Well, it’s that time of year again. The time ever high school football fan dreams of. The playoffs start this week.
Yeah, I know. We can’t believe it either. But the calendar doesn’t lie. Not usually, anyway. We’ve always been suspicious of Leap Years, ourselves.
But we digress …
So, we’ve been busy the past several days doing pretty much nothing but obsessing over the brackets, talking about all the games we want to see and trying to fill out a bracket that’s better than the one we did in March, when we picked the NCAA Tournament based upon which mascot would beat the other in a fistfight.
Of course, some teams have a tougher road than others on their way to the title, and we’re going to mix it up just a bit this week on The List. Instead of a straight top 10, we’ll be looking at the five toughest and five easiest playoff draws for top-10 teams.
5. Class AA No. 4 Fitzgerald
If it happens, it could be one of the best second-round matchups, with Fitzgerald traveling to No. 3 Vidalia. It would be nice for fans, but it doesn’t do much for the state title hopes of the Purple Hurricanes. And that’s only if they get by an eight-win Northeast Macon team that played playoff team Bleckley County tough last week. Get through all that, and No. 7 Jefferson likely awaits in the quarters.
4. Class AAAAAA No. 4 North Gwinnett
If the Bulldogs are going to make another deep playoff run, they’ll have earned it. No. 3 and former national No. 1 Grayson is likely to be their host in the second round, if they survive a first-round matchup with a Johns Creek team that’s won eight games by an average of nearly 20 points. If they get through that, they’ll likely be rewarded with a run-in with No. 7 Lovejoy or No. 6 Lowndes – and a possible long road trip – in the quarters.
3. Class AAAAA No. 8 Flowery Branch
Flowery Branch finished with eight straight wins after starting 0-2, but the bracket gods were unimpressed, sticking them on the same side of the bracket as No. 1 Northside-Warner Robins, No. 5 Tucker and former top-five team Thomas County Central. Heck, first-round opponent North Paulding isn’t even your typical No. 4 seed, winning seven games and scoring 37 or more points six times.
2. Class AAA No. 8 North Oconee
Ringgold doesn’t look too terribly difficult in the first round, but it goes downhill from there for the Titans. Don’t let Buford’s 7-3 record fool you. Two of those losses were forfeits of 63-0 and 61-0 wins. The only real loss was by four points to Class AAAAA Gainesville. This is still Buford, and the Wolves would probably play the Titans in the second round. If North Oconee gets by those two, No. 2 Carver-Columbus would probably await.
1. Class AAAA No. 5 Griffin
Griffin is one of three top-10 teams on its side of the bracket, and the Bears are staring at the toughest road of all of them. They’ll start with a seven-win Monroe team that’s won five of its last six. If they win, they’ll likely get to travel to No. 3 Burke County, who has won nine straight after dropping the opener. If they somehow survive that, they’ll probably get the pleasure of facing off with undefeated No. 1 Sandy Creek.
5. Class AAAAAA No. 5 Camden County
The Wildcats may have lost their undefeated record last week, but don’t let that fool you. This should be a simple walk to at least the quarters. They won’t face a team with more than six wins until then, when they’d be likely to see No. 2 Norcross, the only team that has beaten five AAAAAA playoff squads this season.
4. Class AA No. 6 Heard County
For Heard, there’s just one other long-time top-10 team lurking on its side of the bracket, as No. 9 GAC would be the likely second-round matchup. And it’s possible they could see newly minted No. 10 Screven County in the quarters, ranked for the first time in eight years. But outside that, this bracket is potentially there for the taking for the undefeated Braves, who are looking for their first semifinal appearance in school history.
3. Class AAAAA No. 7 Warner Robins
The toughest team on their side of the bracket is No. 4 Kell, but the Demons won’t see the Longhorns until the quarterfinals, if at all. Before that, they’ll get a Richmond Hill team that has played the second-easiest schedule in AAAAA. Then, if they win, it’ll be either Harris County or Northgate, neither of whom has won more than six.
2. Class AAAA No. 7 Cairo
Somebody was looking out for the Syrupmakers. The only other top-10 team on their side of the bracket is No. 9 Ridgeland, and even the Raiders are on the other half. They’ll see some solid teams before that in Riverdale and, if they win, either Mary Persons or Statesboro, but those games should be winnable. And a sixth straight quarterfinal appearance looks in the cards for Cairo.
1. Class AAA No. 5 Peach County
The Trojans spent all season at No. 1 until losing to No. 2 Carver-Columbus in their ninth game. Remember, though, this is still the team considered AAA’s best all season, and this bracket looks like a walk. First-round opponent Jefferson County is under .500. Barring a major upset, they’ll then see 5-5 Central Carrollton or a Pierce County team that’s only beaten two teams with a winning record. After that, North Hall could be all that would stand between them and the semifinals. Not a single ranked team in the bunch.
And now we want to know what you think. Who has the toughest and easiest path to the semifinals? Do you like to see your team have a clear road, or do you want it to be tested? Is there any chance Peach County doesn’t make its way through? Really? Let us know in the comments here or on Twitter at @ajcprepsports.