So it's the first week of October and there is nothing in the sports world in the State of Georgia to look forward to, unless you count the beginning of the season for the Hawks and Thrashers. The Braves, once an October staple, missed the postseason for the second straight season, and the Falcons, Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs have all seen their seasons pretty much come to a screeching halt. There will be no playoffs, no top tier bowls, no confrence titles. Six months ago, there was talk of all of the above for all three teams, and there were thoughts of the Braves getting back into the playoffs. Well, so much for that.
It used to be we could always count on the Braves to help alleviate the pain of football seasons gone awry early; even if they created disappointment. At least with the Braves, October would mean something in the State of Georgia. That changed last year, but the Yellow Jackets and Falcons (before their second half collapse) picked up the slack to keep Georgia sports fans enthralled with the local boys. This season, nobody has picked up the slack, leaving everyone disappointed. The Braves failed to make the playoffs, as was mentioned, while the Falcons, Bulldogs, and Yellow Jackets have lost a combined nine games already. Yes, nine games. The Jackets and Dawgs combined to lose just 8 games all season last year (and one of them of course came courtesy of the other) and the Falcons started 6-2. Yeah, some October.
Some of us could see this coming with the Falcons. The expectations, while higher before the Vick saga, were seriously tempered this offseason with that agregious mess that poisoned Flowery Branch. However, the Falcons teased us at times. They lost their first three games, but in reality, very easily could have won two of those games (inexplicable missed field goals and personal fouls). They beat the Texans of Houston last weekend and old friend Matt Schaub to further tease fans as Joey Harrington continued to look better and better each week. In the weak NFC was there hope for this team? We found out today that there isn't.
In the game of football, particularly in the NFL, if the opponent turns the ball over 5 times, you should win. How the heck does a team not win such a game? Oh, that's what happens when you have an offensive line that can't pass block or run block and a coach who's intent on blaming the quarterback. Failing to capitalize on chance after chance generously offered by the Titans, the Falcons fell to 1-4, and reminded us once again that these are the Falcons, there is no reason, ever, to have any sort of hope for this team, under any circumstance.
So while the Falcons basically have failed to pleasantly surprise, despite glimpes of hope that they could, Georgia is a different story. This was a team who many people felt had a chance to really do something. No, this team wasn't going to win a national title, but there was certainly reason to suspect 9 or 10 wins wasn't out of the question, nor was a year spent contending for the SEC title. The season sure got off to a resounding start with their thumping of Oklahoma State. Since then, it's been an up and down roller coaster ride that ultimately is about at it's end. While the loss to South Carolina certainly hurt, it didn't spell doom for the season. The game was a close game, that could've easily gone the other way, and with wins over Alabama on the road and a beating of Ole Miss that ultimately followed, the SEC East was still within grasp, and the expectations were still high.
Well the Dawgs took their obviously unwarranted #12 ranking to Knoxville on Saturday and got absolutely drilled. Tennessee beat them the way they used to beat up on Georgia: they were more physical, they were faster, they were smarter, they were better. 35-14 probably isn't even an accurate barometer of how badly the Volunteers whipped up on Georgia. It was a performance that quickly put to rest visions of New Year's Day bowl games, or SEC East titles. In fact, it was a performance, that coupled with the loss to South Carolina, has left visions of the Liberty Bowl dancing in the heads of Georgia fans, if they are lucky enough to get a trip to Memphis. Most Bulldawg backers pointed to 2008 as the year this team would contend for a national title. However, after Saturday, it appears they have a lot further to go than any of the members of Bulldawg Nation thought, or would like to admit.
The biggest let down though comes from the team on the Flats. Then again, it should have been the most expected. As long as Chan Gailey is on the sidelines in Atlanta, Georgia Tech will continue to beat people they shouldn't, win games they shouldn't, and lose games they should win against teams they are better than. Tech has played two road games this year (Virginia and Maryland), and in both instances totaly forgot to show up for the first half. It's not the first time a pretty decent or better Gailey-led Tech team has gone on the road and been an embarassment (Athens 2002, Durham 2003, Chapel Hill 2004, Blacksburg 2005, Emerald Bowl 2005, and Clemson and Chapel Hill 2006). In both instances this season the Jackets have staged furious rallies, only to come up short. What's disturbing is that in both instances, the finger can be pointed back to the head coach as to why they came up short. Chan Gailey's play calling in the waning moments - I know John Bond is the offensive coordinator, but it's already been clarified that Gailey ultimately has the final say, and likes to meddle and offer his sorely unwanted input - against Maryland was some of the worst playcalling you will ever witness, and it single handedly prevented Tech from securing the win, a win they probably didn't deserve, but a win they should have still had.
Tech entered the year definitely considered a favorite in the ACC, more of a favorite in the ACC than Georgia in the SEC, and after their first two games, seemed to be well on their way to a magical season. Things took a turn for the worst at home against Boston College, but being a non-divisional game, all wasn't lost. Then came the trip to Virginia which put Tech's backs against the wall. The Clemson game was a nice rebound, but seriously, who cares about beating a team that doesn't realize special teams are not part of the game? So with their backs still against the wall, but still with a chance to salvage a good season (by good I mean 9-plus wins), the Jackets fell through the wall and back into the abyss of mediocrity, a place they've wallowed in with Chan Gailey, despite teams clearly capable of more.
Coming into the weekend the Falcons looked primed to move into the playoff race in a weak and wide open NFC South, Georgia was in prime position to put itself right in the mix in the SEC and national picture, while Georgia Tech was in a position to get two straight ACC wins and prep for a stretch run towards a nine win season. In a span of roughly 30 hours, all three fell flat on their face. Consider football season over in Georgia. When does hockey start? Oh, wait, the Thrashers lost back to back games to start the year. Well, at least there's the Hawks.