CLEMSON -- The fact the NCAA says Georgia Tech broke rules that helped the Yellow Jackets squeak by Clemson in the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game won't impact a Saturday night clash in Atlanta nearly as much as other things.

For instance, the game-time condition of Andre Ellington's ankle and Georgia Tech's response to a Clemson scoring machine averaging 78.25 snaps per game.

So many close games between these two programs, so much contrast.

Clemson gets a lot of players out of the Atlanta area, Georgia Tech not many out of metro Clemson.

But, strictly speaking, undefeated and sixth-ranked Clemson should be aiming for its second ACC championship game appearance. Georgia Tech's non-2009 title adds to what Tigers tackle Landon Walker calls "a huge rivalry."

Maybe you remember. Georgia Tech won its way to the Orange Bowl with a 39-34 victory over Clemson in Tampa, Fla.

But Georgia Tech in July had the 2009 ACC crown taken away, was placed on four years of probation and fined $100,000 for using an ineligible player. The NCAA said star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas should have been ineligible after receiving $312 worth of clothing from a sports agent, and that Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich violated NCAA rules by warning Thomas and Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson about an NCAA interview.

Thriller in Tampa

Georgia Tech sent the ACC championship game trophy back to the ACC office, but the conference opted to leave the title officially "vacant."

"They beat us," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday.

Swinney's veteran players agreed.

"As far as football goes, Georgia Tech earned it," junior center Dalton Freeman said.

Walker: "I still think they deserve it. They were the best team in the ACC that year."

C.J. Spiller saw it differently. The former Clemson running back, now with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, rushed for 233 yards in the 2009 ACC title game.

"So does this mean we get acc championship rings?" Spiller tweeted immediately after the NCAA ruling.

No. But the Thriller in Tampa rings through this week.

"The big thing about Georgia Tech is that they've thrown the ball a little more," Swinney said.

Yes, but the Yellow Jackets don't have a receiver as talented as Thomas, recently seen catching a Tim Tebow TD pass to help the Denver Broncos stun the Miami Dolphins.

'No math major'

Thomas, an NFL first-round draft pick, caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the 2009 ACC title game. More importantly, he warranted extra Clemson coverage that aided Georgia Tech's triple-option running attack.

Asked about Thomas in a question unrelated to the NCAA flap, Swinney on Tuesday agreed the Yellow Jackets were "probably more explosive that year (2009), which is a big reason why they won the conference."

Swinney didn't completely dodge the NCAA matter.

"I'll tell you one thing I don't get," he said. "If they're not going to count the (ACC championship game) win for them, why do they count the loss for Clemson? That makes no sense. I'm no math major, but it ought to add up."

Which brings us back to things the Tigers can control: Adding one more win against huge rival Georgia Tech.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.