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!

Bowl Season Predictions

It’s officially the best time of year for football fans. The bowl season is here and there are plenty of massive matchups that will be sure to gather the family around the big screen. The best of the best will face off to determine who is for real and who is still a step behind. The playoff committee already has had fans on the edge of their seats with the final four selection and now all that is left is to play the games. I want to break down some of the biggest games including our local schools and give my synopsis on how they might play out.

Capital One Orange Bowl

Entering the season many people including myself thought that this could be Coach Paul Johnson’s final season at the helm of Georgia Tech. It seemed like the always unpredictable Jackets could either flop their way to a 6-6 record, or do something special to save PJ’s job; it looks like they chose the latter. Tech finished 10-3 and helped Coach Johnson secure a 4-year contract extension. They will have a tough test against formerly No. 1 ranked Mississippi State. By now you should know how Tech wins games; the triple option. Justin Thomas has dazzled at quarterback passing for 1,594 yards and rushing for 965. Seniors Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days both finished with over 750 yards rushing. Mississippi State has a stingy defense that allows under 20 points per game and is led on offense by Dak Prescott who has amassed 3,970 yards and 38 touchdowns. Tech will challenge the Bulldogs tough defense with their rushing onslaught. Mississippi State opens as a 7-point favorite. I could see this game going either way, but I think the Bulldogs’ balance will be too much in the end for Georgia Tech. Prediction: Miss St.

Belk Bowl

            A familiar face will greet the Dawgs in Charlotte. Todd Grantham leads a Louisville defense that once went four straight games without allowing an offensive touchdown this season. The quarterback position has been a rotating door for the Cards and has stymied them in losses to Virginia and Clemson. Georgia benefited from playing in the weak SEC East but did not win the division. Injuries and suspensions have riddled the backfield, but Nick Chubb has emerged as a star with 1,281 yards rushing. The Dawgs come in averaging 255 yards a game rushing, but Louisville allows the third fewest in the nation at 93.7. If Louisville can receive solid quarterback play on offense and force Hutson Mason to beat them, Grantham should be headed for success, but it is easier said than done to stop Georgia’s run game. UGA is a 6.5 point favorite in what could be a low scoring affair. I think the Cards could surprise Georgia with their defense, but Louisville’s lack of stability at the quarterback position is too much for me. Prediction: UGA

Final Four Playoff

            The stage is set: No. 1 Alabama vs No. 4 Ohio State. No. 2 Oregon vs No. 3 Florida State. There has not been one single dominant team this season, so it is anybody’s ballgame. I would have liked to see TCU in over Ohio State due to the Buckeyes’ brutal loss against Virginia Tech and the fact that they are down to their third string quarterback. Though I don’t believe that Alabama is the unbeatable team that many figure them to be, I think they will be able to handle Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.

The real national championship in my opinion is Florida State vs Oregon. The nation’s two top ranked NFL quarterback prospects will duke it out to see who advances to the finals and possibly even who will be selected first overall. Florida State will need to come out strong like they did against Georgia Tech, but they will also need to get some stops. This game is a complete toss-up, but I feel like whoever wins will go on to win the championship. Alabama has shown cracks and was exposed badly in the Sugar Bowl last year. Florida State has enough blue chippers and Oregon has Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to shut down Bama’s one dimensional passing game. Prediction: FSU/Oregon

Why The Playoff Committee Got It Wrong But Will Never Admit It

Every season no matter what there will be debates on who was snubbed and who got the benefit of the doubt. Coming into this season with the new Final Four Playoff it was bound to happen. It was bound to have a deserving team sitting at home. Little did we know that the cases for two teams that got left out would be so strong. It was a difficult decision for the committee of course and they did the best they could. Sadly, I’m not here to give them a pat on the back and tell them “good job”. If you know anything about me, you shouldn’t be surprised that I’m here to give them a kick in the butt and ask them “What in the world did you just do?”

At the end of the day, the best team will emerge from the final four. I understand that. But the most important thing is giving the top four deserving schools a chance to battle it out. I understand that Bama is No.1, even though a strong case belongs to Oregon. FSU No. 3 is fine with me. They haven’t lost in over a year, and if they are for real they will beat whoever it is in front of them. My main quarrel is with Ohio State. The Buckeyes by far and away have the worst loss out of any single team in the top 10; an utterly putrid beat down by offensively inept Virginia Tech (6-6). The Hokies hung 35 points on Ohio State. I don’t understand the thought process of “it was early”. Does that mean the games we play in the first four weeks of the season hold no merit at all the rest of the way?

The only reason this loss in a massive thorn in my side is because the quality of wins are close if not go in favor of TCU, who I felt should have gotten the fourth seed. The talk of TCU not playing anyone out of conference needs to end. The Big 12 is light-years ahead of the watered down Big Ten, which easily is considered the worst out of the Power 5 conferences, especially when playing other Power 5 conferences. TCU smacked Minnesota (8-4) 30-7. That same Minnesota team lost by only 7 against Ohio State with a healthy JT Barrett. Hello? TCU’s only loss came in a come from behind defeat to the hands of Baylor who is a top 10 school, not a 6-6 school that is on a steep decline.

TCU beat then-ranked opponents: No. 4 Oklahoma (8-4), No. 15 Oklahoma State (6-6), No. 20 West Virginia (7-5), and No. 7 Kansas State (9-3).

OSU beat then-ranked opponents: No. 8 Michigan State (10-2), No. 25 Minnesota (8-4), No. 13 Wisconsin (10-3).

Ohio State simply overmatches opposing Big 10 schools with their athleticism. The Big Ten is a far cry from the ACC, SEC, and Big 12. Teams like Rutgers, Illinois, and even Minnesota just can’t matchup, but too many times was OSU pushed to the brink. Indiana, Penn State, Minnesota, and even Navy had chances to knock off the Buckeyes in the second half.

OSU ranks 4th in PPG, and 23rd in Points Allowed. TCU is 2nd in PPG and 16th in Points Allowed playing in a much more explosive offensive conference. The committee has goofed up and allowed another Big Ten school to pull the wool over their eyes. If JT Barrett or Braxton Miller were healthy, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with them sneaking in, but letting a third stringer take his team to the Final Four just seems like too much to overcome. The last time OSU won a big bowl game was the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which has since been vacated. Last year Clemson beat the Bucks 40-35 in the Orange Bowl. And in 2011 it was Florida beating Ohio State 24-17 in the Gator Bowl. The Big Ten has been dominated in Rose Bowls going 2-8 in their last ten games.

It feels like the committee wanted to ensure Alabama a spot in the national title game. After getting a scare of having no SEC teams make the Final Four, it seems like the NCAA wanted to hammer down Alabama in the title game. I feel like whoever wins the Florida State-Oregon game will go on to be named the National Champs. Of course I will be rooting for Ohio State to make me shut my mouth and prove there is parity in college football, but I lean towards the side of Alabama winning by three scores. Hopefully the Final Four produces close games, or else it’s back to the drawing board NCAA.

The Slipping SEC (Featured in Score Atlanta Vol. 10 Issue 45)

Growing up and living in the south all I have heard the last decade is how football is king and how the SEC is bar none the greatest conference in the nation. Sure the SEC has flexed its muscle the past decade winning seven of the eight BCS National Championship games and of course, believe it or not, there is such a thing as SEC bias. There shouldn’t have been an Alabama-LSU rematch in 2011 and Alabama shouldn’t have been gifted the title when the committee allowed an overwhelmed Notre Dame team to play instead of a deserving Oregon squad who got beat on a last second field goal two years prior. Florida State ended the SEC reign of dominance after shaking off a suspicious slow start that many claimed was due to Auburn stealing signs in the first half.

Fast forward to this past Saturday with some of the oldest most bitter rivalries taking place. Four games saw the disrespected ACC play the almighty SEC. Of course anyone who knows college football knows that the SEC must have dominated its little brother the ACC right? Wrong. It was the ACC bowing its chest out and going 4-0 against the nation’s most beloved conference. Louisville took care of a game Kentucky team 44-40, Clemson shellacked preseason number nine South Carolina 35-17, Florida State played possum again but managed to win its twenty-eighth consecutive game by beating Florida 24-19, and of course Georgia Tech stunned Georgia 30-24. It’s fine to argue that all these teams came from the paltry SEC East, but when a conference is claimed to be the best, they can’t come up with excuses when they get shutout by an inferior conference.

Boiling Bob…

The love for the SEC spilled over into the coaching ranks and irked one big name coach last season. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops finally had enough of the swooning over the SEC. “So you’re listening to a lot of propaganda that gets fed out to you. You’re more than smart enough to figure it out. Again, you can look at the top two, three, four, five, six teams, and you can look at the bottom six, seven, eight, whatever they are. How well are they all doing?” Stoops was right. Perception is reality and when everyone is forcing you to believe the SEC is hands down the best conference, you have to take a step back and evaluate everything. Coach Stoops led Oklahoma to a 45-31 Sugar Bowl statement win over Alabama after being a 17 point underdog.

The Glory Days…

The SEC’s strength used to be its defenses. Those days are now over. Auburn hung 628 yards on Alabama and still lost in a shootout. The same thing happened last year in the SEC Championship when Auburn and Missouri combined for 101 points. The strength of the SEC has fallen back with the rest of the nation, and this season is no different. The self-cannibalization of the top SEC schools has begun. Only Alabama remains with one loss. If Auburn was able to get a stop on defense at all during the Iron Bowl, we possibly could have seen the mighty SEC left out in the cold with no teams entering the final four playoff. The latest AP poll now has just two SEC schools in the top 10, the lowest amount in what feels like years with how much respect the SEC has been given and how much other conferences have been disregarded.

The Pac-12 and Big-12 quietly have some of the better teams in the nation. The long argued idea of “Team X wouldn’t win six games in the SEC!” is a thing of the past. The nation has finally caught up to the SEC and there is great parity amongst the landscape of college football. Last season’s Florida State team might be the last dominant bunch we will see in the college football for a while. The final four playoff came at just the right time and will give fans an opportunity to see some great games. Hopefully the committee can select the right teams and give us the chance to see a game nearly as good as last year’s championship.

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