Gator Call

By: Kipp Branch news services

Franklin Stephens left Ware County and headed to the Cobb County school system last week. By doing so he left Ware looking for a football coach pretty late in the game.

While everyone else in the state is getting ready for spring football practice, Ware County has to hire a new football coach.

When a job like Ware opens up the rumor mill starts churning. Rumors fly left and right about who has applied and who might apply.

Another rumor is Ware has had 60 people apply for the opening in the past week. The internet is buzzing with big name coach sightings in Waycross.

What is special about the Ware County job? I had a retired school administrator tell me that the Ware job is the best job in southeast Georgia. Let’s take a look at the reasons why:

1.Talent: Ware County is loaded with talented athletes. Football is king in the County and Ware for the last 20 years has been a consistent winner making it to the state title game twice, many deep playoff runs, and is always a region title contender.

A new coach comes into a stacked roster with a generational player at QB, who is a rising sophomore. The Gators have speed and size everywhere. Not many jobs have the talent pool of Ware.

2.Pay: The Ware job is one of the top paying jobs in this area. The assistants are paid above scale, and football is a priority. Football pays the bills and it is invested in heavily.

3.Support: The Gators have a dedicated fan base, a renovation taking place in a historic 10,000 seat stadium and an active booster club that raises a lot of funds that support the football program.

4.Location: Ware County is within one hour of the beach, major airport and metropolitan center in Jacksonville. The Gators are in a region alignment that sets them up to win big every season.

Now let’s have some fun with speculating who would be a good candidate for this job from our area. Keep in mind I am SPECULATING here folks.

Brandon Derrick/Frederica Academy: Fresh off of a state title, Derrick can’t do much more on St. Simons Island.

The challenge at Frederica is bringing in football players to keep the numbers up.

Derrick would have JaShawn Sheffield and Jaylin Simpson type talent, or better coming through the Ware program every year. He is a good coach, who needs to land a big job like Ware. Thomas County Central hired their head man from Valwood. The precedent is there. He needs his shot.

Sean Pender/Brunswick High: The Air Raid offense in Waycross is scary to think about. The Gators put up record numbers, that still stand today, from his stint as offensive coordinator in the late 1990’s.

Ware is a one-school county and you don’t have to worry about the talent in the county being divided between three schools.

Pender knows how Ware County operates better than anyone. Mrs. Pender loves the Golden Isles however.

Rocky Hidalgo/Glynn Academy: If you can’t beat them hire them, right? The Rock is 4-2 against Ware and physically beat up the Gators in those 4 wins.

The man can coach and hires assistants better than anyone. Ware could match the money or give him a pay raise.

He would have elite talent at his disposal annually. Could he be lured away from the coast? If so, in 15 years he could have a statue of him outside of Memorial Stadium.

Jason Strickland/Pierce County: It is only a 10-mile drive to Waycross from Blackshear. The job would be a step up in classification and money for Strickland. He would be a great hire.

Pierce plays in the worst AAA region in the state, so the third-round trip in the playoffs last season could be the high-water mark there.

Tucker Pruitt/Fitzgerald: Pruitt is a good coach who could step in and win big right away at Ware. There is better talent and more money in Waycross than Fitzgerald. This could be a dream job for someone like Pruitt.

The Ware County job outside of Camden County may be the best job in South Georgia. Ware has the applicants to prove it.

Panthers Wearing The Glass Slipper?

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

When you think major college basketball in my home state Georgia Tech and Georgia come to mind.

Both of those programs did not do well this season and they are not playing in the NCAA Tournament. Surprisingly, the only team from the Peach State in the Big Dance is Georgia State.

Head coach Ron Hunter led the Panthers to the tournament two previous times in 2015 and 2018. In 2015 as a No. 14 seed they upset No. 3 Baylor. They have tournament experience, so they should not be intimidated.

The Panthers finished 24-9. They are a very balanced team with five players that average double figures. Junior guard D’Marcus Simonds is the leading scorer with 18.4 points per game. He also averages 5 rebounds per game and 4 assists.

Senior forward Malik Benlevi leads the team in rebounds with 6 rpg. The Savannah native also averages 12 ppg. Senior guard and Alabama transfer Devin Mitchell also averages 12 ppg.

Sophomore guard Kane Williams and senior forward Jeff Thomas both average 11 ppg. Thomas is the only starter that’s not from Georgia.

The Panthers played two SEC teams and beat both of them. They trounced Georgia in the Cayman Islands Classic 91-67. They defeated Alabama on the road 83-80.

GSU got to the tournament by winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Their conference record was 13-5 so they finished the regular season with the best record.

There were some upsets in the Sun Belt tournament so they played UT Arlington in the championship game. The Mavericks finished fourth in conference play but their overall record is only 17-16.

Georgia State won the game 73-64. UTA went on an 8-0 run in the second half, cutting Georgia State’s lead to 64-60 with less than two minutes to play.

Junior guard Damon Wilson broke up the run with two free throws, and Williams extended the lead back to eight with another two free throws. UTA missed multiple 3’s in an attempt to come back, and with 56 seconds left, Simonds converted a free throw to make it a 10-point game.

“We weren’t the greatest free throw shooting, and I couldn’t understand it because we shoot the ball so well,” said Georgia State coach Ron Hunter. “But we have been great at the end of the game with five minutes left. With five minutes left in the game we’ve been tremendous free throw shooters.”

“I knew when we get it inside five we were pretty locked in at that particular time, and that’s when you have to make them.”

The Panthers are the No. 14 seed in the Midwest region. They will play No. 3 seed Houston (31-3) in the first round. The Cougars had a great season and finished the regular season in first place in the AAC. They lost the conference tournament championship to Cincinnati.

They are led by head coach Kelvin Sampson, who previously coached at Oklahoma and Indiana.

I think that there is a very good chance of GSU pulling an upset. I thought Houston was an elite team prior to losing to Cincy. I think they may have been exposed in that game.

The game is Friday March 22nd at 7:20 pm. We will see how it plays out.

The Madness Begins

By: JJ Lanier news services

These next three weeks are my favorite time of the sporting year. No offense to the Super Bowl or College football playoffs, and I mean no slight to the NBA Finals

or World Series, but nothing is better than the unpredictability and difficulty of the NCAA Tournament.

It’s the best sporting event of the year, with no shortage of interesting matchup and intriguing storylines.

That said, without bringing up snubs or seeding issues, here are a few things that stick out heading into the opening round.

1- Duke was the overall number 1 seed and their region reflects that. Michigan State has been really good this season, but I don’t think they match up well with the Devils and Izzo’s lack of success against them in years past does not instill confidence.

LSU has the length and athleticism, but with their off the court distractions and lack of experience in this type of atmosphere they are primed to be upset early.

Virginia Tech beat Duke a few weeks ago, but that was in Blacksburg, with no Zion.

That’s not to say neither of these teams can win, or that another team couldn’t pull the upset, but the number one overall seed should have the easiest path, and you could argue Duke has it.

2- John Calipari could be in a region with fifteen Division III teams and he’d still complain. Kentucky has the most difficult road to the Final Four. This year, he has a legit argument. North Carolina, Kentucky, Auburn, and Iowa State are all talented enough to make it to Minneapolis. Even the lower seeded teams could cause problems.

3- Do yourself a solid and make sure you get in front of a tv for the Marquette/Murray State game. I have no idea how the actual game will play out, but you may not see two more exciting players at one time than Markus Howard and Ja Morant.

Imagine how painful a potential Virginia/Cincinnati matchup would be and then envision the exact opposite; that should be Marquette and Murray State.

4- Florida State is poised to make a run- outside of Michigan I think they’re the second best team in their region- which means they’ll probably go down to Vermont.

5- Tennessee may have wanted a number one seed, but they couldn’t have asked to be in a better spot than they are. They are by far the best team in their half of the bracket and I would favor them against Virginia. I’ve stated this before, but the only question mark is Rick Barnes. He’s done less with more, and hasn’t advanced past the opening weekend in his last seven tries.

6- There always seems to be one double digit seed that makes it to the Sweet Sixteen; my bet this year is Belmont. They get a Temple team they should beat, a Maryland team they could easily beat, and probably an LSU team they will give fits to.

Had Belmont won their conference championship they could easily be an eight seed. This is a talented, disciplined team that could make it to the second weekend.

There are numerous other story lines and matchups that could easily top any of the things I just mentioned, which is the beauty of this tournament.

We all think we know how this will play out, but if past tournament brackets have taught us anything, the only thing predictable about the NCAA Tournament is it’s completely unpredictable.

Brave Lineup

By: TJ Hartnett news services

The excitement of spring training always tends to waver as the weeks of March drag on.

Barring positional battles, the only things to latch on to are little joys like seeing the probable Major League lineup penciled in for their first spring game together.

It gives fans a chance to see what they might see come Opening Day and beyond. It is not generally meaningful in any way, but it is always fun and a reminder that real games are on the horizon.

Brian Snitker recently fielded all of his major starting players for a game and thus penciled in a batting order for a ravenous fanbase to consume while we wait for the front office to probably not make any moves, despite a need.

Instead, we made do with seeing a peak into Snitker’s plan and that plan seemingly includes toying around with moving Ronald Acuna, Jr. to the cleanup position in the lineup.

This is notable because the Braves really caught fire last season with Acuna leading off. So, what gives? Well there are two simple answers: the first one is, Snitker is just messing around to see how the lineup reacts to different ways of being put together. This isn’t a sign of things to come, just an experiment for exhibition games; the second answer is power.

Acuna is strong. He hit 26 home runs in 2018, which led the Braves. I might add, despite playing in just 111 games.

Traditionally, the bat with the biggest power (that isn’t your “best hitter,” mind you) bats fourth. For Atlanta, that power belongs to the young phenom. So, it makes traditional sense that he would bat fourth (26 homers in 111 games stretches out to 38 bombs over the course of a full season). So, there’s that.

There’s also the matter of “who else?” The Braves signed Josh Donaldson to bring some pop to the hot corner and he fits the bill of a cleanup hitter too, but he has made it clear that he’s adverse to cleaning up.

Snitker hit him second that first full-team day, and consensus seems to be that second is where he’ll slot in during the regular season.

As for Freddie Freeman; let’s just assume that it would take an act of god to pry him out of the three-hole and move on. He’s the face of the Braves and his numbers back him up being there.

Beyond that, there’s the Braves’ cleanup hitter from last season: Nick Markakis. Obviously, that worked out fine in 2018 but Markakis is likely to regress and was never really suited for the task to begin with.

Arguably he’d be a better fit for leadoff if Snit does hit Acuna fourth (Ender Inciarte led off the lineup in question).

So maybe Acuna is the way to go, just out of necessity.

On the other hand, the spark he brought to the lineup from the leadoff spot can’t be ignored. Plus, he’s on the record as wanting to hit first and shouldn’t we keep this kid happy?

Plus, traditional isn’t necessarily the same thing as “correct.” I definitely have an image of what a traditional lineup should look like, but that’s somewhat of a trap.

Modern thinking has begun leaning towards front-loading a lineup so that the best players get the most at bats. That would support the notion of keeping Acuna where he was at the end of last season.

Regardless of where he ends up (and my gut tells me he’ll be getting the Braves’ first at bat come March 28th), the Braves will have a very formidable top of the lineup with Acuna, Freeman, and a healthy Donaldson. If Ozzie Albies can have a whole season that looks like his first half from last year, then they’ll be sitting very pretty.

Though, a pitcher could help.

The Broken System

By: Mike Anthony news services

As a kid, I remember the countless hours of classroom and homework time that – come March – was totally abandoned for the sanctity of brackets.

Beginning with the conference tournaments and stretching into the NCAA ‘big dance’, I was constantly overwhelmed and obsessed with drawing out the brackets and playing out all of the scenarios in my head.

Whether it was charting a course to a championship for my favorite teams or trying to figure out where the surprises would spring up, there was something about the mystique of the endless possible outcomes of the bracket that had me in a daze until April.

The annual NCAA tournament still provides thrilling moments and memorable storylines each spring, but the magic seems to be wearing off.

Sure, anyone who makes it into the tournament field still has a chance to cut down the nets, but recent seasons have taken away the one thing that made March Madness a pillar of sports watching – the unknown team that can win.

These unknown teams shouldn’t be confused with the upsets that are also synonymous with the tournament. There will always be lower seeds that notch huge wins against heavily-favored opponents, but those upsets are now just as likely to come from a big-name school in a big conference with a huge budget as opposed to previous years where the tournament was flush with more schools from smaller conferences trying to make their mark.

The latest projections for this season’s NCAA tournament guess that 34 teams – exactly half of the 68-team total for the field – will come from the five richest conferences in Division I.

The NCAA mandates that the winners of all 32 conferences participating in Division I receive a bid to the tournament. That rule gives schools in smaller conferences more of a shot at a national title than non P5 schools will ever have at a national football title, but the bias is still evident.

Doing the quick math, the latest projections see the tournament spots being taken up by the 32 conference champs, along with 29 non-champion schools from the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac 12 and SEC. That leaves a grand total of seven at-large bids to be had by the roughly 250 Division-I schools who aren’t part of those five richest conferences and who won’t win their conference tournaments.

That’s hardly fair.

Yes, most teams from the bigger conferences have better track records and dominate recruiting rankings.

Yes, the teams in smaller conferences who don’t win their tournaments don’t play the same amount of quality teams in their yearly schedule.

And yes, the broadcast might suffer a bit if analysts are forced to talk about a school they’ve barely heard of.

But it’s called March Madness for a reason.

In an NCAA basketball landscape where even middling power conference teams are mostly fueled by one-and-done players, why not reward more smaller schools who have built up a starting lineup full of three and four-year starters?

In a time where most early round games are played in half-empty arenas, why favor schools with nine-figure athletic budgets when they don’t play or draw better than an upstart squad that hasn’t been to the tournament in a decade?

Even the biggest NCAA hoops fans can’t tell you who the sixth and seventh teams from the ACC were in last year’s tournament, but they can tell you all about UMBC, Florida Gulf Coast and countless other ‘nobody’s’ who seized their moment on the big stage.

Odds are that the biggest and richest schools will still be competing once the Final Four comes around. And that’s all the reason needed to include more smaller schools and bring some more madness to March.

The Missing Link?

By: Kipp Branch news services

It was a move that had been speculated for months.

The Jacksonville Jaguars landed their quarterback, Nick Foles, on the first day of the NFL free agency tampering period.

Foles signed a four-year, $88 million deal, including $50.2 million in guarantees. This comes one year after the team gave Bortles a three-year, $54 million extension. To make room for Foles’ contract, the Jaguars will cut Bortles and eat $16.5 million in dead money.

New Jaguar offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, worked on the Eagles staff when Foles led the team to the Super Bowl win two years ago over New England.

It will be a reunion of sorts as DeFilippo already knows the strengths of his new quarterback’s game and the belief is that Foles can hit the ground running in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars were horrible on offense in 2018. Foles will be an instant upgrade, and Foles signing officially ends the Blake Bortles era in Jacksonville.

Bortles had a 24-29 record and tossed 103 touchdowns and threw 75 interceptions. He was an original third-overall pick by Jacksonville in 2014.

Kudos to Tom Coughlin and the Jags on the Foles signing. With this move, the Jaguars are telling their fan base that this team can win now, and now that the quarterback situation is settled the team can focus on the upcoming draft.

Foles was taken by Philadelphia in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft and played the first three years of his career with the franchise. He was traded to the then-St. Louis Rams prior to the 2015 season and spent the 2016 season with the Kansas City Chiefs. He would eventually sign a two-year contract that would return him to the Eagles in 2017.

Foles earned his place in Philly sports lore when he led the Eagles to a 41-33 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 for their first title 1960.

Foles completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass that changed the momentum of the game, and was named Super Bowl MVP.

He was loved in Philly by the loyal Eagles fans, but he needed an opportunity to lead his own team. Jacksonville came calling for his services.

Foles went 25-13 as a starting QB in Philly which happens to be the highest winning percentage for a QB in Eagles history. He is 30 years old and will bring leadership to a locker room in Jacksonville that can benefit from it at this moment in time.

Now that the Jaguars have Foles they need to get him some offensive line help, and some badly needed playmakers on offense. It would seem with the signing of a veteran QB that Jaguars may address QB in the 2020/2021 draft for Foles successor.

The Jags may bring a free agent receiving target to give Foles some help, or address that position in the upcoming draft.

Ok Jags fans, you have your quarterback now. You have a top five defense, and you are set up to win now. It’s time to get it done.

The Jaguars did not sit around with the Foles signing. This team is now a contender again. There will be doubters as well with this high profile move, but I ask this question in closing. How many NFL teams have a Super Bowl MVP Quarterback under center currently? I know the Jaguars do and that is a huge upgrade from where they have been.

Best Foot Forward

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

Going in to conference tournaments, I have one provocative question.

Is North Carolina a legit national title contender? That might seem like a silly question. The No. 3 Tar Heels (26-5) just beat their archrival Duke for the second time this season. They finished second in the ACC.

“It was a big-time win. It was ugly as it could be,” Coach Roy Williams told reporters. “The last six minutes, I think we made no field goals. Cam (Johnson) stepped up to the free-throw line and made two big free throws. Garrison (Brooks) stepped up and had really struggled, but made two big free throws. Cody (White) was a mess there for a while. It was hard for people to handle.”

You might be wondering why I would even question that given the outcome of this season. In the era of the one and done players, UNC rarely gets elite talent. That’s a head scratcher for a blue blood program like them.

We see other top programs like Duke, Kentucky and Kansas get top recruiting classes. North Carolina had the 14th ranked 2018 recruiting classes. I think their lack of top-flight talent is their Achilles hill.

That has been shown in most of their losses. In the Las Vegas Invitational, they lost to Texas 92 – 89. The Longhorns had the 8th ranked recruiting class.

Two games later they lost convincingly (84-67) at No. 10 Michigan. The Wolverines 2018 recruiting class was ranked 12th.

The Tar Heels also lost to No. 4 Kentucky (80-72) in the CBS Sports Classic. The Wildcats had the second ranked recruiting class. This same Kentucky team was demolished by 34 points against Duke.

I think the Blue Devils are a totally different team with Zion Williamson on the court. UNC has dodged a bullet by not having to play against him for more than 33 seconds in both meetings. I think the outcome of those games would have been different if he played.

The other two loses were at home against Louisville and No. 2 Virginia.

This is a rare season where there are several teams competing for the national championship. Duke was the clear-cut favorite prior to the injury to Zion. He still has not returned so I’m going to assume he will not play again for the rest of the season. Coach K said he practiced before the season finale but he did not suit up.

UNC will get a top seed in the NCAA tournament. That will make their path to the Final Four easier. They are not the most talented team but they do have experience. The leading scorer is senior guard Cameron Johnson with 16.8 points per game.

Senior forward Luke Maye averages 14.6 ppg. They also have some young talent with freshman guard Coby White who contributes 16 ppg and 4 assists per game.

I think the experience will help, as they get deeper in the tournament. They have shown that they can get overwhelmed against top competition but anything can happen during March Madness.

The SEC Tournament

By: JJ Lanier news services

Most people associate March Madness with the start of the NCAA Tournament, but for most teams the madness begins the week prior, with the conference tournaments.

You’ve got some teams whose only shot at making the big dance is by winning their conference championship. Then you have those lovely “bubble teams” that need to have an impressive showing to help sway the committee to include them. And finally, you have those teams that are safely in, but can improve their seeding with a few conference tournament wins. The SEC Tournament runs the whole gamut this year.

There are seven SEC teams entering the start of the conference tournament that need to win the whole thing in order to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

Out of those seven teams- South Carolina and the bottom six in the standings- if I had to pick one that could possibly make a run, I’d probably go with South Carolina. Not that I think they will do it, but if I had to choose a Jim Carrey “So you’re saying there’s a chance” team, it would be the Gamecocks.

The bubble teams get a little more interesting. Most bracketologists have Florida in, but I just don’t see it. Outside of their win against LSU, they don’t have another Top 25 win while having a few questionable losses.

They also have a worse conference record, and only more win, than a South Carolina team that beat the Gators in their only matchup, but isn’t even being considered to be a tournament team.

Ole Miss, and I guess to an extent, Auburn, are the other two that seem to be on the fringe. I think both of those have proven enough that even a first game exit shouldn’t prevent them from making the tournament. That said, getting a conference tournament win would solidify things a little more, especially for the team from Oxford.

Out of the “locks” Tennessee and Kentucky are playing for a possible one seed, but LSU is the team that intrigues me. With Will Wade’s indefinite suspension for what equates to a seven year old telling his teacher he isn’t chewing gum only to have the gum fly out of his mouth, how will the Tigers adjust?

They are deserving of a two seed, regardless of how they perform in the SEC tournament, but if they lose their first game would the committee downgrade them to a three seed?

The committee has shown in the past they do take player injuries and player availability into consideration when seeding; it’s not beyond the realm of possibility they could do the same thing if a team’s coach has been suspended due to recruiting violations.

As for that one seed battle between Kentucky and Tennessee, I think it depends on how Duke performs in the ACC tournament.

Gonzaga, Virginia, and UNC are all but guaranteed a one seed; if the Blue Devils were to win the ACC with a healthy Zion, I don’t think you can keep them from a one seed, either. If not, it’ll be between the Volunteers and Wildcats for that final coveted spot.

The casual fan won’t start tuning in until next week, which is a shame. For many teams their NCAA tournament has begun.

The buzzer beaters, the joy, the tears, all those things are already taking place in conference tournaments. March madness is here. Let the fun begin.


By: TJ Hartnett news services

The baseball gods can be a cruel, unforgiving higher power.

When the hubris of a front office interferes with their will, they can strike down upon a team with great vengeance and furious anger that would make Samuel L. Jackson proud.

The baseball deities seem to have made their displeasure with the Atlanta Braves known, though mercifully not to Sam Jackson levels just yet.

Instead, they have handed out minor injuries to the Braves pitching staff, apparently in retaliation for the Braves’ front office avoiding spending any significant money or prospect capital this offseason. More specifically, not acquiring a stud pitcher to stand alongside Mike Foltynewicz and lead the staff in 2019.

Hyperbole aside, it really does seem like the injuries to Folty and Kevin Gausman (not to mention to relievers Darren O’Day and AJ Minter) are, at the very least, correlated to Alex Anthopoulos’ failure to pick up a starter since October.

That isn’t how real life works, I realize, but the lack of a new Brave and the slew of pitching injuries simply cannot be separated.

Imagine if the Braves had gone out and miraculously picked up Patrick Corbin, the biggest free agent pitcher available on the market. With Corbin reported to Spring Training in a Braves uniform, a couple of minor injuries to Folty and Gausman that, at worst, hold them out until the end of the April don’t seem like the end of the world.

But the reality is that injuries to the top two pitchers on the team, even minor injuries, are concerning developments with no one to pick up the slack.

It seems like Gausman is likely to be ready for Opening Day and that’s great.

But Folty missing two or three weeks at the beginning of the season has the potential to be truly damning for the Braves’ early season success.

It adds extra shine to the fact that the Mets, the Nationals, and the Phillies have all improved themselves (yes, the Nats lost Harper, but they picked up the aforementioned Corbin to solidify a terrifying rotation and also Harper is supremely overrated).

The Braves were falling behind even at full strength, but losing their ace for the first few weeks of the new campaign could put them in a deeper hole than necessary. Especially, since the Braves open the season in Philadelphia and host a four-game set against the Mets with the first two weeks.

Couple those tough series with tough draws like the Chicago Cubs, the Colorado Rockies in Denver, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Indians in Cleveland and not having someone to step into Folty’s shoes may cause the Braves to be looking up in the standings by a significant margin well before the close of April.

It was foolhardy for Anthopoulos and company to do nothing. Even signing a 3- or 4-type pitcher would have strengthened the Braves’ ability to weather this injury storm, but as it stands right now Julio Teheran is looking like the team’s number 2 to start the year (assuming Gausman’s health), and that is not a position Atlanta should be comfortable with if they intend to repeat or even compete for another division title.

Gausman may take the mound on Opening Day, or the Braves could turn to Sean Newcomb. Neither scrape the bottom of the barrel, but neither are who the Braves nor Braves Country want to see throwing the first pitch of the season.

There is still one avenue the Braves could take to remedy this situation and that is by calling Dallas Keuchel’s agent and paying him what he wants.

There is an ace-level pitcher sitting at home while Spring Training games are being played and the Braves are scrambling to fill their rotation.

Of course, even if the Braves do sign Keuchel, he won’t be ready for Opening Day on account of missing the start of Spring Training.

Never piss off the baseball gods.

The Stable

By: Kipp Branch news services

The University of Georgia is known as “Running Back U”.

UGA fans have come to expect great things out of the running back position with the recent success of UGA greats like Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel. Gurley and Michel were the two feature backs in the recent Super Bowl for the Rams and Patriots.

The Bulldogs return D’Andre Swift, James Cook and Brian Herrien from the 2018 team. That is a combined 1,628 yards and 15 touchdowns coming back, with Swift accounting for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns alone.

Georgia will also welcome five-star 2018 recruit Zamir White back into the fold after he missed the 2018 season with an ACL tear. Rounding out the group is four-star 2019 recruit Kenny McIntosh.

Swift will be the next great UGA back to make a splash in the NFL. He has great vision, speed and can cut on a dime. Swift was not healthy for the first half of the 2018 season and it showed.

He will be the number one option in the running game for UGA this fall. Swift will be a Heisman contender in 2019. If he can stay healthy and get 15-20 touches per game then a 1,400-yard rushing season is not out of the question. Swift is a complete back right now with his combined running and receiving ability. He will be an NFL back playing in college in 2019.

Cook showed flashes of his talent as a true freshman in 2018. He is special in space and will probably be used more in the short passing game this fall.

An off-season in the strength and conditioning program will help him bulk up to carry more of a load in the rugged SEC. Look for UGA to line Cook up in the slot and expose opposing linebackers and safeties in the passing game.

Brian Herrien was UGA’s true bright spot on offense in the Sugar Bowl debacle against Texas. Herrien is steady and you know what he can do when he enters the football game.

His production will increase as carries increase. It feels like Herrien has waited his turn over the past couple of seasons with all the greatness UGA has had at RB and now it is his time to shine.

The wild card in all of this is Zamir White. White was the top HS running back in the nation in 2017, and tore his ACL in fall camp last season.

If he is 100% this fall then he could be really special. Have you ever watched his high school highlight tape? If you haven’t Google it, but have a napkin close by because you will be drooling if you are a Dawg fan.

If White bursts on the college football scene in 2019 then you can go ahead and pencil UGA into the College Football Playoff.

And the rich continue to get richer as UGA brought in Kenny McIntosh during the 2019 recruiting cycle. McIntosh is a big back who can run between the tackles.

Kirby Smart is the best recruiter in college football, and the talent being assembled in Athens, Georgia is mind-boggling.

UGA lost a 1,000-yard rusher in Holyfield, who declared early for the NFL draft, but they will not miss a beat at RB.

I’m predicting that this group will be better this year running behind the most talented offensive line in school history. Anyone ready for National Title run in the state of Georgia this fall?

Running Back U continues to produce! Hurry up August and get here.

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