A pair of Forsyth County products now playing in the ACC will suit up this weekend as the college football season inches toward completion.
Georgia Tech linebacker Kyle Travis and Wake Forest fullback Ben Emert, both freshmen, are set for their first bowl game experiences. The Demon Deacons take on Mississippi State Friday in the Music City Bowl, and the Yellow Jackets face Utah the next day in the Sun Bowl.
The only other active FBS player of Forsyth County origin is Brian Adams, a sophomore receiver at Kentucky that played quarterback at South Forsyth. A 19-10 loss at Georgia Nov. 19 eliminated the Wildcats from contention for a sixth straight bowl appearance.
Both Emert and Travis have seen limited action this year as their teams fell out of their respective divisional races. Both Wake and Tech were in the running for a possible ACC championship game appearance before late conference losses rendered a bowl win their only potential postseason highlight.
Georgia Tech (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. Utah (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12), 2 p.m. Saturday at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas, CBS
This time a year ago, Tech linebacker Kyle Travis didn’t have an FBS offer.
A year later, he possesses the chance to be part of something none of his teammates — some of which were recruited with a handful of stars next to their name, others that may be drafted in April — have accomplished.
A bowl victory.
The Jackets have lost their last six bowl games, starting with a 38-10 Emerald Bowl blowout at the hands of Utah in 2005.
Tech meets the Utes again Saturday afternoon with aspirations of ending its postseason streak of futility and righting wrongs present in a 2-4 second half of the season after its first 6-0 start in 45 years.
Travis, a South Forsyth graduate, was one of 10 true freshmen to see the field this year for Tech. His role with the Jackets’ special teams units earned him time in all but one contest.
While the defensive unit he hopes to contribute to in coming seasons will be tested, the marquee matchup in one of the oldest bowls around will take place when the Jackets have the ball.
Tech’s 316.8 rushing yards per game ranks third among FBS teams; at 97 rush yards allowed per game, the Utes are seventh best at stopping the run.
Led by linebackers Chaz Walker, Matt Martinez and Brian Blechen and a nine-man defensive line rotation, Utah held six opponents to 75 yards rushing or less this season. The Jackets’ season-low rushing total was close to twice that, a 134-yard performance in a 24-7 loss to Miami.
Quarterback Tevin Washington, B-back David Sims and A-back Orwin Smith combined for 2,204 of Tech’s 3,802 rushing yards in a season that ranks second-best in school history in terms of total offensive yardage.
While the Jackets do their ground work by committee, second-year defensive coordinator Al Groh and the Tech defense will have their hands full with one backfield standout.
Utah running back John White tallied 117 yards on the ground per game during the regular season, the 11th-best mark in the Bowl Subdvision. His 290 carries rank fourth in the FBS, and he’s accounted for 38 percent of Utah’s total offense.
Groh’s bunch ranks 46th in total defense, 70th in rush defense, 30th against the pass and 60th in scoring defense.
This is the Jackets’ 15th straight bowl appearance — the fourth-longest active streak — and Tech’s 40th overall. They’re 22-17 in bowl games.
It will be Utah’s 10th appearance in 11 years, including all seven under coach Kyle Whittingham. All-time, the Utes are 12-4 in bowls.
At 77 years, the Sun Bowl is the second-longest running bowl game behind only the Rose Bowl.
Music City Bowl: Wake Forest (6-6, 5-3 ACC) vs. Mississippi State (6-6, 2-6 ACC), 6:40 p.m. Friday at LP Field in Nashville, ESPN Wake’s primary offensive success this season has come through the air, giving guys like Emert very few opportunities to shine with the ball in their hands.
Listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Tommy Bohanon, Emert has appeared in 10 games — six in a special teams-only role — but hasn’t produced any stats. Bohanon, a junior who started every contest, touched the ball 23 times this year.
That’s because the fullback’s duties in head coach Jim Grobe’s shotgun offense are fairly traditional: an extra blocker that may carry in short-yardage situations and serves as a check-down option on passing downs.
Quarterback Tanner Price’s favorite targets are receivers Michael Campanaro, Danny Dembry and Chris Givens. The third name in that sequence has produced the most, hauling in 74 receptions for 1,276 yards and nine touchdowns.
Wake’s offensive play selection was balanced this season, but the results weren’t.
The Deacons rushed for 118.9 yards per game on 426 attempts, ranking ninth in the ACC. Price threw 376 times for a league third-best average of 233.6 yards.
One-dimensional attacks typically struggle against SEC opponents, and Mississippi State boasts the No. 19 scoring defense in the FBS at 19.92 points allowed per game. All-SEC defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and friends could make it a long day for Price.
Neither team enters the 14th Music City Bowl on a hot streak.
Wake went 3-0 to start its conference slate for the first time in school history, but dropped five of its last seven games. A 31-10 victory over Maryland in the ACC finale locked up the Deacons’ 10th bowl appearance, but they looked powerless for much of a 41-7 loss to Vanderbilt the following week.
The Bulldogs didn’t fare much better down the stretch, beating two SEC foes (2-10 Ole Miss and 5-7 Kentucky) after earning a No. 16 AP ranking early in the season.
State’s Vick Ballard has medicated some of the Bulldogs’ wounds. Projected as a top-ten running back in the 2012 NFL Draft, Ballard ran for 1,045 yards this year, and his 27 career rushing touchdowns rank second in school history.
Both teams have struggled when playing teams from the other’s conference. Wake is 35-55 all-time against SEC foes, and the Bulldogs have lost 12 of 20 ACC matchups.
Neither squad has faced the other or played in the Music City Bowl, founded in 1998. Wake is 6-3 in bowl games, while State is 8-6 after a 52-14 victory over Michigan in last year’s Gator Bowl.