All posts by KyleSandy

Exposed & Exploited: RIP The SEC

Oh how the mighty have fallen. The dust has settled and the once deemed “best division in college football history” fell flat on its face, with the SEC West limping into 2015 with a 2-5 bowl game record while the much ridiculed SEC East held up its end of the bargain going 5-0 to save the conference from complete and utter embarrassment. The simple fact is that once again, the SEC came into bowl season wildly overrated and once again was exposed. The fall of the SEC began last year with Oklahoma throttling an “uninterested” Alabama team 45-31, and the fall concluded this season with Bama as they saw a Big Ten school with its third string quarterback hammer them into submission with 281 yards rushing and a 42-35 upset. Fans across the nation were stunned with the outcome, but the writing was on the wall and the fact that Alabama would get exposed again on the big stage was as clear as day to me.

Before I begin on Alabama’s demise, let’s start at the beginning. Texas A&M and Arkansas kicked off bowl season for the West going 2-0 and seemingly were just getting things started for another dominating SEC performance. However, the proverbial doo-doo hit the fan when LSU, who beat Ole Miss by three, and lost to Alabama in overtime, got beat by a Notre Dame team who lost four straight and had to bench its senior quarterback. Just one bad 31-28 loss for the SEC, no big deal right? Time for the best of the West to flex its muscle and prove it’s the top conference in football in the New Year’s Six. The vaunted Land Shark defense of the Ole Miss Rebels was ready to pound TCU who got snubbed from the final four, but things went awry as TCU embarrassed Ole Miss 42-3. That would be just the beginning of the writings on the wall starting to show through.

The Orange Bowl featured the ACC, the SEC’s little brother who swept the SEC during rivalry week. Time for some payback right? The Jackets ran the ball right down the Bulldogs’ throat, (sound familiar?) racking up 452 yards rushing and a blowout 49-34 victory, thus raising red flag number two. Maybe the SEC wasn’t that good? Maybe all of Alabama’s “signature” wins were just those over teams that were overhyped. But don’t fret, 2015 rolled in and Auburn had a date with the measly Big Ten and Wisconsin. Once again though, it was an SEC defense getting trounced on the ground. Melvin Gordon ran roughshod through the Tigers defense and racked up 251 yards, three touchdowns and a 34-31 win. Strike three for the SEC. Now all of Alabama’s big wins looked like nothing heading into the final four, not necessarily a settling thought for SEC enthusiasts.

By the time the Sugar Bowl rolled around, there was no reason to think this would be a sure-thing anymore for Alabama. The Tide did get off to a hot start, leading the Buckeyes 21-6, but Urban Meyer was able to cement himself as possibly the best coach in the nation by opening up the playbook and throwing in some razzle-dazzle en route to a 42-35 shocking victory. So what is there to take away from all this, besides the fact that the SEC’s top teams couldn’t matchup with other conferences’ top teams?  My take away is that the run of dominance is completely finished for the SEC. The gap has been completely closed and now that there is a four team playoff, teams who wouldn’t have gotten a shot otherwise now will be able to enter the picture. Without a playoff this year, it would have been Alabama vs Florida State for the title.

I heard some of the most blasphemous excuses this past week. “Bowl games don’t matter” or “they aren’t interested in playing if it’s not for the title”. My favorite one is SEC fans reciting the history of their success like a child with an old blanket they can always hold onto when they feel scared or exposed to the world, but hey, guess what? What does you winning a title two years ago have to do with what is happening on the field today? Does that 2012 title automatically roll into the next two seasons and seemingly should be able to make all other conferences fall to their knees and bow to the almighty SEC? Just like ESPN said, lets just have the SEC play its own national title because they are so much better than everyone else? Or maybe is it that they aren’t good enough to beat anyone else anymore? The cannibalization narrative was great for the SEC, but what happens when a bigger, hungry dog or in this case conference wants to come to the dinner table to feed? They pushed the little SEC to the side and did what they wanted to them. So to all the historians, that’s great that you guys USED to be untouchable but not anymore, and if you still think the SEC is the greatest without a doubt, no how, no way; to that, all I have to say is ignorance is bliss. The SEC got rocked and the SEC Network will have a lot of empty air space to fill after the debacle. The SEC Bias was fun while it lasted, with Skip Bayless picking Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, and Ole Miss for the final four playoff, but now it’s time to face the facts and face a brave new college football world.

Atlanta New Year’s Resolutions

This Thursday marks the start of a fresh year, 2015. It’s a chance for everyone to start anew and hope for a bigger and even better year. Each year people decide to make New Year’s resolutions because it is the popular thing to do and it gives you a goal to strive for if not in the long run, at least for the first few weeks (like getting in shape). Though many resolutions go to the wayside after the first month or so, I still think it is important to set some goals and resolutions to better ourselves. The resolutions I will put forth will not be for me, but for some Atlanta teams moving forward. Out with the old and in with the new, it’s time for some local teams to make some promises and to bring forth some change in 2015.

Atlanta Falcons

            Black Monday has brought the axing of Mike Smith after seven successful seasons and a 66-46 record in the regular season. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a 34-3 blowout loss at home which sealed the Falcons postseason fate along with Smith’s. Though he was Atlanta’s winningest coach in franchise history, his inability to win in the postseason (1-4) and his 1-14 record against winning teams the past two seasons was enough for Arthur Blank to make the switch. Atlanta’s New Year resolution should be to hire a defensive-minded coach and allow him to rebuild one of the league’s worst defenses.

The Falcons have always had the fire power on offense, but it has been their faulty defense that has done them in. The past two seasons they have finished 27th in the league in points allowed; too much for the offense to overcome. There have been some questionable moves including letting Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud, and John Abraham go too soon. The makeshift defense did the best they could but too many holes remained. Bringing in a defensive-minded coach would allow the team to put in better schemes and hopefully bring aboard some high quality players. The trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White seemingly should be able to function with any coach or coordinator. Recently fired Rex Ryan went to back-to-back AFC Conference Championship games with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback – yes, Mark Sanchez. Give Rex the weapons Atlanta has on offense, and allow him to run the defense and the Falcons might be in good shape sooner rather than later.

Atlanta Braves

            My resolution for Atlanta is to keep doing what they are doing and be patient. Continue to build the farm system and look forward to the opening of SunTrust Park in 2017. The NL East has gotten considerably tougher and it is the right move to blow things up and punt on the upcoming seasons. The cupboard was bare when John Hart took over, but he is now starting to add pieces to the farm and hopefully be able to reap the benefits in three to four years. It will be tough for fans to suffer through 70-75 win seasons, but they have to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint and that good things will come in the future.

Atlanta Hawks

At 22-8, the Hawks are tied for the fourth best record in the NBA. Their resolution should be to make it to the conference finals. Atlanta has made the postseason in seven consecutive seasons and look to be a lock again for this year; however, the Hawks have lost in the first round three straight years before losing in the second round three years in a row before that.  As the story goes for all Atlanta teams, getting over the postseason hump is the most difficult thing to do. This could be Atlanta’s year with the East being watered down and the Cavaliers struggling to become dominant. The Hawks have been Atlanta’s most consistent team this past decade but you would never guess it by the lack of support. It’s time for the Hawks to take ahold of Atlanta and officially become the city’s number one team.

As with all resolutions, only time will tell if they will come to fruition or not. I wish everyone a safe and happy New Years and I will see you next year!

Is the Light at the End of the Tunnel for the Mets?

It has been eight long and grueling years since the New York Mets have made the playoffs. Fans have ridden the emotional roller coaster of Oliver Perez surrendering a devastating home run to-be that was miraculously brought back in by Endy Chavez and turned into a double play on possibly the greatest catch in post season history. Just an hour or so later we had to suffer through the slow moving comeback that was built and eventually lost all steam when Carlos Beltran struck out looking against an Adam Wainwright curve ball which propelled Wainwright into elite status and the Mets spiraling into one of the most painful doldrums the franchise has seen.

The 2007 and 2008 last day losses that kept them out of the post season are too painful to relive. The rebuilding process and clearing house of Omar Minaya, Willie Randolph, and Jerry Manuel getting axed seems like ancient history. The Bernie Madoff scandal to this day seems to linger over the Mets franchise which has some people thinking the team is still strapped for cash while others think the stingy owning group of the Wilpons just don’t want to spend money. A New York team with a payroll barely reaching $100 million is almost unfathomable, but alas, the light seemingly is finally in sight at the end of the tunnel.

The prudent and methodical workings of Sandy Alderson have not wowed anyone, but the Mets slowly have built one of the league’s stronger farm systems and one of the MLB’s deepest pitching staffs in baseball with the likes young aces Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, the usually reliable veterans of Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, and the highly touted prospects Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and others. The Mets have begrudgingly made splash-worthy moves under the tenure of Sandy Alderson, but he has slowly tried to make the right decisions. Last season Curtis Granderson was brought aboard and was streaky with the Mets, but showed signs of life throughout the season. This year the oft-injured but productive Michael Cuddyer was signed to strengthen the offense, but still holes remain.

The Winter Meetings have come and gone and the NL East (aside from Philadelphia & Atlanta) has gotten stronger on paper. Whispers have swirled that the Mets, after passing on a bid to sign Jung-Ho Kang, are now slightly interested in acquiring Troy Tulowitzki. Alderson continues to deny anything being remotely close, but the fact that it is out there is interesting. The Mets are sitting on a plethora of MLB-ready pitching talent, and I say it is time to let it fly and roll the dice.

Tulo is injury-prone yes, and plays at Coors Field, but he is the big name that would get New Yorkers back interested in the team from Queens. Tulowitzki is a career .299, but hits just .274 away from home. If the Mets were able to send a package to grab him, he of course most likely will not hit .320 and won’t play 162 games. But a line of .280/20/90 is more than reasonable and would be a massive upgrade over Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores, who I still think can be a solid offensive player. Today on MLB Network Jon Heyman brought up the package of Syndergaard, Gee, Flores, Montero, and Kevin Plawecki for Tulowitzki and $30 million to help the salary the Mets will be taking on.  Syndergaard is the Mets’ No.1 ranked prospect while Plawecki and Montero come in at Nos. 5 and 8 according to Baseball America’s 2015 team rankings.

As much as a gamble it may be, it is a trade that I would push to get done. The Mets made a similar big splash six years ago when they traded Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, and Phillip Humber for Johan Santana. Out of those four prospects only Carlos Gomez has made an impact besides from Humber’s fluke perfect game. The simple fact is that prospects are prospects; they aren’t proven players. There are hundreds of prospects in each farm system and at the end of the day, it is all a crap shoot on who will turn into the next Derek Jeter and who will turn into the next Matt Bush. Farm systems can be easily replenished in just a year or two, but acquiring stars does not happen every day.

Worst case scenario, Tulo flops hard and Syndergaard proves to be the real deal. The Mets have been burned before with Mo Vaughn, Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, and so on and on, but the fact that you got burnt in the past doesn’t mean you have to stop trying. You have to be able to roll the dice. High-risk, high-reward moves are often the moves that can push a team from the bottom of the standings into playoff contention (Royals trading top prospect Wil Myers for Jason Shields). Sandy has seemingly been too scared to make a splash and go all out. If the cash is there, and the right move is there, its time to go all out and make something happen. He must know the fan base is getting tired of his frugal spending and his unwillingness to try and make the playoffs due to the fact that if he falls flat on his face, his time in New York may be up.

Alderson wants to temper expectations, but the fan base and even Terry Collins and the players know the time is now to make a push for the playoffs. Whether it is the blockbuster move trading for Tulowitzki, or another minor move shipping away Gee or Niese, the Mets are still a piece away from being able to call themselves locks for the postseason. Right now they are on the precipice of contending for a Wild Card spot. Its time for Sandy Alderson to grab the opportunity by the throat, and give it all they got to make the playoffs for the first time in eight long, and arduous years.

A Year in Review

As we close the books and flip the calendar on the year 2014, its time to recap some of the highlights and lowlights of our local teams this past year. In 2014 we saw the colossal downfall of the Braves, the scintillating start of the season for the Hawks, the surprise year of the Yellow Jackets, and the injury-plagued season of the Falcons. I’m here to handout grades this year and give you my perspective of the 2014 season.

Atlanta Braves

Atlanta started out the 2013-14 season strong and led the NL East for a majority of the first half, with a 52-43 record. However, the wheels fell off in the second half and heads began to roll. The Braves sputtered to 27-40 and finished tied for second place with the New York Mets at 79-83. It all went wrong with the putrid Atlanta offense which finished second-worst in the entire MLB. They averaged just over three runs a game in the second half and were left searching for answers. Greg Walker walked away from the hitting coach position after the season so he could leave on his own terms instead of being fired. This was just the beginning of the shakeup.  General Manager Frank Wren was fired after seven years at the helm of the Braves. John Hart has now taken over the team and has torn it all down trading away the beloved Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and cut ties with Jonny Venters and Kris Medlen. Hart recognized the Braves were not going anywhere with their current roster and instead decided to bolster one of the league’s weakest farm systems. It may hurt now Braves fans, but you are in a better position today to win a title than you were four months ago. Grade: C+

Atlanta Falcons

            Maybe no team has suffered more injuries specifically to their offensive line than the Falcons have this year. In most seasons, a 6-9 record would have teams doing major research on their draft board, but the NFC South has been so bad this year the Falcons have a shot to make the playoffs at 7-9 if they beat the Panthers next week. As nice as it is to say that you made the playoffs, let’s not kid ourselves. It has been another disastrous season for the Falcons and now reports have leaked out that Head Coach Mike Smith will not make it to the 2015 season. The offense has been solid but the Atlanta defense has been one of the worst in the league. The once feared Georgia Dome has lost its home field advantage along with the Saints and their Superdome. Of course it never hurts to make the playoffs, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just another banner hanging in the rafters, not a ring on the players’ fingers. Grade: C

Atlanta Hawks

            If someone told you at the beginning of the year that the Hawks would be Atlanta’s best hope at a championship team, you probably wouldn’t believe them, but alas, here we are and the Hawks have been mightily impressive this season with a 19-7 record and their longest winning streak in over a decade. Coach Budenholzer has instilled a winning philosophy and a defensive minded unit. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap anchor the team while Kyle Korver is having the best shooting season in history, slashing 51/53/96. Though the season is only a quarter of the way through, Atlanta has shown no signs of slowing down in the weak Eastern Conference and may be a dark horse to emerge from the East. Grade thus far: A

Georgia Tech

Seemingly on his death bed as head coach at Tech, Paul Johnson needed a big season to stick around and boy did he get it. A 10-3 season with a win over UGA was enough for PJ to secure a four-year extension with the Ramblin’ Wreck. An Orange Bowl berth against Mississippi State will end a successful season. Grade: A

Till Next Year

It has been a year full of ups and downs for our local teams. 2015 will surely produce more memorable moments, but until then, Happy Holidays and have a safe and Happy New Year!