December 31, 1998
By EDDIE PELLS
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - No team goes into a season hoping to become Gator Bowl champion. Most, however, would like a 10-victory season.
More than anything, that's what is at stake Friday when No. 12 Georgia Tech and No. 17 Notre Dame bring their 9-2 records into the 54th Gator Bowl.
Notre Dame also has a chance to snap a three-game bowl losing streak and write a successful ending to a season that began with a lawsuit, continued with an NCAA investigation and included a freak injury to quarterback Jarious Jackson's knee near the end.
"We know that average teams win nine, good teams win 10," Irish linebacker Kory Minor said. "If we go out and play sound football, I think we'll be OK."
Jackson worked extensively in practice this week and said his knee won't keep him from playing. He injured it Nov. 21 when LSU lineman Arnold Miller tackled him as he was running into the end zone, taking an intentional safety to seal a 39-36 victory.
"As of right now, I'm as close to 100 percent as I'm going to get," Jackson said. "I'm real loose. I'm running at full speed. Whatever strength it's at, that's what I'm going to be giving."
The game is a rematch of the 1997 season opener, a sloppy 17-13 Notre Dame victory in Irish coach Bob Davie's debut.
Much has happened since then, especially on the Notre Dame side.
The Irish lost an embarrassing lawsuit, filed by former assistant Joe Moore, 66, after Davie fired him, in part for being too old.
The school is also waiting to hear from the NCAA on whether it will be penalized for former booster Kimberly Dunbar's actions. She was sent to prison for embezzling money from her employer, some of which she used to buy gifts for at least a dozen current and former players.
Georgia Tech has had no such tumult, just a steady upward progression that has resulted in its first New Year's Day bowl game in eight years.
Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton threw for 118 yards and two interceptions a year ago against Notre Dame. He feels this is a good chance for him - and his team - to prove how far they have come.
"I've realized that on offense, there are 10 other guys," Hamilton said. "I've got to make my plays and put other guys in position to make their plays. I've learned over the years that sometimes a 3-yard gain, maybe a 2-yard gain, is a good play as opposed to an interception or not throwing it."
The Yellow Jackets are 4-26-1 lifetime against the Irish and would like to add the Notre Dame victory to the 21-19 victory over Georgia that snapped a seven-game losing streak in that series.
It would be a perfect cap to a season in which coach George O'Leary has inched closer to taking Tech to its 1990 level, when it was 11-0-1 and finished second to Colorado in the AP poll under then-coach Bobby Ross.
O'Leary pulled himself out of the running for openings at Auburn and South Carolina, signing a six-year rollover on his contract that should give the program stability.
"It gives us a chance to keep the program going in the direction it's going," O'Leary said. "We're at the point where we still need to get better, but we need to stay there once we get there."
Looking for the luck of the Irish, Notre Dame will wear green jerseys for the first time since a 1985 victory over Southern California in which they switched from blue to green at halftime.
It was tailback Autry Denson's idea, although even he realizes it's more symbolic than anything.
"It doesn't matter if we wear green, white, blue," he said. "We've got to
go out and play our kind of football."