Things could change quickly for state teams

sports@macon.comDecember 21, 2013 

UGA_v_App_St

Georgia backup quarter back Hutson Mason, right, celebrates the first of two touchdowns scored by his offense in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State Saturday.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — gblankenship@macon.com Buy Photo

A lot of things went wrong in sports this year in Georgia. It wasn’t a disaster, but things just happened that made it a less than stellar sports calendar year in the Peach State.

But let’s say a few things go differently in 2014. These aren’t predictions, mind you, but instead just some scenarios that could drastically change the results next season for the state teams.

What might happen with the Atlanta Braves, for example, if Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton hit a respectable .225 or higher? I know that might sound like a low batting average, but it would be 45- to 50-point increase on what the two highly paid players did in 2013.

The Braves won 96 games last year, even though those two struggled at the plate. They seemed to survive having a quarter of the starting lineup swinging and missing on a nightly basis. But how much more dangerous could the Braves be if Uggla and Upton bounce back?

It’s obvious no other team wants Uggla. The Braves have been trying to give him away and have found no takers. So now they want to “fix” Uggla and Upton, who is somewhat stuck here considering the four years and big money left on his contract.

Uggla is a career .246 hitter, but he has hit only .213 in his three seasons with the Braves (50 points lower than what he hit in five years with Florida). Heck, even an increase to .213 would perhaps put him in contention for Comeback Player of the Year awards since it would be a 34-point increase in his average. If Uggla hit close to 30 home runs, that could help the lineup.

Upton is a career .248 hitter, and before his .184 disaster last year with Atlanta, his lowest season average had been .237. If he could get back to that level and hit close to 20 home runs, think of the difference that would be compared to what happened last year when he hit only nine homers and was a non-factor at the plate.

The Falcons are headed toward their worst season since 2007. That next year in the draft Atlanta got Matt Ryan with the third pick in the first round. What could happen next season if the first rounder next May has as big an impact?

Let’s hope the Falcons are in position to draft either Texas A&M offensive lineman Jake Matthews or South Carolina defensive star Jadeveon Clowney. Both are potential stars in the NFL and could make an immediate difference on Atlanta’s line of scrimmage.

The Falcons also will have the opportunity to sign a few free agents. That’s something that can make a bad team much better in a hurry in the NFL. But general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s track record with free agents (Ray Edwards, Dunta Robinson) is sketchy, so he will have to hit pay dirt on the right players to turn the Falcons around.

Much attention will be placed on Georgia’s defense in 2014, regardless of whether Todd Grantham is back as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator. The young players on defense underachieved this season, whether it was because they just weren’t ready or they simply weren’t good enough to begin with.

But what if they drastically improve in 2014? What if Tray Matthews, Shaq Wiggins, Josh Harvey-Clemons and Leonard Floyd all become stars next season? It is possible. These were highly regarded prospects, and perhaps the experience from this year will benefit them moving forward.

What if Hutson Mason plays more like D.J. Shockley than Joe Cox? There’s no point in predicting a repeat of what Shockley did in 2005 once he replaced David Greene. But Mason seems to have more talent than Cox, who was not very good when he replaced Matthew Stafford in 2009.

And speaking of quarterbacks, what if Vad Lee becomes consistent for Georgia Tech next season? Couldn’t that be the simple answer to get the Yellow Jackets closer to a 10-win season if Lee is able to more effectively run head coach Paul Johnson’s offense?

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to turn around a team’s fortunes, and the main teams that disappointed this year in Georgia might not be as far off as you think from having better seasons in 2014 -- if a few things fall their way.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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