Archive for December, 2011

It’s a miracle! Mr. Wrong actually got some things right in 2011

Yay, me! (AJC photo by Mr. Ben Gray; whiteboard stylings by Ms. Mandi Albright.)

Yay, me! (AJC photo by Ben Gray; whiteboard stylings by Ms. Mandi Albright.)

This year ends in a way few years have ended for this famously erring prognosticator. It ends with me getting to say, “Know what? I actually got some stuff right.”

For once, the annual Accountability Scoreboard isn’t a tale of woe. I picked Georgia to go 10-2 and win the SEC East, which it did. I picked Georgia Tech to finish its regular season 8-4, which it did. I picked LSU to win the SEC, which it did, and finish as the BCS titlist, which it well might. I picked Auburn, which won the last BCS title, to lose five games, and sure enough …

I picked the Hawks to beat the Magic in Round 1, which indeed occurred. Heck, I even picked VCU to crash the Final Four. (OK, now I’m embellishing.)

About the only thing I got close to right in 2010 was picking the Falcons to go 12-4 and win the NFC South. (They actually went 13-3.) This time I was right, sort of, in the grand scheme — I picked the 2011 team to grab …

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Already setting Georgia State records, Hunter dreams bigger

Ron Hunter reacts placidly to the defeat of William & Mary. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Ron Hunter reacts placidly to the defeat of William & Mary. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Nine months on the job, Ron Hunter has already done something only one other Georgia State basketball coach ever did: He has won eight consecutive games, matching the record established by Lefty Driesell’s Panthers on their run to Round 2 of the 2001 NCAA tournament. Here, however, comes a disclaimer:

Not one of the eight teams the Panthers have beaten holds a winning record, and if you’ve ever wondered how an  8-3 team can have an RPI of 287, here’s your answer. According to ESPN Insider’s numbers, Georgia State has played the worst schedule among the 345 Division I teams. And here, bang on cue, came Hunter’s rebuttal.

“First of all, I didn’t make the schedule, but I’d rather play the Sisters of Poor 27 times and be 27-0. It’s more about winning than RPI. If my mother brought her team down here, I’d want to beat her — and I love my mother.”

And here Hunter, who in addition to being smart …

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2011 college Heat Check: Georgia got hot; Tech got warm

Tech's Stephen Hill feels the hot breath of the Bulldog D. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Tech's Stephen Hill feels the hot breath of the Bulldog D. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

We’re nearing the end — news flash! — of the calendar year, and our weekly Heat Check takes on broader scope. We review the year just past, and we look toward 2012 and we tick off folks in the process. Got that? Here we go.

Georgia Bulldogs: They rose from 6-7 to the top of the SEC East, winning 10 consecutive games in the process. Then they lost by 32 points to LSU. The debate will rage until next September whether Georgia got really good again or just benefited from a bunny schedule. The view here is that it did both. (The two aren’t mutually exclusive.) But it’s true that the Bulldogs lost to the three best teams they played, and it wouldn’t hurt to beat Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. 2011 Heat Index: A hot season removed Mark Richt from the ol’ hot seat. 2012 Hotness Outlook: Should be a preseason Top 10 pick and the favorite to win the East.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: They …

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It’s official: UGA’s Mark Richt is the World’s Greatest Boss

Deep pockets and a big heart: Some combination, eh? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Deep pockets and a big heart: Some combination, eh? (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Were I Georgia, I wouldn’t just “self-report” this “secondary violation.” I’d shout it from the mountaintops. I’d make it the first sentence in Mark Richt’s official bio, which would now read:

“Mark Richt, in his 11th season of coaching the Bulldogs, stamped himself the World’s Greatest Boss by paying staffers OUT OF HIS OWN POCKET!”

Excuse the capital letters, but sometimes major emphasis is required. This is one such moment. Some football coaches pay recruits. Georgia’s football coach dips into his personal finances to reward the guys who’ve worked for him. He committed a violation, all right. He showed the rest of us what it means to put (literal) money where your mouth is.

In so doing, Richt just made Georgia — unwittingly, but even unwitting actions have consequences — the program of choice should the Bulldogs ever have another opening for an assistant coach or a office go-fer. Richt felt …

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Tech’s D still isn’t great, but dumping Al Groh isn’t the answer

To date, Al Groh is 0-for-2 in the stated objective. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

To date, Al Groh is 0-for-2 regarding the stenciled objective. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

I’d keep Al Groh. Georgia Tech’s defense hasn’t gotten great with him in charge, but it has shown incremental improvement. It’s 46th nationally in total defense, which beats the 64th of last season, when Groh had just arrived, and the 54th of 2009, when Dave Wommack was on his way out.

With seven starters scheduled to return, next season could be even better. But that’s not a given, and there’s a basic reason why: Tech’s incumbent defenders aren’t all that great. Julian Burnett is a good player. Jeremiah Attaochu is a good player. Rod Sweeting is a good player. That’s about it.

Tech’s defensive failings aren’t akin to Georgia’s under Willie Martinez. Back then, Georgia had conspicuously gifted players but yielded increasingly lousy results. I’m not sure any coordinator — John Chavis, Bud Foster, Todd Grantham, Nick Saban/Kirby Smart — could turn these Jackets into a top 10 defense. …

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Georgia Tech needs to win a bowl just to prove it still can

Dec. 27, 2010: A not-so-happy day in Shreveport. (AP photo)

Dec. 27, 2010: It was a not-so-happy day for the Yellow Jackets in Shreveport. (AP photo)

Georgia Tech’s last bowl victory came when Reggie Ball, then a sophomore, was the offensive MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl. The date was Dec. 21, 2004. So yes, it has been a while.

“We haven’t won a bowl game in, like, eight years,” said guard Omoregie Uzzi, overclubbing a bit.

Tech makes much of its run of consecutive bowl appearances, now at 15. What Tech, showing PR savvy, plays down is that about all the Jackets have done in many of those previous 14 bowls was appear. Tech has lost nine of the 14, and only one of the head coaches involved in the streak has managed a winning record. Interim Mac McWhorter won the 2001 Seattle Bowl, making him the Mr. December of recent Tech vintage. George O’Leary was 2-2, Chan Gailey 2-3, Jon Tenuta (another interim) 0-1. And Paul Johnson, the incumbent, has fared worst of all.

The back half of Tech’s current six-game skid falls on Johnson. “We’ve lost …

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Is Matt Ryan the NFL’s best? Nope. Is he good enough? Yep

Here we have an actual picture of an icecap. Get it? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here we have an actual picture of an icecap. Get it? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Fair’s fair. If we criticize Matt Ryan for not throwing the best deep ball and for authoring a tepid start to this season — and we have on both counts — we must also say this: The guy’s got it going now. (Maybe not on the deep pass, but on everything else.)

Matt Ryan through the first seven games of 2011: Nine touchdown passes, eight interceptions,  a yards-per-pass average of 6.68 and a 79.5 passer rating.

Matt Ryan through the next seven games of 2011: Seventeen touchdown passes, four interceptions, a yards-per-pass average of 7.96 and a 101.5 passer rating.

It’s not as if Ryan is throwing more, or even more accurately. His totals for attempts and completions from those first seven games to the past seven are almost identical. What’s different if the effect. By whatever means — slightly deeper throws, more yards-after-catch — the Falcons have become more pass-productive.

Numbers geeks insist …

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In prime time, the suddenly surging Falcons show their class

Sean Weatherspoon's team had a bad Thursday night. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Sean Weatherspoon's team had a ball Thursday night. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Here’s where we haul out the wide-angle lens. Here’s where we recall those prime-time Falcons games that went the other way.

Like the one in 1984 that left O.J. Simpson, then an ABC analyst, chucking over the local team’s capacity to throw three-yard passes when trailing by three touchdowns. Or the 36-0 loss in 2003 that led Arthur Blank to write a letter of apology to the network. Or the 20-point home loss to New Orleans on Dec. 10, 2007 — the same day Michael Vick was sentenced to prison, the night before Bobby Petrino left to go call some Hogs in Arkansas.

And here’s where we step back and say: The woebegone Jacksonville Jaguars we saw Thursday night? Those used to be the Falcons.

Maybe the 2011 Birds haven’t been quite the team we hoped they’d be, but let’s get real: This club is 9-5 and headed for the playoffs. The Falcons have had chances to spit the bit and have declined every time. …

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Live from the Dome: A stress-free Falcons’ victory at last?

Matty Ice, shown in an un-holly-jolly mood. (AP photo)

Matty Ice, shown in an un-holly-jolly mood. (AP photo)

The Falcons have played 13 games. Two have been blowouts: The opening loss at Chicago and the dismissal of winless Indianapolis. In the Falcons’ six home games, all have been in doubt in the fourth quarter, and one beyond that. (Fourth-and-1 at the 30 in overtime. I’m guessing you remember.)

I mention this because we might be about to see an actual Dome wipeout. The Jacksonville Jaguars arrive having already shed coach Jack Del Rio but still lugging the 32nd-best offense in a 32-team league. I also mention this because the Falcons’ head coach has been in the news for having chest pains. An actual runaway by the home side would be the nicest holiday gift Mike Smith could imagine.

I should also mention that the Falcons need only to beat two bad teams here — Jacksonville and then Tampa Bay on New Year’s Day — to reach 10 wins. Ten wins will almost surely book playoff passage and claim the NFC’s No. 5 seed in the process, and …

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The Richt contract extension: What’s the magic number?

Mark Richt checks to see how many more seasons he has in his pocket. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Checking to see how many more seasons he has in his pocket. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Georgia wants to keep Mark Richt and Richt wants to stay. What’s left are details. But details are important, contractually speaking.

Richt’s existing contract runs through 2013, so it isn’t as if he’s a free-agent-to-be. Presumably AD Greg McGarity will offer a raise and an extension, which brings us to the heart of those details. How many more years?

This is a concern not without nuance. Too short an extension sends one message; too long sends another. Here would seem the alternatives:

One more year: This wouldn’t so much be an extension as a very gentle pat on the back. It essentially would say, “We like what you did this season, but we want to see more.” Outsiders would interpret this as McGarity feeling the rise to 10-3 from 6-7 was less a function of coaching than scheduling. A one-year extension won’t happen because it would undercut Richt almost as much as no extension.

Two more …

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