The state playoffs begin Friday in the highest classification (and every other class, for that matter).
Here are 10 observations about the 32-team draw in Class AAAAAAA:
-The draw is fairly balanced overall. The top quarter has only two top-10 teams – No. 6 Tift County and No. 7 Brookwood – but Hillgrove and Milton are pretty good, too. That’s the weakest quarter, but it’s no easy road. Brookwood is probably the favorite to come out of there.
-The toughest quarter is the second one. It has four ranked teams – No. 2 Archer, No. 3 Walton, No. 8 Colquitt County and No. 10 Mill Creek. Note that Archer and Walton are 10-0. Colquitt County has won seven first-round road games since 1996, tied with Westminster for the most, and figures to win at Pebblebrook on Friday.
-No. 1-ranked Lowndes couldn’t ask for a better draw. The next-best team in that quarter, according to the Maxwell Ratings, is South Forsyth. Maxwell would make McEachern a 17-point favorite on a neutral field.
-The best chance at a significant upset is probably Mountain View at No. 9 South Forsyth. The Maxwell Ratings rank Mountain View as the best No. 4 seed. Mountain View finished tied with Mill Creek and Collins Hill for second in Region 6 got slid to No. 4 on tiebreakers.
-The second-most likely chance of a significant upset is probably Marietta at Region 2 champion Westlake. Marietta (6-4) finished fifth in Region 3 and got an at-large bid. These at-large bids aren’t a good deal for the region champion that has to play one. Westlake had to wait until Monday afternoon to know which team the GHSA would pick with its points system. That makes it harder to prepare. Westlake coach Kareem Reid spoke about it this week: ‘’I’m not afraid to play anybody, but I do think that’s a bit of a tough draw. A No. 1 seed earns the right to play a lower seed, but that No. 5 is usually the best 6-4 team in the state.’’ Now, on top of all that, Marietta might be getting back its star quarterback, Harrison Bailey, who has been out since before mid-season.
– In a sign that this is a transition year in Class AAAAAAA, Westlake was the only team in the highest classification repeated as a region champion. South Forsyth won in 2015. Hillgrove, North Gwinnett and Archer most recently won in 2014. Walton last won in 2011. Lowndes and Brookwood are region champions for the first time since 2010.
– Of the 32 teams in the playoffs, 25 made it last year. Meadowcreek (first playoff appearance since 1988) and Campbell (2006) are the most surprising of the seven newcomers. The others who missed last year are Marietta and North Forsyth (who last made it in 2013) and Walton, Newnan and Collins Hill (last time for each was 2015).
– East Coweta’s streak of 20 playoff appearances is over. That had been the longest in the highest class. That’s a remarkable streak considering that no other school in AAAAAAA had a streak even half that long. Only six schools in the highest class have current streaks of more than five seasons – Colquitt County and McEachern (nine apiece), Hillgrove and Norcross (eight apiece), North Cobb (seven) and Newton (six). Many top teams this year – Grayson, Lowndes, North Gwinnett, Brookwood – don’t have to think long about the last time they sat out the playoffs.
-Pebblebrook and Tift County are hosting playoff games for the first time since 2006. Woodstock has its first home playoff game since 2009. Parkview has its first since 2012.
-Looking ahead, there could be two really good second-round matchups. Those would/could be No. 5 North Gwinnett at No. 5 Grayson and No. 8 Colquitt County at No. 3 Walton. But they’ve got to win first.
Collins Hill at Milton
South Gwinnett at #7 Brookwood
Newnan at #6 Tift County
Roswell at Hillgrove
West Forsyth at #10 Mill Creek
Meadowcreek at #2 Archer
#8 Colquitt County at Pebblebrook
North Cobb at #3 Walton
Newton at Parkview
Mountain View at #9 South Forsyth
Etowah at McEachern
Campbell at #1 Lowndes
Norcross at #4 Grayson
North Forsyth at #5 North Gwinnett
North Paulding at Woodstock
Marietta at Westlake