than to send them out of Wallace Wade (Stadium) the right way.'
SideBar: TECH AT DUKE
When: Today, 1 p.m.
Where: Durham, N.C.