Welcome to this year’s edition of “How They Really Stand,” my ranking of all area sports teams, taking into account wins, losses, direction, potential, coaches, general managers, owners, recruiting coordinators and whether anybody provides us with more civic pride than, say, The Big Chicken (the bar is low).
I’m unveiling this a month earlier than usual because it seemed like a natural break in the sports schedule with the Braves getting ready to start spring training and the Hawks taking an off day between personalities. Two tweaks this year: I’m adding Georgia State football and basketball and replacing the Thrashers with a new entry. (Last year’s ranking in parenthesis.)
1. Braves (1): The best team in town lost 20 of its last 30 games. How about a nice embalming smoothie to go with those chicken fingers? But the Braves looked like a potential World Series team on paper last season until the paper caught fire, and they still seem closer to a title run than anybody else. Then again, that assumes everything that went wrong last season goes right this year.
2. Falcons (2): We know the good (three playoff appearances). We know the bad (three playoff losses). Here’s what I don’t want to hear: “But they’re so much better than they used to be!” The Falcons’ measuring stick should be the rest of the NFL, not franchise history. The heat has been turned up on Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith.
3. Dream (8): I still have not been to an Atlanta Dream game. I’ve either had something else to do that day or I didn’t want mess up my perfect nothing-to-do-today day by watching women’s basketball, or stabbing myself with a fork. But I can’t ignore a franchise that has been to the WNBA finals two straight seasons, which I again must note is a long way from getting displaced from Philips Arena because Sesame Street Live was already booked.
4. Hawks (3): Al Horford’s injury should’ve doubled them over, but coach Larry Drew has done a nice job holding things together (save the occasional bizarre out-of-body experience like the Miami game). The biggest problem: duh. Joe Johnson’s contract means little roster flexibility. On a related note: Johnson, the All-Star, scored six points at Phoenix. Josh Smith, the non-All-Star, went for 30 points and 17 rebounds. What’s wrong with this picture?
5. Georgia football (6): Mark Richt will go two straight years without having to face Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in the regular season. Nice lottery hit. Last year’s 10-4 season was a nice bounce-back from 6-7. But losing to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl after getting slammed 42-10 in the SEC title game wasn’t easily digested by BowWow Nation. Celebrations need to extend from signing day to January.
6. Georgia Tech football (7): The Jackets started 7-2 and upset No. 5 Clemson. Then they dropped three of their last four, including blowing a two-touchdown lead to Utah in the last seven minutes of the Sun Bowl. Next season will be an interesting tipping point for Paul Johnson, who went 20-7 in his first two seasons, 14-12 in the next two. And then there’s the matter of trying to win with his recruits.
7. This Space For Lease (5): Our annual dividing line between the general population and ICU.
8. Georgia basketball (4): The Dogs drop four spots from last year. But that’s less about coach Mark Fox as a coach than it is how this season has exposed just how weak the talent base was after the departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Fox needs a gravity-defying, 360-slam in recruiting.
9. Georgia Tech basketball (10): The Jackets won in Athens early this season. They probably should’ve stopped the season then. Brian Gregory is ahead of Paul Hewitt in that people like him, but he’s behind Hewitt in that he needs to prove he can recruit in the ACC. It’s not easy selling kids on “potential,” especially when your arena site is a construction zone.
10. Georgia State basketball (new): The early euphoria of an 11-game winning streak has faded (the Panthers are 7-6 since), but State could make things interesting in the CAA tournament. Worth noting: Rod Barnes did a nice job cleaning up a mess before getting fired, prior to Ron Hunter’s hiring.
11. Georgia State football (new): It’s impossible not to like Bill Curry. But he took on a difficult job, and going from 6-5 to 3-8 in Year 2 with a slight step up in competition speaks volumes. Next season the Panthers start playing conference games. Buckle up.
12. Team Weasel (surrogate): This entry replaces the Thrashers, now of Winnipeg, or some place on the dark side of the moon, and the three people primarily responsible for the franchise’s floundering and eventual move: Gary Bettman, Bruce Levenson and Don Waddell. If you golf and all of your associates consider you spineless, devious and a general tool, the three will be looking to round out their foursome at the Eternal Damnation Country Club.
By Jeff Schultz