SI.com's Bill Trocchi analyzes the matchup.
Georgia Tech was expected to improve offensively this season despite the loss of all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Quarterback Taylor Bennett and running back Tashard Choice were poised to lead the attack, and both were productive. Bennett did not quite live up to expectations, but still managed to throw for over 2,000 yards. Choice hurt his knee midway through the season, but missed just one game and averaged 149 yards after his return. With a month off before the bowl game, Choice should be ready to carry a big share of the offensive load. It doesn't hurt that he's running behind first-team All-ACC tackle Andrew Gardner and second-team All-ACC center Kevin Tuminello.
Defensively, Jon Tenuta's group is nasty. The Yellow Jackets led the nation with 48 sacks and were second in tackles for loss, thanks to a blitz-heavy scheme that takes advantage of a talented front seven. Vance Walker had 8.5 sacks from his defensive tackle spot, earning him first-team All-ACC honors. Defensive end Darrell Robertson also brings plenty of pressure. Rangy linebacker Phillip Wheeler led the team in tackles and also had six sacks. Tech held five teams to 14 points or less and allowed just one (Georgia) more than 30.
Fresno State enjoyed a bounceback season after going 4-8 a year ago. All four of the Bulldogs' losses were to quality teams -- Hawaii, Boise State, Texas A&M and Oregon. Fresno State is one of the most balanced teams in the nation, averaging 205 yards rushing and 202 yards passing per game, but running back Ryan Matthews will likely miss the game due to an injury in the season-finale against New Mexico State. That will leave the running game in the hands of Clifton Smith, who was voted team MVP. Quarterback Tom Brandstater completed 61 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Fresno State was 86th against the run, which does not bode well when facing a healthy Choice. The Bulldogs do generate a decent pass rush, led by All-WAC defensive end Tyler Clutts. Linebacker Marcus Riley was voted WAC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the WAC in tackles for loss and forcing four turnovers. Fresno State is strong in both the kickoff and punt return games, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both categories.
Neither team figures to be sky-high for this matchup. Fresno State was hoping for a trip to Hawaii rather than Boise, while Georgia Tech's players will be trying to get over the firing of coach Chan Gailey. The Jackets could go one of two ways -- they may feel inspired to show new coach Paul Johnson what they can do, or they may finish off a disappointing season in poor weather against a non-BCS opponent. Fresno State whipped Georgia Tech in the Silicon Valley Classic in 2002. The Yellow Jackets revenge this year.
The pick: Georgia Tech 29, Fresno State 17