When will we have a championship team?

sports@macon.comDecember 28, 2013 

Well, another year has come to an end without a championship for teams in Georgia. It has been too long, and while we might have believed 2013 would have been the year to end the drought, it just didn’t happen.

A year ago we could have made the case that the Atlanta Braves and Falcons and the Georgia football team would all have a chance this year. Those three teams all disappointed. And as we prepare for 2014, it’s even more difficult to wonder which team could actually contend for a championship.

The Braves were the last team to win it all, back in 1995. Yes, it has been that long. For a team that appeared in five World Series in the 1990s, this century has simply not been kind to the Braves. They just won their first division title since 2005 this past season, but once again they disappointed in the first round of the playoffs.

They have made only small moves this offseason, and the major core should be back in place. The Braves won 96 games last season, but it’s hard to pinpoint how they measure up in the NL just yet. If everything falls perfectly, perhaps they can once again be contenders. But there is nothing compelling about this roster -- at least not yet -- to make you believe they’ll be World Series favorites.

Last December we believed the Falcons might be close to their first championship, but the San Francisco 49ers got in the way. And this season has simply been a disaster. An expected loss Sunday to Carolina will give Atlanta a 4-12 record, and the only shining light will be a chance at a great player in the NFL draft in May.

But after that bad of a season, the Falcons have a lot of work to do. They need several offensive linemen, plus help on the defensive front and at linebacker. Can that be fixed in time to get the Falcons back on track for 2014? It would take a miracle. A title run in 2015 might be more realistic.

The Hawks are better. They actually have a head coach now who makes them look like a professional NBA team. But they’re a great draft pick and a couple of years away. This franchise is in better shape now than in previous years, but the Hawks need to find another star (or two) to truly have a chance to be contenders. It might help if LeBron James gets old in Miami, too.

The Georgia football team had high expectations this year, but injuries and a bad defense resulted in an 8-4 record. The next two seasons will see a change at quarterback, and that’s always difficult to expect a team will win it all with a new signal-caller (although Auburn might do it this year). Perhaps if Todd Gurley stays healthy and is a Heisman candidate, 2014 could be special, but the Georgia defense has to make tremendous improvements for that to happen.

Georgia Tech seems stuck in neutral with head coach Paul Johnson. The Yellow Jackets are only four games above .500 for the past four years. There is no reason to believe Georgia Tech is anywhere close to being a national championship contender. Both the Yellow Jackets and the Bulldogs must first work to win their division, and that will be tough next season.

Georgia Southern’s football team has been closest in the past few years of the state teams to a title, but that was in FCS football. Now the Eagles are moving up to FBS and will join the Sun Belt Conference, so conference championships will be the only realistic dream for Eagles fans.

Georgia’s men’s basketball team is another coach away from even being in a conversation about a title. The Bulldogs are ranked 277th out of 351 college basketball teams in the country in the RPI ratings. And while Brian Gregory has the Georgia Tech hoops team on track, the Yellow Jackets still are a ways away in the tough ACC. Mercer is the best college basketball team in the state, and the Bears need a run like we saw from Florida Gulf Coast last season to make some noise in March.

Maybe we’ll be surprised by a team from Georgia in 2014. A year ago, there was no way anyone would have predicted the Auburn Tigers would be playing for another football national championship. But right now, it looks like it would take a similar miracle for any team from Georgia to be a title contender in the new calendar year.

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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