High school football: GSWA preseason football Poll Hits

dmitchell@ledger-enquirerAugust 20, 2013 

The first edition of the Georgia Sportswriters Association football poll (formerly the Associated Press poll) was released on Tuesday and there were very few surprises that I could think of.

There rarely ever are when you talk about a preseason poll, especially in high school with information about distant teams so hard to come by for voters. Most of what we know about a team is what we found out over the season’s four months last year.

Here’s what we do know:

Five of the six teams that finished last season No. 1 in the state open 2013 in the same position.

Norcross garnered all 13 first-place votes in Class AAAAAA, and Gainesville picked up 11 of 13 in AAAAA with one each to Stephenson and Northside-Warner Robins.

It feels like Sandy Creek has been No. 1 for forever. Not forever, but close—the Patriots have spent only two weeks out of the top spot since Dec. 14, 2010. They are a unanimous pick at the top of Class AAAA to open this season.

Buford, another team very comfortable at the top with five state championships in the past six years, got all 13 votes in Class AAA, and Eagle’s Landing was unanimous in Class A.

Only defending state champion Jefferson fell from its perch, dropping to No. 5 behind Calhoun, Greater Atlanta Christian, Lamar County and Brooks County in Class AA.

The cause of the Dragons’ tumble is likely the loss of coach T. McFerrin and quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who is now at N.C. State.

The rest is up to the teams. We’ll learn more as we go along this season and, as a result, will make more informed opinions the rest of the way.

With that in mind, this edition of the Hits and Misses will be different than the rest in that I will only point out a couple things I notice in each class rather than votes I take issue with.

Without further ado, here's a look at the full rankings, how I voted and where I think voters went astray. As always, chime in the comments or on Twitter @leprepsports

Class AAAAAA

1. Norcross (13) 0-0 130 1

2. Colquitt County 0-0 107 3

3. North Gwinnet 0-0 87 6

4. Lovejoy 0-0 69 2

5. Lowndes 0-0 64 NR

6. McEachern 0-0 63 NR

7. Camden County 0-0 53 5

8. North Cobb 0-0 52 4

9. Walton 0-0 19 NR

10. Mill Creek 0-0 15 7

(tie) Peachtree Ridge 0-0 15 NR

Others receiving votes: Grayson 14, Lassiter 12, Hillgrove 9, Valdosta 4, Brookwood 1, Wheeler 1.

How I voted:

1. Norcross

2. Lovejoy

3. Colquitt County

4. Camden County

5. North Gwinnett

6. McEachern

7. Lowndes

8. North Cobb

9. Lassiter

10. Grayson

Thoughts…

Grayson, which started last season No. 1 but finished a disappointing No. 8, falls just outside the inaugural rankings this year. Understandable, as it lost the nation’s top player Robert Nkemdiche. The rest is fairly straightforward, at least as far as which teams belong in the top 10. It would appear there is some disagreement about the top 8, however, as there is a vast dropoff in points after North Cobb at No. 8. The poll is mostly a list of the usual suspects, with the exception of Mill Creek. Mill Creek joined the top 10 after an impressive postseason run last year, finishing No. 7 in the season’s final poll.

Class AAAAA

1. Gainesville (11) 0-0 127 1

2. Northside-W.R. (1) 0-0 102 3

3. Stephenson (1) 0-0 89 7

(tie) Tucker 0-0 89 5

5. Thomas County Central 0-0 70 NR

6. Kell 0-0 57 8

7. M.L. King 0-0 56 9

8. Ware County 0-0 47 2

9. Flowery Branch 0-0 33 NR

(tie) Whitewater 0-0 33 4

Others receiving votes: Warner Robins 7, Allatoona 2, East Pauling 1, Harris County 1, Union Grove 1.

How I voted

1. Gainesville

2. Stephenson

3. Tucker

4. Ware County

5. M.L. King

6. Northside W.R.

7. Whitewater

8. Kell

9. Thomas County Central

10. Harris County

Thoughts…

I’ll devote my first thought to something of local interest: Harris County and Thomas County Central. I think a lot of voters consider the Tigers’ run at the end of last season to be somewhat fluky, for lack of a better term. I’m not one of them. I voted Thomas County Central ahead of Harris County, like every other voter, I assume. For me, though, it was only one spot. Here’s why: I come from the “show me” school of thought on polls. I want a team to show me it is that much better than another to warrant such a change in voting. The last we saw, Harris County beat Thomas County Central by six points in the de facto Region 1-AAAAA championship game at the end of the regular season last year. Harris County advanced to the state quarterfinals, while the latter was out in the second round. Thomas County Central may be the better team, but we haven’t seen anything to suggest Harris County hasn’t turned a corner. I don’t count its loss to Gainesville, because the Red Elephants did that to everyone in the playoffs.

Which brings me to my other thought: I’m a little surprised Gainesville isn’t a unanimous No. 1. Yes, it lost three games last season (by a combined eight points), but Gainesville as absolutely dominant on offense behind all-world quarterback Deshaun Watson (Clemson commit and Georgia record-holder for nearly every significant passing stat), scoring at least 40 points in 11 of 15 games and 60 or more in four. Watson is back, and that makes Gainesville the overwhelming favorite to repeat in my book.

Class AAAA

1. Sandy Creek (13) 0-0 130 1

2. Carrollton 0-0 109 8

3. Burke County 0-0 104 4

4. Marist 0-0 87 3

5. Cairo 0-0 77 10

6. Stockbridge 0-0 52 6

7. Griffin 0-0 50 NR

8. Monroe Area 0-0 40 5

9. Statesboro 0-0 24 6

10. Ridgeland 0-0 19 2

Others receiving votes: Westside-Macon 13, Monroe-Albany 6, Baldwin 2, Riverdale 2.

How I voted:

1. Sandy Creek

2. Carrollton

3. Burke County

4. Marist

5. Stockbridge

6. Monroe Area

7. Ridgeland

8. Cairo

9. Griffin

10. Monroe

Thoughts…

Another thought of local interest: Shaw coach Kyle Adkins likened Region 5-AAAA to the SEC of AAAA football in the state of Georgia. It’s a decent comparison, as Sandy Creek and Carrollton, both out of that region, top the rankings in the preseason poll. Both those teams are loaded and will, again, contend at the state level. There are some other good teams deeper in that region, too, though. Like Shaw, for example. Shaw went 6-4 last season to advance to the state playoffs. It didn’t get out of the first round, but it was in control against Monroe Area for much of the game. Notice that Monroe Area is No. 8 in these rankings. That’s just a sign of where this region is on a state scale.

Class AAA

1. Buford (13) 0-0 130 1

2. St. Pius X 0-0 99 2

3. Cartersville 0-0 84 3

4. Peach County 0-0 81 8

5. Carver-Columbus 0-0 79 7

6. Thomson 0-0 67 5

7. North Hall 0-0 58 4

8. Washington County 0-0 57 6

9. Blessed Trinity 0-0 32 9

10. North Oconee 0-0 13 10

Others receiving votes: Woodward Academy 7, Callaway 6, Elbert County 1, Pierce County 1.

How I voted:

1. Buford

2. St. Pius X

3. Carver-Columbus

4. Cartersville

5. Peach County

6. Washington County

7. Thomson

8. Blessed Trinity

9. North Hall

10. Woodward Academy

Thoughts…

Alright, so I’m putting a little more pressure on Carver in its region than some other guys. Peach County, which Carver defeated last season to win the region, gets the nod over the Tigers by two points. Not a big deal. We’re essentially saying they’re on an even playing field. That’s pretty accurate, I think. Still, I’m putting a good amount of stock into the Tigers simply because of the talent they can run out there, particularly on defense. The team is very experienced, the exception being the quarterback position (though that position my have the most potential). My bet is that this region race comes down, once again, to the game between those two teams. This year, it will be played in Columbus, and you can bet the Tiger faithful will be in full voice. Other thoughts: Buford. Do I need to say more? I know Carver fans hate to hear it, but until a team proves differently, the Wolves are the class of the class. Carver had its chance in the playoffs the past couple years and couldn’t knock them off. There’s at least a decent chance another opportunity will arrive.

Class AA

1. Calhoun (12) 0-0 129 2

2. GAC 0-0 100 5

3. Lamar County 0-0 95 3

4. Brooks County 0-0 86 6

5. Jefferson 0-0 78 1

6. Fitzgerald 0-0 76 4

7. Lovett 0-0 41 7

8. Cook 0-0 27 NR

9. Vidalia 0-0 22 9

10. Washington-Wilkes 0-0 16 NR

(tie) Westminster 0-0 16 NR

Others receiving votes: Heard County 14, Benedictine 7, Early County 6, Dublin 1

How I voted:

1. Calhoun

2. Greater Atlanta Christian

3. Lamar County

4. Brooks County

5. Heard County

6. Lovett

7. Fitzgerald

8. Westminster

9. Jefferson

10. Vidalia

Thoughts…

A couple thoughts: First, perhaps it’s because I spent time hearing coaches tell me how good they thought Heard County was, but I’m a little surprised that team isn’t in the top 10. I put it at No. 5, which accounts for more than a third of their total points in the poll. I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think the team finds its way into the rankings sooner rather than later. The other thought is more an admission of guilt: I did break my own rule in dropping Jefferson all the way to No. 9 after winning a state championship last season. My reasons are pretty clear, though, and I stand by them. I just don’t know enough about the team yet to be able to say which direction it will go.

Class A

1. Eagle's Landing Christian (13) 0-0 130 1

2. Prince Avenue Christian 0-0 91 3

3. Lincoln County 0-0 87 6

4. George Walton 0-0 74 7

5. Emanuel County Institute 0-0 66 2

6. Wilcox County 0-0 65 4

7. Savannah Christian 0-0 39 NR

8. Dooly County 0-0 36 5

9. Wilkinson County 0-0 34 10

10. Irwin County 0-0 27 NR

Others receiving votes: Landmark Christian 12, Darlington 9, Clinch County 7, Calvary Day 5, First Presbyterian Day 5, Miller County 3, Charlton County 2, Seminole County 2, Walker School 1.

How I voted:

1. Eagle’s Landing Christian

2. Emanuel County Institute

3. Prince Avenue Christian

4. Lincoln County

5. Dooly County

6. Wilcox County

7. George Walton Academy

8. Athens Academy

9. Wilkinson County

10. Savannah Christian

Thoughts…

There’s really not a ton to say about Class A right now. The poll is basically what I expected, at least as far as which teams would be included in the top 10. One thing to note is that the two teams represented in the public Class A state championship—Emanuel County Institute and Dooly County—are ranked fifth and eighth, respectively. The latter is a team that barely defeated Brookstone last season. Brookstone, however, went down in the first round of the private half of the playoffs. Bad week for the Cougars or a lucky streak for Dooly? Perhaps, but this at least shows you the strength of the private schools in Class A right now. Hence the reason Eagle’s Landing Christian and Prince Avenue Christian sit atop the poll.

Who do you think should be ranked? Where did I mess up? Any other teams in the area that deserve more attention? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @leprepsports, and come back each week to see the new polls.

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