The biggest surprise of the high school football playoffs this year is that there are no surprises.
There has been a paucity of upsets and no real Cinderellas heading into the quarterfinals this week.
In the highest classification, seven of the top eight teams in the rankings won their second-round games Friday and advanced to the quarters. The one that didn’t, No. 5 Norcross, lost to one that did, No. 7 Lowndes, 57-21.
The only unranked team is Westlake, which has beaten two unranked teams at home, as one might expect of the Region 2-AAAAAAA champion.
“I think with more teams in the playoffs, it’s a little watered down to be honest,” said Roswell coach John Ford, whose 12-0 team beat Peachtree Ridge 29-12 on Friday. “In future years, will there be a regression to the mean? Probably. But there won’t be many 4/1 or 3/2 upsets anymore in AAAAAAA.”
The GHSA added a seventh classification this year. As recently as 2011, only five state championships were contested, and only 160 teams made the playoffs. Now there are eight state champions, including public and private divisions of Class A, and 240 playoff teams.
Friday’s second round was so predictable that the Maxwell Ratings, a computer model, picked 53 of 64 games correctly, and the misses were not off by much. The only teams that Maxwell favored by more than seven points that lost were Norcross (favored by nine) to Lowndes and Alexander (favored by 11) to Coffee.
In the second-highest class, the top five teams arrived to the elite eight. No. 6 Harrison was put out Friday by No. 4 Tucker. No. 8 Lee County was eliminated by No. 3 Mays.
The only unranked teams left are Stephenson, which has not faced a Top 10 team in the postseason, and Coffee, which beat No. 7 Alexander 42-34. Coffee has spent several weeks in the Top 10 and was the fourth seed from mighty 1-AAAAAA. That’s the region where Houston County failed to make the playoffs despite spending seven weeks ranked No. 1.
Other classes show similar patterns. All eight survivors in AAAAA are in the Top 10. Spalding (AAAA), Pierce County (AAA) and Chattooga (AA) are the only unranked teams in their classifications still playing, and all three advanced from the only quarters of their draws that did not have ranked teams.
The top eight seeds in the Class A private division all won Friday to reach their quarters.
All but two of the top eight advanced on the public side, but neither loss was a big upset.
Greene County, ranked No. 9 but seeded 14th, beat unranked but third-seeded Pelham. Unranked Irwin County beat fifth-ranked and fifth-seeded Mount Zion 34-17, but even that had a catch to it. Irwin was the state runner-up in 2014 and 2015.
Now, it’s the quarterfinals. For the first time, almost every ranked team will be facing a ranked opponent.
Said Ford, “I do think in the round of eight, all bets are off. We will have some great games.”
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