Our weekly Heat Check arrives, perhaps inappropriately, on a chilly morning.
FALCONS: The good news — well, to some ears — is that they’re getting a new stadium. The bad news is that they stunk out Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, losing by 10 points to the last-place Carolina Panthers. Atmospheric reading: The Falcons are in a really weird place, and by this we don’t mean Flowery Branch or the doomed Georgia Dome. They clinched the NFC South with a month to spare, which essentially thrusts them into another preseason. They know they’re going to the playoffs and they know they’ll need to play well once there, but the reality is that these final regular-season games mean next to nothing.
HAWKS: Had a chance to nose ahead of the Miami Heat in the NBA Southeast. Didn’t do it, losing by nine after a pretty stout first half. This came two days after an eye-opening road victory at Memphis. Atmospheric reading: This team is actually quite good, and not in the way we (or at least I) would have thought. Check the HoopData numbers, and you’ll find that the Hawks are actually better at defending than scoring. How’d that happen?
GEORGIA: Is preparing to play Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska just yielded 70 points to Wisconsin, which prompted the Badgers’ coach to up and leave for Arkansas. Atmospheric reading: Usually it takes a Monday night loss to the Saints for a football coach to bolt to the Ozarks. (See Petrino, Bobby.)
GEORGIA TECH: Is preparing to play USC in the Sun Bowl. On talent, this is the biggest mismatch of this bowl season. Atmospheric reading: On coaching, this is a massive mismatch the other way. If the underachieving Trojans don’t pay attention — and if they were all that good at paying attention, they wouldn’t have underachieved — Tech could shock that small corner of the world that will actually pay attention to the Sun Bowl.
GEORGIA STATE: When I saw the release that was headlined, “Panthers hire Miles,” I was pretty impressed. Les Miles is an odd fellow, but he does have a national championship under his capacious hat. Then I read that the hire in question is Trent Miles of Indiana State, which is Larry Bird’s alma mater, which is a rather different sport. Atmospheric reading: Not to put too fine a point on it, but when you inherit a 1-10 team you don’t exactly have the toughest of acts to follow.
BRAVES: Re-upped Reed Johnson, who doesn’t fit many people’s notion of an everyday left fielder. And maybe that’s good. Atmospheric reading: Because I’m one of those few folks who’d rather see Martin Prado stay in left field and let Juan Francisco take a shot at third base. In case you missed it, Prado has become a terrific outfielder.
GEORGIA TECH HOOPS: Beat Georgia handily, which might have meant a bit more if Georgia were any good. Atmospheric reading: ESPN Insider calculates Tech’s RPI as 59th-best in the land, which ain’t bad. In fact, it’s 20 spots ahead of Kentucky’s.
GEORGIA HOOPS: The same ESPN Insider shows Georgia’s RPI as 238th-best among Division I programs, which is 87 spots below Georgia State’s. Atmospheric reading: Of the 14 SEC teams, only one has already suffered six losses. That’d be Georgia.
JOHNNY FOOTBALL: He’s the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. (Though some guy from Wrightsville deserved it back in 1980.) Atmospheric reading: There’s good luck, and then there’s SEC luck — the world’s best football conference adds Texas A&M just in time for an Aggie to claim the famous prize. We know all about the six consecutive BCS titles, but the SEC has also taken four of the past six Heismans.