Buckle up, boys and girls. The playoffs are about to begin.
And for your benefit, I’ve compiled a rundown of all the action from each classification beginning with tonight.
An explanation of what you’ll find below:
Most of it is pretty self-explanatory. The best first-round matchup is the best first-round matchup, and the best potential matchup before the final is the best potential matchup before the final. Follow so far?
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For my favorites in each bracket, however, those are not consensus favorites. Those are the teams that I think are going to emerge from their respective regions into the semifinals. The darkhorses are not always teams flying under the radar. Sometimes it is a very good team that I simply didn’t pick to win. The opposite is also true: Sometimes it isn’t the team that I would give the second-best chance at emerging. It may be a team with a favorable schedule or an exceptional regular-season record but a weak regular-season schedule.
And, of course, “the pick” is who I think is going to win it all.
Got it? Are we ready for the playoffs? I know I am.
Without further ado, here’s a quick look at what’s ahead. And as always, please follow me on Twitter. I’ll have thoughts, updates and blogs throughout the playoffs.
NOTE: Class A public and private rundowns will be included in next week's blog, as they don't get started tonight.
Best first-round matchup: Lamar County vs. Cook
Lamar County is a team that has excelled on both sides of the ball throughout the regular season. At 9-0-1, it has completed four shutouts already this year. Cook, while lacking the undefeated record, has played a significantly harder schedule and has done well. It lost by six points to Fitzgerald, 14 to Brooks County and five to Early County. Can it get over the hump and turn those “respectable” losses into wins?
Best potential matchup (before finals): Calhoun vs. Brooks County
This is one of those unfortunate consequences of setting the brackets by region ahead of time, rather than by quality of teams. Calhoun and Brooks County are hands down the top two teams in Class AA, but, as a result of the bracket, must face each other in the quarterfinals, should both teams advance that far. That may be a de facto title game.
Hardest road (for No. 1): Calhoun
Another result of the scheduling is that Calhoun—the state’s top team—gets no benefit from its stellar regular season. After a fairly calm first round against Wesleyan, Calhoun would play the winner of Washington-Wilkes and Bowden before likely facing Brooks County. Not easy.
My favorites in each bracket: Vidalia, Greater Atlanta Christian, Calhoun, Lovett
Lovett is the biggest question mark (outside of Calhoun, as Brooks County could easily make it). It has four losses, but I think it may benefit from an easier road to make it to the semis. Plus, it is still a very solid football team.
Darkhorses in each bracket: Jefferson, Early County, Cook, Brooks County
I know, I know. Brooks County isn’t much of a darkhorse. But you heard my explanation, and you’ve read everything I just wrote. It could easily win this bracket.
The pick: Calhoun over Vidalia
Best first-round matchup: North Hall vs. Woodward Academy
Both teams have solid records, but we also don’t know a whole lot about what they will do at the state level here. North Hall has been very successful this season, but Woodward should prove to be a worthy first-round opponent. I think it’s a good matchup.
Best potential matchup (before final): Carver vs. Buford
Ah, yes. A rematch of last year’s state semifinal game, which was a knock-down, drag-out physical battle between two very good football teams. This year will be no different. I think Carver has the chops to win the game this time, and Buford lost nearly its entire defense (which was loaded last year). But Buford is Buford. There’s a reason it has played in five consecutive state title games. Can Carver end that run this year? Perhaps.
Hardest road (for No. 1): North Oconee
Poor North Oconee. A solid regular season only gets you so much, and what it’s gotten that team are potential dates with Buford in the second round, Carver in the quarterfinals and Thomson in the semis. Good luck with that.
My favorites in each bracket: Peach County, St. Pius X, Thomson, Buford
It’s about as tough a pick as I had to make. That Buford-Carver matchup is so close to me, that I think it could easily swing the other way. I just can’t ignore what Buford has been able to do over the past five years, though. I think it still has enough on defense and in the running game to sneak out a victory by the closest of margins.
Darkhorses in each bracket: Cedar Grove, White County, Washington County, North Hall
Now, these are some darkhorses. Cedar Grove won’t be given much of a chance against Buford, and for good reason. Buford is that solid. But the Saints have played Blessed Trinity and St. Pius X close this year and ran away against Woodward Academy. As Carver coach Dell McGee told me earlier this week, games are decided by just a couple of plays more often than not. If Cedar Grove can play it close, anything can happen.
The pick: Thomson over Peach County
Best first-round matchup: Griffin vs. Monroe
Griffin is 9-1. Monroe is 7-3 with losses to Cairo, Westover and Brooks County. The Brooks County loss was by just three points. Griffin is the favorite, and has a pretty decent resume itself. But this looks like a great matchup for the opening round.
Best potential matchup (before final): Sandy Creek vs. Burke County
Another joyous outcome from setting brackets by region ahead of time. I think Sandy Creek and Burke County may be the two favorites to win it all in Class AAAA. Instead, we get a potential quarterfinal matchup between the two. My money’s on Sandy Creek, as it has been all year, but this should be a heck of a game.
Hardest road (for No. 1): Burke County
Speaking of Burke County, how about its road to the championship? It gets Perry tonight, then would face the winner of Griffin and Monroe. That would set up a matchup with Sandy Creek for the right to play a host of solid teams in the semifinals.
My favorites in each bracket: Jonesboro, Sandy Creek, Ridgeland, Marist
Yeah, I’m going out on a limb a little here. I think Jonesboro, as a 3-seed, has more than enough to knock off Westside-Macon in the second round. Don’t get me wrong—Westside is great, but Jonesboro isn’t your run-of-the-mill third seed. It is 9-1 with its only loss coming to Griffin, 34-33. There are a handful of good teams in that region, but I think Jonesboro emerges from the fray. And Ridgeland could go either way. It hasn’t played a very difficult schedule since the first week of the season. But in that first week, it pushed Calhoun to the brink in a 42-35 loss. It could happen
Darkhorses in each bracket: Monroe Area, Griffin, Carrollton, Washington (Atlanta)
Three of those are teams we know are good. We’ve read their names all season long. Washington, however, is just a team that, if it gets through its first game with Ridgeland, could have a pretty beneficial schedule. Not easy, beneficial. Plus, it’s a solid team.
The pick: Sandy Creek over Marist
Best first-round matchup: Creekview vs. Tucker
We all know about Tucker. It spent most of its season battling with Northside-Warner Robins for No. 1. Creekview, we don’t know as well. It doesn’t have a ton of impressive wins or anything, but it is 9-1 with its only loss coming by four points to Kell. I think Tucker should be heavy favorites, but Creekview presents an interesting first-round matchup.
Best potential matchup (before final): Northside-Warner Robins vs. Tucker
Another quarterfinal featuring two of the top five teams in the state. The edge goes to Northside on this one, but I’m intrigued. The reason is that, despite the fact Tucker has dropped a couple of games now, these two teams were neck and neck for No. 1 in the rankings all year. Now, we can see them duke it out on the field. Just how the football gods intended it.
Hardest road (for No. 1): Flowery Branch
Flowery Branch has come on strong at the end of the season, snatching a region title away from rival Gainesville late in the final game. Still, though, it has a tough road ahead with North Paulding, the Creekview-Tucker winner and then Northside-Warner Robins in its bracket. Should it emerge from that, it could face one of the following: Ware County, East Paulding or Stephenson.
My favorites in each region: Northside-Warner Robins, Stephenson, MLK, Jr., Kell
I think Northside is the best team in any classification and fully expect it to make the semifinals. MLK, Jr., is a good bet in my opinion, as well. The other two are tough. Kell is the favorite in its region, but there are a handful of teams that could cause problems.
Darkhorses in each region: Tucker, East Paulding, Allatoona, Gainesville
One team that could mess up Kell’s plans is Gainesville, which hit a rough patch at the end of the regular season. I’m not sure Gainesville is better, but it has one of the top quarterbacks in the state under center in Deshaun Watson. Should he take over, as he did last year against Sandy Creek in the quarterfinals, Gainesville could easily take that game in the second round and march back to the semifinals.
The pick: Northside-WR over MLK, Jr.
Best first-round matchup: McEachern vs. Colquitt County
Now, we’re talking. No. 1 McEachern vs. No. 4 Colquitt County. Oh, but Colquitt just knocked off the state’s top team (Camden County). With three losses, I think Colquitt is overlooked at times. Don’t do that. It lost by two to North Gwinnett, by three to Lowndes and by two to Valdosta. It has wins over Thomas County Central, Lovejoy, Carver and Camden County. That’s a brutal schedule, folks, and Colquitt is that much better for it. Don’t be surprised to see that team make a run.
Best potential matchup (before final): Camden County vs. Colquitt County
How about a rematch of one of the season’s biggest upsets in the semifinals? Camden County could meet Colquitt County to settle what was left on the field in a 13-12 win for Colquitt in the regular season. Don’t you just love the playoffs?
Hardest road (for No. 1): Lovejoy
Lovejoy is one of the state’s top teams, though not on the level of a Camden County or Grayson, I don’t think. As it turns out, Lovejoy will have to really prove otherwise to have a shot at making it to the Georgia Dome. After a first-round matchup with Tri-Cities, Lovejoy could potentially face Lowndes in the second round, Grayson in the quarters and Lassiter in the semis. Yikes.
My favorites in each region: Grayson, Lassiter, Colquitt County, Camden County
I do, in fact, think Colquitt County emerges as a 4-seed for that rematch with Camden County. Which team comes out on top this time?...
Darkhorses in each region: Lowndes, Valdosta, Walton/Parkview winner, Norcross
Good luck finding a darkhorse in the truest sense of the word in Class AAAAAA. It’s loaded with great teams, and any one of these could contend deep into the playoffs. I particularly like the Walton/Parkview winner, because I believe that game could be a toss-up. Whichever team wins that could be in position to make a little noise.
The pick: Grayson over Camden County
There you have it. That’s about as thorough a look as I can give you right now. Be sure to come back by next week for an updated look at the playoffs, and, as always, follow me on Twitter @leprepsports for updates and thoughts throughout the playoffs.