Presuming those end-of-the-world folks who claim the world will go up in a puff of smoke or fizzle out like a wet firecracker in 2012 are wrong, I have offered up a few predictions for this year.
If I am wrong, please feel free to come back and point out my shortcomings in 364 days.
First, Georgia Southern will win national title No. 7. Georgia won’t win No. 2.
Truth is, the Eagles weren’t as good as we all thought they were in 2011, though they were plenty good. But were it not for a sudden gust of wind and a gutsy call by an opposing coach — see The Citadel and Chattanooga games if you need more info — GSU might not even have gotten into the playoffs, let alone make its second semifinal run in as many years.
The Eagles will be primed for the title in 2012, despite losing starting quarterback Jaybo Shaw. For all his qualities — and he had plenty — Shaw lacked the one thing GSU has always had when it won titles: a quarterback who threatened to take it to the house every time he touched the ball.
No more of that. Expect GSU coach Jeff Monken and company to find that QB in 2012 and the Eagles to run opponents silly.
As for UGA, well, they will be right where they usually are. Somehow not as good as everyone thinks they’re going to be. This, despite having one of the best passing quarterbacks in college football in Aaron Murray. The guy’s smooth.
Bradwell football will be improved: The Tigers took their lumps this year and the boobirds booed long and loud, but a young team is a year older and should be a lot healthier. So, the critics of head coach Jim Walsh Jr. will have to grit their teeth through another season after BI turns in a winning campaign and returns to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
Liberty County will also be better, despite losing Shadrach Thornton: Replacing the versatile Thornton won’t be easy, but if there’s one thing longtime observers of Liberty County High School football know, it’s that finding talented kids is never a problem in Pantherland. Trouble is, the Panthers leave one tough region only to find themselves in another tough region with Statesboro and Wayne County on their side and defending Class AAAA state champ Burke County in the north subregion.
Still, with Liberty County’s defense, a trip back to the postseason isn’t out of the question, especially if coach Kirk Warner finds a couple guys to fill Thornton’s shoes.
Braves will stay just out of contention for a World Series crown: No matter how much I try to get excited about the Atlanta Braves’ postseason chances, I think the magic that existed for so long is about gone. Sure, Atlanta has a wealth of young arms and the lineup is solid enough with Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Martin Pardo, Jayson Heyward and Chipper Jones all capable of putting up All-Star numbers. But the Braves are missing something these days. Chemistry, maybe. Or perhaps it’s Bobby Cox.
Finally, A few other things before I pack up the keyboard and take a few days off.
Deserving of titles: If I could only pick one coach at BI and one at Liberty upon which to bestow a state title, I’d give them to Faye Baker at BI and Willie Graham at Liberty County.
Baker has been a great leader and inspiration to countless young women. She’s also inspired more than a few of us old men to give our best.
On the boys’ side, I’d give it to Willie Graham. The man’s led the Panthers to four Final Fours yet doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his coaching talent.
People I miss already: David Jones, the longtime boys basketball coach at BI and FPCA and countless places before that. Jones has a resume that includes state titles and more than 600 wins. But more important to me are the man’s uncompromising standards. Jones never worried about saying the right thing, he always just said what he thought. And he could make millions as a standup comedian.
If Jones ever decides to go into comedy, I’d be first to go see him.
But more than anything, I’ll miss the late Joe Watkins.
Though I didn’t get to cover Joe as a high school baseball player because I took another job once he got to that level, I looked forward to seeing him play baseball at Georgia Southern.
I missed his teen years, but I’ll always remember him as a rambunctious puppy of a kid and one who never met a stranger.
His future seemed as bright and limitless as a day on a plane high above the cloud cover.
Instead, he died as a result of a car wreck when the car he was driving went off the road near his home in Isle of Wight right before Thanksgiving.
You probably already know the story, so I won’t go into detail about Joe’s final days. They were heartbreaking enough then. Time hasn’t changed that.
But this is what you may not know.
I’ve known Joe’s folks for a long time. I know they’re grieving. But I also know they’re good people.
Joe couldn’t have asked for a better mom than Jan, I believe. And, aside from my mother, my father and a very small handful of Army and college buddies, there are few people on this planet I think of more highly than Pat Watkins.
In this profession, there are even fewer. He is, I think, what any responsible journalist should aspire to be — a combination of fair-minded and fearless and tough while also having a sense of humor about the world.
But mostly, Pat is a kind person. Which I also think journalists should aspire to be whenever possible.
Life, after all, is too short for all of us.
There’s no sense making the road harder than it already is.
Here’s hoping your 2012 is a safe, happy and prosperous one, and keep the troops in your thoughts.