It will be a light first weekend of the high school football season for Class AAAAA, where only 17 of the 75 teams will be in action. Here are five questions that will be answered in the weeks ahead but deserve some consideration before the season kicks off:
Q: What will Deshaun Watson do for an encore?
A: Gainesville’s star quarterback already holds the state’s career records for passing yardage and passing touchdowns. In 2012, he threw for 4,024 yards and 50 touchdowns, rushed for 1,441 yards and 24 TDs, was the Class AAAAA player of the year and helped the Red Elephants win the first state championship in the program’s long, proud history. Then he helped the basketball team reach the state championship game, as well. It won’t be easy to duplicate those numbers in 2013, but it likely will be considered a disappointment if his team doesn’t repeat as state champion.
Q: Who will be the region champions?
A: According to the computer Maxwell Ratings, it will be Thomas County Central (1-AAAAA), Northside-Warner Robins (2-AAAAA), Ware County (3-AAAAA), Whitewater (4-AAAAA), East Paulding (5-AAAAA), Tucker (6-AAAAA), Kell (7-AAAAA) and Gainesville (8-AAAAA). It’s hard to argue with those choices. Six of those teams won region titles in 2012, but note that state champion Gainesville was not one of them as Flowery Branch took the Region 8 championship. Second-ranked Tucker might have the most difficult road, considering it has No. 3 Stephenson and No. 5 M.L. King standing in its way in Region 6.
Q: Can Harris County build on its surprising success in 2012?
A: The Tigers started the season 0-4 last year before a 37-31, three-overtime victory against Douglas County ignited an eight-game winning streak that produced the first region title and first playoff victory in school history. It was one of the biggest surprises of the season in AAAAA. Esaias Chapman, a 2,000-yard rusher last year, returns to lead the offense behind an experienced line, but there are some questions on defense. Another playoff berth out of six-team Region 1 is a good bet, but the battle for the region championship probably will come down to Thomas County Central and Bainbridge.
Q: Which new coach has the best chance of success this season?
A: That would be Cortez Allen, the new coach at M.L. King. Allen, who led Newton to one of its best three-year runs in more than two decades, inherits a Lions team that went 11-1 in 2012, losing to Allatoona 20-19 in the second round of the playoffs. The rugged Region 6 schedule that includes games against Southwest DeKalb, Mays, Stephenson, Tucker and Miller Grove might make repeating the 11-1 mark difficult. But a postseason berth is almost a certainty, and a deep postseason run isn’t out of the question.
Q: Which teams will be playing for the championship on the second weekend of December?
A: Gainesville vs. Northside-Warner Robins. Gainesville’s biggest hurdle likely will come in the semifinals, where it could meet the Region 6 champion, and that will be a challenge whether it’s Tucker, Stephenson or M.L. King. That leaves the door open for Northside on the other side of the bracket, although the Eagles could face the Region 6 runner-up in the third round. Northside has won 10 or more games for 15 consecutive seasons and is itching to get back to the championship game for the first time since 2009. But don’t count out the Region 6 teams.