Winder-Barrow appears the favorite as Region 8 play begins

(Jason Getz / AJC)

Winder-Barrow appears to be the favorite in 8-AAAAAA, with its No. 8 ranking and perfect record.

Will it play out that way? We’ll begin to get some answers this weekend when region play begins with the Bulldoggs hosting Apalachee. The other four teams begin region play the following weekend.

Throw out Winder-Barrow’s 5-0 mark, and the rest of the region is just 7-17 through six weeks of the season. But that record was built against difficult schedules that likely hide the strengths of the other teams.

Dacula is 1-4, just as it was last season when it headed to region play. But the Falcons responded well in 2016, winning their final five games of the regular season to earn the region championship.

Lanier is 3-2 and hasn’t lost more than three games in a regular season since 2012. Gainesville has made 17 consecutive playoff appearances and won a state title in 2012. Habersham Central has shown it can put up points against anybody, and Apalachee has been competitive in several of its games.

We continue our Tuesday series examining the playoff outlooks for every Class AAAAAA team as region play kicks off with a preview of Region 8.

Here’s a closer look at each of the teams, broken down by playoff likelihood, in alphabetical order within each group:

Safest bets

*Dacula (1-4): The Falcons have played the most difficult schedule of any team in the region. They lost to four Class AAAAAAA teams (Central Gwinnett, Mill Creek, West Forsyth and Walton) that have a combined record of 16-4, and they beat a good Arabia Mountain team from AAAAA. If Dacula made it through the first half of the schedule healthy, it should be prepared for region play.

*Lanier (3-2): The Longhorns are 38-7 in regular-season games since the start of the 2013 season. The two losses this season have come against Class AAAAAAA South Gwinnett (17-3) and sixth-ranked Northside-Warner Robins (22-7). That gives Lanier the same 3-2 record mark it had at the halfway point last year, but the Longhorns went 4-1 in region play and finished as the runner-up.

*Winder-Barrow (5-0): The Bulldogs went 5-5 (2-3 in region play) last year but made it into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed for the third consecutive season. They’re looking for their first playoff victory since 1993, when they advanced to the semifinals. Winder-Barrow has had surprisingly close calls the past two weeks, winning 17-14 against Loganville and North Oconee, both of which are 1-4.

Close to the top

*Gainesville (1-3): The Red Elephants beat West Hall 20-0 in the opener but lost their next three to Alpharetta, Clarke Central and Jefferson by an average score of 35-8. And they have Marist this week. Still, the Red Elephants were just 2-2 at this point a year ago and made it into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. Look for Gainesville to turn it around in the second half and extend its playoff streak.

In the hunt

*Apalachee (1-4): The Wildcats haven’t made the playoffs since the 2009 team went 10-0 during the regular season and advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing to Griffin. Opening region play against Winder-Barrow, Dacula and Lanier in the first three games isn’t going to help. But in a six-team region, it only takes a couple of wins to make the playoffs, so Apalachee can’t be counted out.

*Habersham Central (1-4): The Raiders are the highest-scoring team in AAAAAA (averaging 44.2 points per game) but have just one victory to show for it. That’s because they have given up more points per game (43.0) than any team in the class that’s playing a region schedule. Habersham finished in fifth place last season and will need to find a way to stop somebody to make it in this year.

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Next week: Region 3-AAAAAA


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