Archive for May, 2009

College football 2009: Tech wins the ACC, Georgia loses four

OK, so I’m a big fat homer, but I’m an equal-opportunity homer. In last year’s long-range college football predictions, I picked Georgia to win the BCS title. This time I’m picking Georgia Tech …

• To take the ACC championship. I believe Paul Johnson when he says his stylized offense will be ever better, and I note the key game on Tech’s conference schedule — Virginia Tech on Oct. 17 — will be staged at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Because I think there’ll be some days when the Jackets fumble 10 times or it rains or something, I’m guessing they’ll lose twice. (At Florida State and, believe it or not, at Vandy.) But they’ll go 10-2 and beat FSU in a rematch for the ACC title.

• I see Georgia losing four games. If that sounds like a lot, recall that the star-studded 2008 team lost three, and — stop me if you’ve heard this already — Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno are gone. Joe Cox won’t be as good as D.J. Shockley was in 2005, but he’ll be OK. Replacing Moreno will be more …

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Wren on his Braves: “It’s obvious we need more offense”

Frank Wren knew he couldn’t fix all that ailed his 90-loss team in one offseason, so he prioritized. He started with the rotation and added three new arms. He stabilized the most egregious source of instability. He made the Braves competitive again.

But say this for Wren: He’s no Pollyanna. He sees the potential in his reconfigured team, and he also sees a ceiling. Just past the quarter pole, the Braves are very much in the NL East mix. To stay there, the general manager believes something has to change.

“I do think we’re going to have to perform better offensively,” Wren said Wednesday. “Our pitching is giving us a chance to win, but to be legitimate contenders we have to improve offensively.”

The hope when the Braves came north from Disney World was that many competent bats would override the lack of a true big bat. “We don’t have a big bopper who’s going to hit 40 home runs,” Wren said in April. “We might have seven guys who’ll hit 20.”

He meant 20 apiece. But if you take …

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Bradley’s Buzz: A rosy consensus emerges on the Falcons

A team grows in Flowery Branch

In ESPN.com’s first power ratings of the 2009 season — technically, the 2009 season doesn’t begin for three months, but haven’t we learned that pro football is a year-round sport? — its panel of analysts pegs the Falcons as the NFL’s 11th-best team. (Thanks to reader Anthony Burnette for the tip.) But the Worldwide Leader didn’t become the Worldwide Leader by letting it go at that.

Each voter — there are 12, meaning ESPN has more NFL analysts than the number of players any NFL team can field at any given time — has his ballot broken down, and here’s where it gets interesting. Eleven put the Falcons between No. 7 and No. 13 in the 32-team league. The exception is esteemed former colleague Len Pasquarelli, who has the Falcons 20th.

The same Pasquarelli ranks Carolina No. 3, and the Panthers, who finished one spot above the Falcons overall, generated the widest spread of any team. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. had them 24th. Five of the 12 …

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The Georgia State itinerary: Two miles to “baseball heaven”

The president of Georgia State University gave his baseball coach a new car Tuesday morning. Two hours later, Greg Frady showed a visitor the fruits of his team’s victory in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament – a snazzy red-and-white convertible about six inches long and two inches high.

OK, so the gift of a model car wasn’t quite like winning the showcase on “The Price Is Right,” but it was a nice gesture by Mark Becker, the president who got so pumped he sent his coach text messages between CAA tournament games. And this week has the potential to be better still: The Georgia State Panthers are going to what their coach calls “baseball heaven.”

Friday night will mark GSU’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament, and it will come in a ballpark two miles from Panther headquarters. Georgia State plays Georgia Tech at Russ Chandler Stadium, and Frady knows a grand opportunity is at hand.

“The Atlanta community will be paying attention to this game,” Frady said, “and …

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Bradley’s Buzz: Is it time to bid adieu to Frenchy?

Francoeur on the way out?

Last week Mark Bowman, who covers the Braves for MLB.com, speculated openly about the need for the Braves to upgrade their outfield and that Jeff Francouer could soon be on an outbound plane. Included was Bowman’s sobering appraisal: “The Braves aren’t going to get much in return for Francoeur. But they need to at least explore the possibility of moving him before they reach a point during the offseason when they might non-tender him and get absolutely nothing in return for a former top prospect.”

Note the “ouch” phrases: “Aren’t going to get much” and “non-tender him” and, worst of all, “former top prospect.”

About Mr. Bowman: He’s a good guy and a good reporter. He’s not given to flights of fancy. (Unlike, say, me.) If he’s broaching the topic on MLB.com, it stands to reason there’s chatter ongoing within the Braves’ organization. And that might not be a bad thing. As much as I like Francoeur, I think we’re approaching the point where it makes sense …

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The 2009 Braves: They’re OK so far, but they need a tweak

A year ago the Braves beat Brandon Webb on Memorial Day, and these fallible fingers went to work. “They’ll be in first place by the Fourth of July,” they typed, “and come Labor Day they’ll be pulling away.” In a career of Dewey-defeats-Truman moments, it was among the dewiest.

One year on, no rosy proclamation will be offered. The forecast of May 2008 was based on the Braves getting healthy. (They would, alas, get hurt at an even more alarming rate.) These Braves are getting healthy, too, but there’s difference. What we’ve seen is apt to be what we’re going to get: Good starting pitching, not much hitting, a slew of games that must be won 1-0 or 4-3, which, not coincidentally, were the scores the first two nights of the Toronto series.

At peak capacity, the Braves as constituted could win 88 games. They cannot win 95. At best, they seem a wild-card team – good, but not that good. A lot of things have to go right for them to win, and lately they have. But I don’t see this …

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How the Atlanta Hawks just might stay together after all

Given that Rick Sund only went one-for-two on keeping last summer’s key free agents, the inclination is to think he might pull a Jeff Francoeur and bat .250 (or worse) this time around. But I’m thinking Sund will do better. I’m thinking the Hawks have a real chance to keep this team together, provided two things happen:

1. The economy stays bad.
2. Nobody gets mad.

“I like the core of this club,” Sund said this week. “I’d like to keep as much of it together as I can.” His endorsement is a major factor: It means he likes what he has and wants to add, not subtract.

Sund inherited last summer’s free agents, and it’s no secret he valued Josh Childress less than ownership did. The fractious Atlanta Spirit actually gave the new general manager permission to exceed the salary cap on Childress – you can do that to keep your own free agents – and Sund declined.

Sund has a clear idea as to what he feels guys are worth. He took a media hit, in this space and others, for letting Childress …

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Bradley’s Buzz: “With the 19th pick, the Hawks take …”

To go big or go small?

The first real wave of NBA mock drafts hit this week, and there’s no consensus regarding the Hawks’ Round 1 selection. Chad Ford of ESPN.com has them taking point guard Jeff Teague of Wake Forest at No. 19. Sean Deveney of Sporting News Today opts for Jonny Flynn, a point guard from Syracuse. Ian Thomsen of SI.com goes with yet another point guard — Eric Maynor of VCU. And NBAdraft.net, which last week had the Hawks taking Teague, has changed its mind and now has them choosing center B.J. Mullens of Ohio State.

For those keeping score, that’s three point guards against one center. In yesterday’s lengthy Q&A with GM Rick Sund, he said: “I pretty much lean, when you’re picking 19th, to take the best player with the most potential.” Of the four, Mullens might well have the most potential. He’s a skinny big man — he’s 7-foot, 275 pounds — with good hands, and he was considered one of the top five prospects for 2009 five months ago. But he had a tepid …

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Hawks GM Rick Sund answers questions, including yours!

OK, I messed up. I said I would ask Rick Sund about David Andersen, the Australian center who plays for FC Barcelona in Spain and whose NBA rights the Atlanta Hawks continue to hold, and I flat-out forgot. What can I say? We got to gabbing.

The Hawks’ general manager and I talked Wednesday for an hour and 45 minutes, and here, as promised, is a (slightly) truncated version of that extended audience. And you’ll be disappointed because Sund doesn’t volunteer any names of free agents he’d like to sign or details of any trade he’d like to make, but you’re going to have to deal with it. No GM ever talks about such things, at least not on the record, and Sund is more cautious than most.

But he is a winning conversationalist, and I think you’ll find some edification herein. And for all those who submitted questions I wound up using, you have my sincere thanks. For all those whose questions I didn’t pose, you have the same sincere thanks and my heartiest apologies. But I hope this …

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As Michael Vick’s new life begins, hope remains. Yes, hope.

He’s not quite free and clear, but he’s out of prison. That’s a start. Michael Vick can begin to get on with the rest of his life, and we should wish him well. Because he’s not some demon. He’s a human being who made dire mistakes.

And he continues to pay for them. He’ll wear an ankle bracelet. He can’t go to a bar. He can’t vote. He’ll need to earn his way back into the good graces of Roger Goodell and the American public, and it won’t be easy. But there’s a story waiting to be written, a story as uplifting as these past two years have been deflating.

Michael Vick needs to talk to us, and soon. He needs to tell us he’s sorry and that his time behind bars has changed him, made him wiser, redoubled his determination not to mess up the rest of his life. He needs now to throw himself on the mercy of the American public and see how merciful it can be.

Because a lot of people would be willing to forgive him. (Not to forget, but to forgive.) I know. I’m among them. But he has to …

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