Southern Sports Edition

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On The Clay

By: Teddy Bishop

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With the French Open looming on the horizon tennis eyes are focusing on the red-clay courts of Roland Garros.

The very first French Open was held in 1891, but was aptly called the French Championships, since only men who were citizens of France were allowed to compete. The champion is listed as H. Briggs.

The French Championships didn’t include women until 1897. Four Frenchwomen competed, with Adine Masson winning the title. Masson went on to win a total of five French Championships.

In 1925, the tournament became international and was designated a Grand Slam event.  Rene Lacoste of France won the men’s title, defeating fellow countryman Jean Borotra. Frenchwoman Susanne Lenglen defeated Britain’s Kathleen McKane to win the ladies’ title.

In 1928, a new tennis complex was built in Paris, and the president of the complex insisted that it be named Roland Garros Stadium, after a World War I hero, even though Garros never played professional tennis.

So—who was Roland Garros? Garros was an ‘ace’ French fighter pilot that came up with safer propeller blades that allowed for forward firing of machine guns.

There is some discrepancy as to how many enemy planes he actually shot down, but five downed planes would have classified him as an ‘ace.’ (Aerial warfare was something new. Remember, WWI started barely a decade after the Wright brothers and Kitty Hawk.)

In 1915, Garros’ plane developed engine trouble during an airfight, and he made an emergency landing in German territory.

He was quickly captured and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. When he escaped some three years later, the war was winding down, but he resumed his role as a fighter pilot.

Unfortunately, a month before the war ended, Garros was killed when his plane was shot down. He was twenty-nine.

Enough about Roland Garros, the fighter pilot. Let’s talk about Roland Garros, home of the French Open Grand Slam tennis tournament.

The winningest player ever at Roland Garros is Rafael Nadal. Fourteen (the all-time record) of Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam titles have come at Roland Garros. Despite some recent injuries, the Spaniard is expected to go for number fifteen.

Bjorn Borg of Sweden won the French six times. Novak Djokovic, the GOAT with 24 Grand Slam championships, has only won three titles at Roland Garros (including 2023).

Switzerland’s Roger Federer, with 20 Slam titles, had only one championship at the French Open.

On the women’s side, American Chris Evert has the most French Open titles with seven, the first one in 1974, the last one in 1986.

German Steffi Graf won the title six times, as did Suzanne Lenglen, but only two of Lenglen’s wins came after the tournament became international.  Serena Williams, arguably the greatest woman tennis player of all time with 23 Grand Slam titles, won the French only three times.

The first American woman to win the French Open was Helen Wills Moody in 1928, her first of four. The first American man was Don Budge in 1938. He actually won all four Grand Slam titles (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open) that year, but 1938 was his only French Open victory.

Prize money for 2024 will be the highest ever, with both the men’s and ladies’ champion earning $2,567,051. Runners-up will receive $1,283,525. First-round losers will get $78,081. All prize money will be paid in Euros, of course.

The French Open begins Sunday, May 26th, and culminates with the Ladies’ Championship on Saturday, June 8th , and the Men’s Championship on Sunday, June 9th.

On to Roland Garros!

Southern Expectations

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see what we can expect from these teams after free agency and the NFL Draft.

Atlanta Falcons: On paper we expect them to be the favorite to win the division going into the season.

They did sign Kirk Cousins in the offseason. Quarterback play was the team’s Achilles heel last season. They were 7-10 and finding a solid QB should improve their record by at least two games.

The offense has weapons so we expected them to draft a pass rusher. Instead, they drafted Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the # 8 pick. At best he becomes a starter in two years. Unfortunately, he will not be on the field immediately to help a team that is built to win now.

They did use their next four draft picks on defensive players but they still did not address their glaring need to improve the pass rush. I think Atlanta can win nine or 10 games. If they make it to the playoffs I expect them to lose in the first round.

Carolina Panthers: This team seems to be in permanent rebuild mode.

They had first year head coach Frank Reich last season and he was fired in November after starting 1-10. They finished the season with the worst record in the NFL, 2-15. They traded their 2024 first round pick in the 2023 draft to move up and select QB Bryce Young # 1.

The team was terrible so I can’t put all of the blame on Young. The # 2 pick from 2023, CJ Stroud had a great season. They will always be compared to each other so we do need to see Young get better in his second season.

In free agency they signed: Robert Hunt, Damien Lewis, A’Shawn Robinson, Josey Jewell and Dane Jackson. Hunt and Lewis are guards that will improve the interior offensive line. Robinson is a defensive tackle that has appeared in 110 games, with 74 starts.

In the first round of the draft Carolina selected wide receiver Xavier Legette (South Carolina) # 32. They really need weapons for Young so this was a good pick.

In the second round they selected running back Jonathan Brooks (Texas). He’s a great player but he tore his ACL in November so he will not be available at the beginning of the season.

I think the Panthers have improved slightly and will win five or six games.

New Orleans Saints: In free agency they signed: defensive end Chase Young, wide receiver Stanley Morgan, linebacker Willie Gay, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, and quarterback Nathan Peterman.

In the first round they selected offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State) # 14. Their second round pick was cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama).

New Orleans was 9-8 last season. I expect them to win eight or nine games in 2024.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They were 9-8 and won the division in 2023. They beat Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. They exceeded expectations last year.

In free agency they signed safety Jordan Whitehead, cornerback Bryce Hall, guard Ben Bredeson and guard Sua Opeta.

They drafted center Graham Barton (Duke) # 26. In the second round they selected edge rusher Chris Braswell (Alabama).

I expect them to compete for the division title and win nine or ten games.

Grounded Draft?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2024 NFL Draft is over now. Let’s take a look at the Atlanta Falcons.

Draft Picks:

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. (#8)

Clemson DT Ruke Orhorhoro (#35)

Washington OLB Bralen Trice (#74)

Oregon DE Brandon Dorlus (#109)

Notre Dame LB JD Bertrand (#143)

Alabama RB Jase McClellan (#186)

Illinois WR Casey Washington (#187)

Georgia DL Zion Logue (#197)

You may have heard by now that Atlanta drafted Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth pick.

He was outstanding last season at Washington. He led the Huskies to an undefeated season and a National Championship game appearance. He was the NCAA passing yards leader with 4,903 yards, 36 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and he completed 65.4% of his passes.

He won the Maxwell Award (2023), First-team All-American (2023) and AP Comeback Player of the Year (2022).

The biggest problem is that the Falcons signed Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed. It does not make any sense to draft another quarterback that high with the amount of money they invested in Cousins.

They appear to want to win now so they should have drafted a complementary piece that can help the team now. The biggest need was a pass rusher and Dallas Turner (Alabama) was available.

Penix has an injury history that some teams were nervous about. He tore his ACL in back-to-back seasons when he was at Indiana. I think he’s a great player but he will sit behind Cousins for at least two seasons.

“I love winning, and I’m a team guy,” Penix said during his introductory press conference. “That’s what I’m going to be in the locker room.”

“Kirk is an amazing guy. I actually watched the ‘Quarterback’ series with him. Seeing that he’s a man of faith, just like me, and he’s all about family – I really enjoyed that, to get a feel of what kind of guy he is. I’m super blessed to be in the room with him and to be able to work with him and learn from him and support him as he continues on his career.”

Orhorhoro was a reach in the second round. In his last two years at Clemson he had 16 tackles for loss and 9 sacks.

He’s an interior defensive lineman so he doesn’t add much to the pass rush. He was Third-team All-ACC last season. They should have picked a corner back or defensive end here.

Trice might help in the second level. In 2023 he had 49 total tackles, 11.5 TFL and 7 sacks.

Dorlus played at Oregon all 5 years. He started as a defensive tackle and finally made the switch to defensive end last season. He only had 6.5 TFL and 5 sacks in 2023.

Bertrand is interesting because he had a breakout season in 2021 and statically got worse after that. In 2021 he had 102 total tackles. He had 82 tackles in 2022 and 76 in 2023. He played in every game each season so I’m not sure what the issue is.

McClellan and Washington add depth at the skill positions.

Logue will help stop the run but he’s not a pass rusher. He has 1.5 sacks in his college career, which is five seasons.

Atlanta also needed a corner back and they did not draft one. They will need to address that in the undrafted free agent pool. They still have the same question marks on defense after the draft.

Draft grade: C-

Storm Brewing

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Miami Hurricanes’ QB room leveled up in overall talent and went from three scholarship QBs last year to a much favorable situation this time around.

Heck, you could argue that Emory Williams and Jacurri Brown (transferred out this spring) were the best two QBs on the roster at the end of last year amid Tyler Van Dyke’s issues, and they spent this spring as the third- and fourth-teamers.

The turnover woes of Van Dyke are now Wisconsin’s problem, right? A pair of hot-handed transfers radically altered the dynamic of Miami.

Washington State star Cam Ward, who some projected as a third round NFL pick had he gone pro, showcased his ability this spring and very much looks like the real deal. Albany’s Reese Poffenbarger also came on and looks like he can do some good things, although he will be behind Ward and will compete to start next year.

Ward showcased his talent in the Spring Game with 324 passing yards, three TDs with no turnovers, making good decisions and completing balls from different arm angles.

As a refresher, the 6-2, 221-pounder was No. 4 in passing yards in college football last year, finishing hitting on 66.7 percent of his throws for 3,732 yards (311.0 yards per game) with 25 TDs and seven INTs (adding eight rushing scores). His arm talent is unquestioned, and he’s also mobile.

Per Pro Football Focus, Ward graded out at a stellar 80.7 percent this past season (59.9 percent in 2022 and then 66.9 percent and 67.0 percent his prior two years at Incarnate Word). He was particularly deadly on deep throws last season with an elite 92.7 grade on throws of 20+ yards (he was 23-57 for 725 yards with 10 TDs and two INTs on those passes).

As for Poffenbarger? The 6-0 dual threat hit on 58.7 percent of his passes in 2023 for an FCS-best 3,603 passing yards along with 36 TDs and 13 INTs.

He also ran for five more scores with 187 rush yards. Two years ago, he completed 61.5 percent of his throws for 2,999 yards with 24 TDs and four INTs, adding 128 rush yards and two more scores. He graded out at a stellar 84.9 percent last year per PFF, including an elite 91.3 percent on throw of 20+ yards (35-103, 1,321 yards, 21 TDs, six INTs).

Williams, on the other hand, was No. 3 on the depth chart much of the spring and he got experience with two starts as a true freshman. The first was against Clemson when Tyler Van Dyke was injured and the second against Florida State after Van Dyke was benched.

In the win vs. the Tigers you saw a poised Williams who wasn’t asked to do too much – he threw mainly short passes and was 24-33 for 151 yards with a TD and interception.

The sky’s the limit for this Miami offense that, in the last two years, averaged 23.6 and 31.5 points and 367.1 and 431.2 yards, respectively.

Whispers around Greentree are that this can be an offense that averages 40 points a game under Ward’s leadership.

For reference, Miami hasn’t averaged 39 or more points since 2002, and only seven teams in the nation averaged that many points last season. A lot will rest on QB#1’s  shoulder.

With Xavier Restrepo and Jacolby George the top two returning receivers (and UM chasing more talent in the second portal window), TE Elijah Arroyo back, freshman H-back Elija Lofton looking like the real deal and the team looking to add a difference-making RB (likely Oregon State’s Damien Martinez) in the second portal window, there’s all kinds of room for optimism.

The O line has already addressed its needs with Indiana veteran center Zach Carpenter joined by three returning starters and very good young depth.

Perhaps the only caveat here is Ward’s fumbling issues (46 in the last four years). But with this setup, it’s hard to see a world in which Cam Ward and this offense aren’t very, very successful.

Kickoff

By: Garrison Ryfun

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

At the end of the first transfer period, two teams stand at the top of the transfer portal recruiting rankings according to 247Sports: LSU and Florida State.

Florida State and LSU started the season last year in a Sunday night thriller that ended with an extra point blocked by FSU.

Since that 24-23 win, both teams went on to have great regular seasons and both wound up winning a bowl sponsored by Cheez-It in Orlando. (LSU winning the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl and FSU winning the Cheez-It Bowl).

In an exciting week 1 rematch to start the 2023 season, both teams will pick up where they left off – in Orlando, at Camping World Stadium.

This neutral site matchup is sure to be another classic opening weekend game, with the winner having a great resume-building win for the final four-team playoff in 2023.

But how did these teams, who started the year unranked in 2022, become likely two preseason top ten teams? Good coaching and the transfer portal.

Names like Jayden Daniels for LSU or Jared Verse for FSU, both helped elevate the ceiling of the programs they transferred into in 2022.

Now heading into the 2023 season, with Florida State and LSU sitting on top of the transfer recruiting rankings let’s see who they brought in through the portal:

LSU:

Aaron Anderson (WR) from Alabama

Paris Shand (Edge) from Arizona

Jalen Lee (DL) from Florida

Bradyn Swinson (Edge) from Oregon

Denver Harris (CB) from Texas A&M

Jordan Jefferson (DL) from West Virginia

Zy Alexander (CB) from Southeastern Lousiana

Darian Chestnut (CB) from Syracuse

Jakailin Johnson (CB) from Ohio State

Ovie Oghofu (LB) from Texas

Omar Speights (LB) from Oregon State

LSU went hard after defensive lineman and cornerbacks, grabbing four of each during this cycle to help shore up holes. They also were able to grab a stud linebacker in Omar Speights to have in tandem with rising star Harold Perkins.

FSU:

Darrell Jackson (DL) from Miami (Fl)

Jaheim Bell (TE) from South Carolina

Kyle Morelock (TE) from Shorter University

Casey Roddick (IOL) from Colorado

Jeremiah Byers (OT) from UTEP

Keiondre Jones (IOL) from Auburn

Braden Fiske (DL) from Western Michigan

Fentrell Cypress (CB) from Virginia

Gilber Edmond (DE) from South Carolina

Tyler Keltner (K) from ETSU

 

FSU looked to add the lines of scrimmage, adding three offensive and three defensive linemen to their roster.

They were also able to plug a big hole at tight end, by bringing in two athletic college standouts.

They were able to secure the commitment from a transfer kicker, creating a competition there this offseason.

Finally, the biggest get for their class was likely Fentrell Cypress, a shutdown corner from Virginia – a piece the Noles have been missing since 2021.

In an age when questions are being asked about the sustainability of transfer portal recruiting, and whether or not it’s possible to win a championship with schools taking ten or more transfers a year – Florida State and LSU, teams using this newer model, will likely start the 2023 season in a top ten matchup that can have serious playoff implications.

Stetson For Heisman

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

2017 seems so long ago. The Georgia Bulldogs won the SEC Championship, Rose Bowl, and were a blown coverage away from winning the national championship.

At the time there was the walk-on QB that was giving Roquan Smith and company fits on the scout team all during that championship season. That QB was Stetson Bennett.

After a brief stint away from Athens, and a global pandemic the former walk-on led Georgia to a national title in 2021. He lit up an Alabama defense for fourteen points in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line.

Still during the lead up to the 2022 season there were doubters. The doubters said UGA won despite Bennett. They do not remember the 40-yard strike to AD Mitchell and the capping TD toss to Brock Bowers facing an Alabama blitz to end the 41-year championship drought.

Then something amazing happened and Stetson Bennett torched 11th ranked Oregon for a career high 368 yards and a 49-3 curb stomping.

Then he has backed it up with great performances against Samford and South Carolina. Now Georgia is the top ranked team in the country, and you are hearing the impossible being said and that is STETSON FOR HEISMAN!

Wait one second Kipp what are you saying? I am saying Stetson for Heisman. Why not?

As of now Bennett sits high on the list of favorites. He is playing better than the media darlings that he trails in the current odds.

If the award were given today Stetson Bennett would be your 2022 Heisman winner based on performance, and if you base it on team accomplishments who is better than Georgia right now?

Brock Bowers is in the mix as well. Who throws Brock the football?

Bennett is a dual threat for the UGA offense this season. His grasp of the Todd Monken system makes the offense look unstoppable at times.

UGA scored in their first seven possessions against Oregon. Georgia put on an offensive clinic against South Carolina. UGA rolled up almost 550 yards of total offense against an SEC defense.

If you look at the UGA schedule from now until the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, you see the likes of Kent State, Missouri, a down Auburn team, and Vanderbilt.

Bennett should put up some substantial numbers in those contests. UGA should enter the Florida game at 7-0.

Then you have Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech. If Georgia can run the table and go 12-0, then how can Stetson not be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony?

If UGA was to be a 13-0 SEC Champion and Bennett has played as well as he has during the first three games of the season, then he will have earned the Heisman Trophy.

Folks this thing could happen because Stetson is the leader of a complete football team in Athens, Georgia.

This story has the makings of a Hollywood movie script. The Stetson Bennett story would be an impressive movie. I know about ten million fellow Georgians who would agree.

The season still must play itself out, but Stetson Bennett is already a Georgia Legend.

The only real question that remains is, which actor would portray Stetson Bennett in a Hollywood adapted movie in the next 5 years?

Move over Rudy the Stetson Bennett story will be coming to the theaters soon.

Three Amigos

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Man, fall is in the air! Football is all over the place. Whether it’s our local high schools, college, or the pros.

But, let’s give it up for the Atlanta Braves. The World Series Wonders are fighting for the NL East title with the Metropolitans and win or lose will be back into playoffs.

The kicker on this is that the Braves have been built the same way Kirby has built the Dawgs. And that’s for the long haul.

The Braves have a guy running the show who has been pulling all the right strings since he came to Atlanta. Alex Anthopoulos came to the Braves in 2017 and was promoted to president of baseball operations in February of 2020.

He is the mastermind behind what is happening to the Braves. Anthopoulos was the guy who reworked the Braves lineup late last season to bring in Adam Duvall, Joc Peterson and Eddie Rosario. I don’t think the Bravos win it all without those moves.

Duvall was steady as a rock. Joc Peterson had half of Truist Park wearing pearl necklaces and ole Eddie was the NLCS MVP. Yeah, Anthopoulos pulled all the right strings last year.

But what about that deal for the long haul? What have you done for us lately, Alex? Well, he has worked on the Braves from the ground up and man this dude doesn’t play around.

The Braves have three of the top overall prospects in the majors now on their roster.

How good are they? Two of them will probably finish 1 and 2 in the rookie of the year voting and the third is a consensus top 10.

We’re talking about Spencer Strider, Michael Harris II, and Vaughn Grissom.  These guys all have greatness written all over them.

Spencer Strider has struck out 200 batters in 132 innings. He carries an 11-5 record as of today. He consistently hits 97-100 on the gun. One of his teammates was asked how he ranked Strider and his reply was “just under deGrom”. Jacob deGrom is a future Hall of Famer.

Spencer Strider is 23 years old. Get used to seeing ladies with black fake moustaches at Truist Park! The guy is becoming his own little cult!

Vaughn Grissom is 21 years old and was brought up by the Braves when Ozzie Albies went down with a fractured foot over the summer.

He skipped AAA ball and came up from AA. With the Braves, he has played sterling defense and is batting .302 with 5 HR and 16 RBI in 34 games. Now with Ozzie out again with a fractured pinky, Grissom will finish out the season at 2B. This guy has a chance to be a great one.

Last but not least of these three amigos is Michael Harris II. He is the odds-on favorite for NL Rookie of the Year.

The amazing thing about that is he only came up to the Braves at the end of May. Harris has solidified center field for the Braves and should be there for the foreseeable future.

He is currently hitting .305 with 18 HR and 59 RBI and 17 SB. He is 21 years old.

Anthopoulos knows his stuff and just signed the rookie Harris to an 8 year 72 million contract.

So, this is how Alex Anthopoulos is building the Braves for the future. And what a future it’s going be. These guys are loaded and now have a lineup that is as good as any in baseball. I think ole Alex is gonna keep it that way. GO BRAVES!

 

New Chiefs

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Here are my latest observations about the Seminoles after their 3-0 start this season.

1 — This team’s toughness is legit. Every time things begin to look bleak; these guys find a way to fight back. Whether it’s the defense making a stop or creating a turnover or the offense stepping up to make a play.

Remembering Norvell’s Memphis teams, when we learned that FSU was targeting him for their vacant head coaching job in late 2019, what stood out most was how hard Memphis competed snap by snap.

They were physical on both sides of the ball, and seemed unfazed by the score or situation. Whether ahead or behind, Memphis seemed to play with the same high level of energy and intensity.

It’s such a positive thing to see a strong program battle back after challenging years. FSU fans should be falling in love with this team.

They know there will be times this season when the offense sputters or the defense has major lapses — heck, that’s already happened in the last two games (double heck, this ain’t even pro football! Kids mess up all the time). However, toughness is something that shouldn’t come or go. You have it or you don’t. Grit is absolute.

2 —Trey Benson’s break out. Even though he had 100-plus yards in the season opener against Duquesne, I didn’t think we saw the real Trey Benson in either of Florida State’s first two games.

I don’t know if maybe it was taking a little time to get acclimated to the speed of the game against teams like LSU and Louisville. If that was the case, it would be understandable. Remember, he missed nearly all of last season due to a catastrophic knee injury when he was at Oregon.

Maybe he’s just still getting comfortable with Norvell’s offense. Whatever the case, the guy is 6-foot-1, 215 pounds and built differently than everybody else FSU has in the backfield.

FSU got game(plans). As much credit as Florida State’s players deserve, the coaching staff prepare excellent strategies.

Despite the fact that QB Tate Rodemaker struggled several times in critical situations, Norvell was convinced that he would eventually turn the corner. Rodemaker may have actually done just that.

Injuries + Recruiting. Florida State has been dealing with several injury concerns. Then the list got much longer during the trip to Louisville, with QB Jordan Travis, DE Jared Verse, DL Malcolm Ray, OT Robert Scott, LB Tatum Bethune and others either leaving the game completely or missing time.

I also see the drop off in recruiting the past three years costing the Seminoles for the remainder of this season. With injuries mounting, the lack of depth will hurt the Seminoles as they navigate the remainder of their schedule.

FSU is off to a great start. The was the last time FSU had a 10-win season was 2015.

Will Norvell lead the Seminoles back to glory or will their lack of depth have them come up short?

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