Say good-bye to June. Hello July and we know August is right around the corner and with that comes discussion of football. And heat. And heated football discussions. Yay.
Before we get there, a couple of programming notes. One, we're headed to the lake later this week, so if you have mailbag questions, the sooner you send them, the more likely they will get in. Deal? Deal.
Second, and we were remiss for not dealing more with this last week — and we'll discuss it at length tomorrow — but keep an eye on the TFP's summer series of 13-in-'13 where we look at the top 13 football players of all time from our area at the following positions: quarterback, running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, defensive back, athletes and kickers/punters. We started last Friday with the quarterbacks and we'll continue tomorrow with the running backs and proceed every Friday and Tuesday with new lists through July. It's going to be a fun discussion that will end with readers voting for who they think is the best at each spot and we'll run the results in our high school preview section. Deal? Deal.
From the "Talks to much" studios, we believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.
Your Atlanta Braves are 82 games into the 2013 slate. That means Sunday's 6-2 win over Arizona was the first step beyond the halfway point.
The Braves are 48-34 and have baseball's largest divisional lead at 6.5 games in the NL East.
They have done this by being outstanding at home, losing only one series in 13 at Turner Field.
They have done this with no more than three players playing at an All-Star level. Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel seem to be no-doubters for an All-Star invite and you can make a hard case for Mike Minor being included, too.
They have done this with a parade of punchouts, a showcase of swinging and missing, a wave of whiff and a cavalcade of called third strikes. This bunch is flawed — and we knew it in March — because they strike out at near-historic levels. The Braves have 723 Ks, almost 40 more than Boston — the next major league team on the list. (Yes, Houston has the most, but the Astros are a major-league team in name only. Seriously, combined they make less than A-Rod.)
Reliant on power and pitching the Braves have claimed top-billing in an under-achieveing NL East.
They're fine and they are flawed. How would you grade them? Like the season, they are incomplete.
That said, we're very impressed with the improvement and growth of manager Fredi Gonzalez. Sitting in one of the most second-guessed gigs in the South, do you remember the last time you thought, "Man, Fredi, what are you DOING?" We can't either.
Compare that to a couple of years ago, when you thought that at least once every game.
Comfortable college football countdown: UTC
We stated last month that with college football now closing fast — we're eight weeks from this Thursday from the opening act, but who's counting — that we would spend each of the next six weeks looking at some of the college football teams of interest to those around these parts.
Last week did Auburn. This week we'll stay closer to home and look at UTC.
As we get comfortable with the college football countdown, we'll spend Monday covering the basics and if you have questions, feel free. We'll also all-but guarantee a mailbag question about the team in question.
2012 record 6-5 overall, 5-3 in the SoCon
Highlights: Defensive end Davis Tull was the best defender in the Southern Conference. Quarterback Jacob Huesman looked the part of a star-in-the-making.
Lowlight: The angst that centered around the quarterback fallout after Terrell Robinson was injured, replaced, quit and relocated to wide receiver.
Fallout: It's impossible for a Johnny Mocs Fan to not be somewhat bi-polarized about 2012. The Mocs were close — three of their five losses were by a single score, and two of those were in overtime — to ending their close to 30-year-postseason drought. The gradual improvement has lifted UTC to a consistent 6-5 level. Five years ago that would have been a pipe dream; today, it has become merely satisfactory as opposed to a wishful trajectory. That is high praise and a high challenge for UTC coach Russ Huesman and the program he has reconstructed.
And as our UTC football ace Johnny Frierson tells us here, the expectations have increased. And so have the stakes.
Biggest question: Who other than Huesman and Robinson will make plays with the ball in their hands?
Second biggest question: With a roster talented enough to be deservedly ranked in the preseason top-20 and be among the preseason SoCon favorites, will the transition of two new coordinators be seamless?
Secondary thoughts/talking points (and please feel free to share yours, too):
• Again from Frierson's report in today's TFP: UTC has 18 players with at least 10 career starts. There are 34 seniors and juniors on the roster. That's nice.
• How will that experience handle the first close game? UTC has not fared well recently in tight games, and learning how to win in games that are decided by a play here or there is part of the maturation process of a successful program.
• There are several local players on the UTC roster that are going to play and play well for the Mocs, highlighted by Jacob Huesman and Robinson. Here's saying that two others will provide them some much-needed support on offense. The 5-at-10 believes former Bradley Central receiver James Stovall and former Red Bank running back Keon Williams will have monster seasons in 2013. Call it a hunch. Call it opportunity meeting operators.
• If the light comes on and he plays hard and stays healthy, Derrick Lott will get the attention of dozens of NFL scouts.
OK, the NBA started free agency this morning, and everywhere we turned the talk was, "Where will Dwight Howard end up?"
Here's a better question: "Who cares where Dwight Howard ends up?"
Is there a bigger Tin Man-perceived-superstar in sports right now than Howard, who is one-dimensional and apparently has a ceiling of little more than Dikembe Mutombo 2.0 or Shaq Lite? Dude tried to follow the LeBron plan — leave one team, form a super trio, start snappin' necks and cashin' checks — but belly-flopped in L.A. in the worst fashion.
He was exposed as someone who pouts and appears to lack the work ethic or intensity to be a champion.
So now he's going to command max money from some team desperate to make a splash and pool resources in today's super-trio NBA. Houston appears to be the front-runner, but a signing this bad screams Atlanta Hawks, right?
This and that
— We love the draft. You know that. We have found the limits of that love, however. Not a single iota of interest in the NHL draft. How'd the Bruins fare Spy?
— Want to know something that will blow your hair back? SEC media days are like two weeks away. CUH-razy.
— And it dawned on us that we're not as big an NBA fan as we may seem, considering the free agent stuff doesn't move our meter much. In truth, we enjoying watching LeBron.
— Matt Kenseth gambled on a late pit stop — taking only fuel — and benefitted as Jimmie Johnson spun out late to win the NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday. Kenseth has won a Sprint Cup-best four times this season, but no one looks stronger than Johnson, who led 182 of the 267 laps Sunday and also has a commanding 38-point lead in the standings. With Johnson and Anthony Davis and that Russian woman on GloboGym's Dodgeball team, has there been a better time for unibrows in recent memory?
— Kenny Perry rallied to beat Freddie Couples to win the Senior Players. It's Perry's first major title. Side question: Is there a more overrated golfer ever than Fred Couples? Discuss.
On a weekend that featured the 5-at-10 spending almost all of it outside, feel free to freely fill us in on any sports topic we may have missed.
That said, our question is one of perception.
Does the U.S. of A. care about any singular sport the way the rest of the world cares about soccer? Did you see the Brazilians celebrate the Confed Cup? It was like winning the Mega-Millions while celebrating your college football team winning the BCS title while your first kid was being born. There were 9-year-old on the podium banging their chest and howling at the moon.
And we assume winning the Confed Cup is like winning the SEC compared to the World Cup's BCS.
Sure we root for our athletes at the Olympics, but is there one common thread in our sporting culture like soccer globally?
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...