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Mailbag 4/20

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Is the USFL worth watching?

USFL Week One - Tampa Bay Bandits v Pittsburgh Maulers Photo by Rob Carr/USFL/Getty Images

Coach AMo’s record in the first 4 years was 0.500. I had the impression that ADTS made another homer hire with mediocre results after last season at 20-26. Softball seems to have turned things around this season (so far).

Is something new contributing to improvement this year, or is it the result of building / developing talent over the past few years? What’s your overall impression of Coach AMo (Tech playing career aside)? - GTBuzzed

Logan: This is kind of the homer attitude take, but I like her. I know she hasn’t done anything incredible, in the sense of winning a championship, but she did get us back into the postseason after a short drought in her first season. The players and other coaches seem to respect her and appreciate what she brings to the game. I do think it takes some time to build up a program, but I also think she had turned around a struggling program and shown positive results early in her career despite the .500 record. Honestly Softball is not my sport, so I can’t give a great answer to what the team is doing different this year or if it is a talent pool finally coming through. I would compare her to Josh Pastner, but with better results. She’s done some impressive things, but you can lose sight of that if you just focus on the record. That said, I also know I’m higher on Pastner than some people... so maybe that’s not a great endorsement.

Jake: I have paid close attention to this team from before I started writing the non-revenue sports column for this site coming from a family with strong ties to softball. I have done my very best over the years to keep the opinions of things that come from my family background in the travel circuit and NCAA experience and roots in a softball-mad high school out of the blog to try to prevent preconceived notions from clouding what I bring to the table every week. I feel like that context is important in how I answer this question.

Georgia Tech, as I originally found it when I arrived at the Flats, was a team that seemed stuck in place. There were a number of good players, a very nice facility, and a history of being successful in a conference that was not traditionally a power, even if Tech and FSU and some other had seen success, or, in the case of FSU, been a blue blood of the sport. When the previous staff was let go, I think that was a necessary break, as it seemed Tech was far off its peak. In hiring Morales, ADTS took a bet on a coach that, while a proven star at the collegiate level and beyond, had only coached four seasons at the helm of a program, split with two years at Young Harris, the first of which was at the junior college level, and two years at Radford. Both programs took tremendous strides in her second year, with Young Harris’ even coming with a jump to DII status, which leads me to my first point - it is much harder to build a program at the Power 5 level than it is in DII or the Big South. Not only that, but this occurred at the same time as a bunch of money and talent poured into the ACC in the form of instant success at Clemson and Duke, while Virginia Tech quietly built a juggernaut and newer members Louisville and Notre Dame brought their historic Big East success to their new homes. Even despite this, Tech notched 11 more wins and saw its win percentage jump .150 in year 1, with marginal improvement coming in year 2.

I will admit that I felt a similar feeling in 2021, though probably not to the same extent. However, this Tech team was done the disservice of both playing its first two ACC series against two of the conference’s best teams, Florida State and Clemson, in the second weekend of the year, going 0-6 with most of those losses being by just a few runs, and it struggled to find footing until later in the year. A number of winnable games and series, particularly against MTSU, North Carolina, and Syracuse were lost to COVID. Even from a pure record standpoint, their resume was deceiving.

Of course, one of the most important things in the sport of softball is having a reliable pitching staff. For Morales’ first two years, that was a questionable proposition. In the next two, Blake Neleman was the standout star. This year, Michigan transfer Chandler Dennis has been the reliable foil to Neleman in the circle, and combined with the addition of Marty McDaniel as a pitching coach after his tremendously successful run with Tennessee, the mound has been vastly more reliable for Georgia Tech. Up and down the staff, Tech has more options to buoy their mainstays, too.

Tech’s bats have never been a huge issue under this staff, seeing as they instantly improved in 2017 following the addition of hitting coach Reese Mariconda. Tech has been able to improve a la Coach Josh Pastner or Coach Michelle Collier, though, as they have gotten older and peaked, despite losing solid multi-year starters to graduation and attrition through the years, they have both been able to capitalize on recruiting high schoolers (Jin Sileo, Mallorie Black, Auburn Dupree, Bailee Zeitler, Emma Kauf) and the transfer portal (Tricia Awald, Kennedy Cowden) in the last five years to stay dangerous at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. This, combined with the obvious prowess in advanced statistics shown by the staff while not being afraid to play small ball or be aggressive on the base paths, has grown more fruitful with the influx of talent. Tech’s recruiting ratings, for all that matters, have increased at the same time as their metrics overall.

Ultimately, I gave probably more than what you were bargaining for when you asked your question, but I think the answer is a bit of everything. For all the talk about the experience wielded by players like Sileo, Zeitler, Kauf, Neleman, and Awald, there are a number of freshman getting very meaningful playing time, while being complemented in the circle by newcomer Dennis. I think, more than anything, Tech is both bearing the fruits of a comprehensive process, and finally getting a bit of luck and confidence along the way, too. They are a top 25 team in the RPI, and they deserve the recognition in the polls and in the postseason to go with it.

Carter: I blacked out in the middle of reading Jake’s response. Sorry, what was the question again?

Who ‘ya got?

‘Reck vs. Bumblebee (or are they friends?)

If so, then; ‘Reck + Megan Fox vs. Decepticons + uga? - DressHerInWhiteAndGold

Ben: I feel like they would be friends. Also, I think if it’s just the ‘Reck and Megan Fox against the Decepticons, yeah, they’re gonna lose on sheer numbers. Add in the Autobots, though, and they pull it out.

Logan: ... what? I don’t know what is happening here, so here we go. I’ll take ‘Reck over Bee and ‘Reck over Decepticons. ‘Reck don’t mess around.

Jake: I think they are friends. That seems nice in my head.

Carter: ‘Reck and Bumblebee are probably friends. I would not take ‘Reck vs. all of the Decepticons, unless it first combined with Optimus Prime.

I saw they had USFL games on TV over the weekend. If someone is a football fan, why should or shouldn’t they watch it? If someone is a GT fan, why should or shouldn’t they watch it? - sportsfan4life2012

Ben: If you’re interested in watching Tech alum, Anree Saint-Amour is on New Orleans’ roster, so that’s pretty neat! There are also several other players who were notable at the college level, so it could be fun to watch. It’s also just nice to be able to watch football in the spring.

Logan: To me the answer is pretty simple. If you want more football, now you have more football to watch; but if you’re tired of football and need a break before the CFB season starts you don’t have to watch the USFL. I got no problem with the USFL, frankly I hope it succeeds, but as an adult I just don’t have the time I used to in college for watching football and keeping up with players and stats all year. At this point I don’t want to add another sports league to keep track of. Doesn’t apply to everyone, but that’s my stance on why I don’t watch the USFL.

Jake: I will be honest, I didn’t watch any of it this weekend. There’s only so many months with baseball and, without a professional league, softball, and now is the time to watch that. That doesn’t even mention NBA and NHL playoffs, both of which have very compelling reasons to tune in. I’m not really someone that can stomach bad bow games or Tuesday night MACtion (I know, the horror) so I would recommend mostly not wasting time watching minor league football - that’s what it is - and instead stick to something that’s in season.

Carter: Time was when I would consume any televised sports that were available. That was many years ago; I have (let’s be honest) more of a social life now and am married to someone significantly less interested in such things. That, combined with the fact professional football doesn’t really do it for me, led me to passing over the USFL this weekend. But sports, in general, are good, so hopefully it succeeds where others have failed. And if not, XFL 2.0 (3.0?) is on the way, if ya smell what the Rock is cooking.

First and foremost, with Gibbs’ transfer to Alabama to an undoubtedly more talented team, coaching staff, resources, etc. does Jahmyr Gibbs become a Heisman finalist? By all accounts he’s doing well and is the RB1 and he lit it up in their Spring game. My personal opinion is quite simply and easily, a yes. He shined on a team that did not utilize him to his fullest potential, I can’t imagine that he doesn’t explode under Saban. - Frodo Swagginz

Ben: I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see Gibbs compete for a Heisman this year. Due to the nature of the award, I’m sure he’ll lose out to a quarterback if he’s a finalist, but I think he’s more than capable of being a Heisman finalist.

Logan: I don’t know if he’ll win it but I certainly expect him to be one of the front runners. Bama is a top team with great coaches, Gibbs is a fantastic athlete, and the team doesn’t have the same highlight players it did last year at receiver and QB. If Gibbs stays healthy he should be a (if not THE) focus player in the offense.

Carter: I mean.... yeah. Yeah. Probably.

Jake P.: 100% yes. It helps to have a functioning football team that can boost your candidacy.

Secondly, with the RB room back to ‘full’ strength, where do you see Smith lining up this season? Is he the RB1 or is this going to be significantly more interesting to watch than the QB ‘battle’? - Frodo Swagginz

Ben: I would say that it probably isn’t quite as good as it was last season, simply because Tech does not have anyone like Gibbs that is a total gamechanger. Overall, I think it will still be a good running back room. I don’t know that it will necessarily be more “interesting,” just because I think Tech will stick with running back by committee. Though, I’m also not convinced we are going to have an actual QB competition.

Logan: I don’t think there will be a battle at RB, because the RB position will share runs pretty evenly between players. RB is not a position where one guy runs the show anymore; that’s the case on most teams unless you have an absolute freak.

Carter: I felt like Smith was a pretty decent bet to be RB1 coming out of spring practice. The addition of that transfer from Buffalo might change the calculus on that, though.

Can we have each writer say one thing they are excited for next season? - Notwima13

Ben: I am excited to see Dontae Smith get some spotlight. I think he is a phenomenal running back, and I think he could be really good. Combined with Dylan McDuffie, and I’m really excited to see what the running backs can do this year.

Logan: I am actually excited to see our defense take the field and see if they can prove themselves. For all the talk of disappointments over the past few years, I can’t help but be hopeful about GTs prospects in the upcoming season.

Jake: I am excited for volleyball, and in the meantime, for baseball and softball. If you’re talking football, I think that the offense could be more exciting, and, if that improves, there could at least be a better shot of us being in games late. With that, well, I suppose anything can happen. I just want to feel invested in the fourth quarter. That would be a start.

Jake P.: I’m excited to see what changes Chip Long has made to the offense, and which QB trots out to start game one. I’m also excited for the Jackets to visit Chapel Hill, that game should be fun.

Hello guys,

Hope all is well. I’m doing ok, but things have been crazy out there. Werewolves out on the hunt during the full moon, bearded men rising from the dead after being dead for 3 days, the Hawks making it to the playoffs again... yeah things were pretty weird over the past weekend. Still we got back together with family and had celebrations so I guess things were fine enough.

This week my question is regarding celebrations by sports athletes. I got to see Trae waving good by to the Cleveland crowd again this past weekend (although things do not seem to be going as well against Miami). It’s fun when you get to see athletes on your teams doing crazy celebrations for a goal or a win... less so when its the opposing team you are playing. My question is are there any sports celebrations from the past that really stand out in your mind as being amazing?

I may have asked this at some point in the past, but I don’t remember or care so answer the question. Later y’all.

-Werewolf Jesus (submitted via email)

Ben: The Lambeau Leap is always a classic and one of my favorites.

Logan: Whatever Hingle McCringleberry does in this video for a real answer I think soccer has the best celebrations... they just get so out of hand. I don’t have a specific favorite but I love them in general. Also a fan of a good bat flip.

Austin: Loved Sean Weatherspoon’s sack celebration.

Jake: I miss the Jose Alvarado air guitar. Heck, I really just miss Jose Alvarado.

Carter: Hadn’t thought about it in years, but Terrell Owens scoring, producing a Sharpie from his sock, and signing the football remains tops for me. I don’t even like Terrell Owens and it still never fails to brighten my day when I remember it.