Archive for November, 2011

UGA’s turnaround year began with a nudge from AD McGarity

Greg McGarity: Sounding the right tone at the right time. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Greg McGarity: Sounding the right tone at the right time. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A different athletic director might have done too much, or too little. Greg McGarity got it right. He met with Mark Richt at the beginning of the first workweek of 2011 and, rather than make demands, McGarity asked a question.

“It was not adversarial or confrontational,” said McGarity of the meeting. “It was heart-to-heart. I asked him, ‘What do you need to get the job done?’ ”

When McGarity gets around to writing his book on management, that deft twist surely will be Chapter 1 — how to make a salient point without pounding the table. By asking Richt what he required, McGarity assured his coach that he and his input were indeed valued, but sent the message that more was expected.

Sure enough, more has arrived. Richt has presided over 10 consecutive victories and an SEC East championship, and this Saturday his Bulldogs will play for their first SEC title since 2005. Credit the coaches and …

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Could mighty LSU wind up in a non-BCS bowl? Er … maybe

Good news, Les: You probably won't fall as far as the Chick-fil-A Bowl. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Don't worry, Leslie: Your darn strong team won't fall as far as the Chick-fil-A Bowl. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Speaking of the BCS …

Raging consensus holds that LSU will play for the national title no matter what it does Saturday and that the  Tigers’ opponent Jan. 9 will again be Alabama. But there’s a slight — slight, let me emphasize — possibility the team that has been No. 1 in every week of the BCS rankings might land in a non-BCS bowl. (And here let me thank esteemed colleague Kevin Whaley for bringing this to my attention.)

Say LSU loses to Georgia by three touchdowns. Say No. 3 Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma by three touchdowns. (By way of comparison, Georgia is No. 14 in the BCS standings to OU’s No. 10.) Say there’s a major Oklahoma State groundswell in the human polls. Say LSU slides to No. 3 in the final rankings behind Oklahoma State and Alabama, the latter of which cannot lose this weekend because it isn’t playing.

Know where LSU,  the team that has been …

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Heat Check: UGA’s torrid even with Crowell in cold storage

"Excuse me, sir, but have you seen my offense?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Excuse me, young man, but have you seen my offense?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Our Heat Check begins with the hottest team around — the still-unbeaten-heading-into-December Atlanta Hawks! OK, I’m joshing. (Not to be confused with still-a-Hawk-Josh Smith.)

Georgia Bulldogs: Their basketball team lost by two points at Colorado on Monday, which is actually a good sign. Their football team lost by two points at Colorado last season, and look at it now! Ten wins running, an SEC East title, a comprehensive victory over Georgia Tech, no more hot-seat talk about the coach. Heat Index: Warm, with the chance — should the Bulldogs unhorse LSU — of a truly toasty holiday season.

Isaiah Crowell: The heralded freshman didn’t play a down against Tech due to injury, and it mattered not — except maybe to Crowell’s case for being indispensable. He was, as we know, supposed to be the Missing Man. Now Mark Richt is telling running-back recruits that a great opportunity can be found in …

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For its latest trick, the BCS renders the SEC title game moot

"Which year is it? The year you have to win your conference or the year you don't?" (AP photo)

"Is this the year you have to win your conference or the year you don't?" (AP photo)

Q: When is a conference championship really just a exhibition game?

A: When the BCS “system,” whatever that happens to be in a given year, gets its maladroit hands on it.

LSU faces Georgia for the SEC title Saturday at the Georgia Dome. If LSU wins, it will play for the BCS title. If LSU loses, it figures to play for the BCS title anyway.

This is college football, where we’re told Every Game Counts. This year another big fat asterisk gets attached: Every game counts except the SEC championship, which lately has counted the most. And that’s not the worst part.

On Sunday I was speaking with Falcons center Todd McClure, who has a figurative dog in this fight. (He played at LSU.) When I mentioned that I’d rather be Alabama, which is guaranteed not to lose another game before the final BCS standings are announced, than the Tigers, he said: “Do you think that’s fair?”

No, I don’t think it’s fair. …

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Urban Meyer takes the Ohio State job; do Gators feel jobbed?

"Let's see: Where can I land after I retire for the third time?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Let's see: Where can I land after I retire for the third time?" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The second retirement of Urban Meyer lasted 51 weeks. (Up from the first retirement of Urban Meyer, which lasted half a day.) And how, if you’re a Florida fan, do you feel today?

Your team is coming off a 6-6 season and the coach who retired to spend more time with his family is uprooting that family and taking it to Columbus. Yes, the Urbanator won two national championships — one more than all other Gator coaches combined — while in Gainesville, but now he’s back coaching another school after a retirement that was really a nice long nap interspersed with appearances on ESPN, and there’s some reason to believe his successor, Will Muschamp, is in over his head.

Oh, and guess who Florida figures to meet in the Gator Bowl? Ohio State.

When last a Florida coach left of his own accord, Steve Spurrier hopped to the NFL and gave it the ol’ college try for three seasons. Meyer is back …

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Story of the season: Falcons mess around but win anyway

The fourth-and-goal stop that finally restored sanity. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The fourth-and-goal stop that finally restored sanity. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

These are the 2011 Atlanta Falcons: Ahead 17-0 at the half, they turn a punt into an off-the-hip turnover and a fourth-and-13 into a galling Minnesota touchdown and, quicker than you can say “Percy Harvin is really fast,” a game that should have been locked away is in danger of becoming the worst loss of Mike Smith’s four seasons.

These are also the 2011 Atlanta Falcons: Needing to catch the really fast Percy Harvin to stave off a 107-yard touchdown on a kickoff return, Christopher Owens somehow does. The Minnesota touchdown goes forever unscored, and the Falcons win by 10 and slide into the sixth spot in the NFC playoff grid, which means this team would qualify if the postseason began today.

In sum, these are the 2011 Atlanta Falcons: Shaky enough to make you think they’ll never go anywhere but stout enough to make you reconsider.

Is this team as good as I thought it would be? Through 11 …

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Live from Falcons-Vikings: Anybody excited about this one?

"Hey, I'm pumped. Who's with me?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Hey, I'm pumped. Who's with me?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

I wish I could say I’m looking forward to a great day of pro football here at the Dome, but I’d be a big fat liar. The Atlanta Falcons tend to play to the level of the opposition, and if that happens today …

(Pause to shudder.)

The Minnesota Vikings are awful, and they’re without their best player. (Adrian Peterson, RB.) They’re also without Brett Favre, Randy Moss, Alan Page, Joe Kapp, Carl Eller, Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, Cris Carter, Mick Tinglehoff and anyone else who ever put the pop in the Purple. The Vikings are 2-8, having beaten two other terrible teams (Arizona and Carolina).

This is one of those games the Falcons should win by three touchdowns, and I’m thinking it’s a game they need to win by three touchdowns. Even at 6-4, there’s scarcely a buzz about this team nationally or locally. I got out of Mass later than usual this morning, and I was thinking I might hit  traffic around the Dome, but I …

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The Bulldogs didn’t just outplay Tech – they outcoached it, too

Give that man a hand, if not a great big kiss. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Give that Bulldog a hand, if not a great big kiss. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

This time a year ago, it was possible to wonder if the Georgia Bulldogs would ever again outsmart an opponent. On Saturday they outsmarted Georgia Tech. And there, if anyone still wondered how 0-2 became 10-2, was the answer.

It wasn’t just that these Bulldogs have good players — Georgia always has good players — or that the schedule eased after those first two games. It was that Georgia, which hadn’t played to its gifts since 2007, coalesced around a coach and his staff.

Back to 0-2. “That was when we closed the door,” said tight end Orson Charles, “and we said, ‘We’ve got to stop playing for ourselves.’ We need to play for this guy.”

By “this guy,” Charles meant Mark Richt, who has done in his 11th Georgia season something that’s difficult to do in contemporary college football. Richt has fought off the doubt accrued over three underachieving seasons and hoisted his Bulldogs back to eminence. …

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Live from Tech-UGA: Dogs are doomed (because I pick them)

For the record, I also picked Georgia in 2008. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Just for the record: I also picked Georgia back in 2008. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

I’ve seen Georgia Tech play five times in person; I’ve seen Georgia six times. Of the teams’ five losses, I’ve covered them all. (Which I guess makes me bad luck. But you knew that already.) I’m not claiming this season’s worth of close observation makes me an expert — you all know better, don’t you? — but it does render me duty-bound to offer this:

I wouldn’t be shocked if Tech wins today. But I would be surprised.

The two best units in this game — Tech’s offense and Georgia’s defense — will deploy against one another. I don’t think Georgia’s D will shut down Paul Johnson’s O, but I don’t see Tech gaining 500 yards again. Say Tech gets 20 points. Will that be enough to win?

Don’t think so. Georgia’s offense isn’t the smoothest-running assemblage, but I don’t see Tech’s defense holding the Bulldogs under 20 points. (Even though Kentucky just did.) If the Bulldogs can find a tailback — a …

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Walmart shoppers! Here’s the scoop on Tech and UGA fans!

Sometimes Tech folks feel overshadowed. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Sometimes Tech folks feel overshadowed. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

In years past our annual look at Georgia fans vis-a-vis Georgia Tech has been offered in the spirit of good clean fun. This year, for the sake of novelty (and also because even I’ve wearied of Willie Martinez), the idea will be to help these two neighboring-but-different groups actually understand one another.

And then we’ll all join hands and raise our voices in a spirited rendition of “I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing” and toast one another with Coca-Cola products, and by the way: Did you know Georgia fans refer to Bobby Dodd Stadium as “The Joke By Coke”?

But enough! No more gags from me this year! Instead I offer the observations gained from dwelling among Tech and Georgia folks these past 27 years, eight months and 18 days.

Tech fans care just as much about football as Georgia fans. This may come as a surprise to those Bulldogs backers who are forever mocking the attendance at Bobby Dodd …

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