1. Will the Hawks reach the Eastern Conference finals? Step by inexorable step, this team keeps moving. It made the playoffs in 2008 and won a series in 2009. Can it do what the Hawks haven’t done since 1970 — when they were based in the West, not the East, and you needed only one series victory fo reach the conference finals — and play for the right to go to the NBA finals? Bradley’s prediction: Yes, they can. Yes, they will.
2. Will Ilya Kovalchuk re-up with the Thrashers? This isn’t so much about a player as it is a franchise. The Thrashers have made a bright start to the season, but all that goes poof if Kovalchuk won’t agree to stay. It has been a decade-long struggle to sell hockey in this Southern city, but if the franchise player leaves, will the franchise itself be long for the A-T-L? Bradley’s prediction: Kovalchuk stays, simply because Don Waddell has to pay him whatever it takes.
3. Will Georgia Tech qualify for a bowl ever better than the Orange? Here’s another story of progress: The Jackets were 9-4 in Year 1 under Paul Johnson and went 11-2 and won the ACC championship in Year 2. The Ramblin’ Wreck, alas, figures to hit a speed bump. At least two juniors — defensive end Derrick Morgan and B-back Jonathan Dwyer — are apt to leave in the NFL draft, and receiver Demaryius Thomas could join the exodus. And Tech’s defense is at least a year away from anything bigger than a league title. Bradley’s prediction: Tech goes 9-3 and doesn’t win the ACC.
4. Will Georgia ever hire a defensive coordinator, and will he improve on what we’ve just seen? The search now figures to last into the new year, and that’s not necessarily bad news. (No matter how halting the early returns have been.) There’s still a chance Georgia can make a big run at former Bulldog Kirby Smart, who’s coordinating Alabama’s D at the moment, and that would be a significant upgrade. Then again, just about anybody would be. Bradley’s prediction: Georgia hires a big name and sees results immediately.
5. Can Paul Hewitt take Tech on another long NCAA run? It hasn’t happened since 2004, when Hewitt took the Jackets to the NCAA title game, and another big season is long overdue. The deflating loss to Florida State in the ACC opener aside, there’s enough time and resources for something good to happen. And Hewitt, to be frank, needs something good to happen. Bradley’s prediction: The Jackets qualify for the Big Dance as a No. 5 seed and play into the second week, losing in a regional final.
Now what, you’re asking about the Falcons? Well, the biggest story regarding them figures to be decided by Jan. 3, 2010, when we’ll know for sure if the forever-sought consecutive winning seasons have been attained. And the Braves? Well, after the events of today — Javier Vazquez for Melky Cabrera — we might be doomed to another summer of flailing.