Fall Guide - Atlanta's packed fall sports lineup

Stay warm with college football, basketball, NASCAR and more

The sports world in Atlanta is not as it once was. When you fire up the grill for that first weekend of pigskin, throw on your Braves cap for the season’s final home game, or pick up your case of Georgia Bulldog caviar, you’ll notice it as well.

You’re going to see future NFL Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez streaking down the middle of the field at the Georgia Dome on a skinny post, while Michael Vick runs around in another franchise’s colors. You may witness Bobby Cox getting ejected from Turner Field for the final time. And yes, you may even see someone with a can of caviar at your next tailgate. If so, please do us all a favor: Slap them in the face. That’s like wearing a tuxedo to a NASCAR race.

Fall is the finest of sports seasons in America, and for the first time in years, it could be an extra-special one in Atlanta. Here are the events not to miss (even if it means watching from a tailgate).

VIRGINIA TECH VS. ALABAMA (SEPT. 5) Why would two of the nation’s powerhouse programs give up a home game for a season kickoff event at the Georgia Dome? Well, it has nothing to do with free Chick-fil-A. It’s the recruiting. Frank Beamer and Nick Saban want your children. Metro Atlanta is rich in Division I talent, and both schools want it. Whether you’re throwing on a houndstooth hat or dressing up as a Hokie (whatever the hell that is) or just taking in the spectacle from the stands, your couch or a tailgate, the game should be one of the best nonconference matches all season. Not that we’re rooting for ’Bama, but we recommend going with the houndstooth: It’s the most pimptastic of all SEC football wear. www.gadome.com.

PEP BOYS AUTO 500 (SEPT. 6) When NASCAR’s Sprint Cup rolls through the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the race will actually mean something. It’s the next-to-last event before the Chase for the Cup. Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Stevey Steverson (we made that one up) and Carl Edwards will all be jockeying for a position in the final weeks to advance to NASCAR’s post-season tournament. Please note: If attending, standard-issue NASCAR wear includes cut-off jean shorts, a trucker hat, boots, and a shirt that says “The Rainbow Warrior Sucks, #3 Forever.” We’re serious. You don’t want to upset the regulars. www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.

MIAMI DOLPHINS VS. ATLANTA FALCONS (SEPT. 13) Expectations are mounting down at the Georgia Dome. While everyone predicts Atlanta will struggle on defense, the offense – led by reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Matt Ryan – should be one of the NFL’s best. Throw in Tony Gonzalez to an already talented mix, and they’re stacked. But so is the schedule. The Dolphins aren’t the season-opening cupcake Detroit was a year ago. www.gadome.com.

ROLLER DERBY SOUTH CENTRAL REGION TOURNAMENT (SEPT. 25-27) The Atlanta roller derby season is slowly wrapping up, but our very own Atlanta Rollergirls will host the Southern Fried Smackdown, the largest-ever roller derby event held in the South. What does that mean for you? It means more hot chicks on skates, more kicking of the ass, and more reasons to roll up into the Yaarab Shrine Center. Just don’t insult any of the girls by challenging their toughness: It’ll be like the bathroom scene from American History X, just with skates instead of prisoners. www.atlantarollergirls.com.

GEORGIA TECH VS. NORTH CAROLINA (SEPT. 26) The ACC has changed – drastically. Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson took the league by storm in 2008-09 with his wing-T offense, led by Heisman candidate Jonathan Dwyer. Will it work again in year two? We think so, and the rebuilt Tar Heels will be the first big test for Tech at home. We’re not sure how aerospace engineering majors tailgate, but we assume it involves using a protractor to cut limes and taking shots from pocket protectors. Drunk is drunk, though, right? ramblinwreck.cstv.com.

BRAVES VS. WASHINGTON NATIONALS (OCT. 1-4) We won’t be so bold as to predict that the Bravos will be in the hunt for a division title or wild card spot, but the Nationals series – Atlanta’s last of the year at home – could be the final one for Braves manager Bobby Cox. The man is the Yoda of skippers. You won’t find a more popular manager in the league, or a more iconic contemporary Atlanta sports figure. Cox may return for another run, but don’t take a chance on missing an epic goodbye. www.braves.com.

GEORGIA VS. LSU (OCT. 3) If you’re looking for a dose of Southern tailgating, this is your opportunity. LSU fans drink like every street in America is Bourbon Street. Who cares that this game will likely help decide a small portion of who wins the East or Western Divisions of the Southeastern Conference? Grab a case, some caviar and make the short drive to Athens. It’ll be the Dawgs’ best home game this season. www.georgiadogs.com.

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