- Dallas Jackson, NationalHSFootball.com
It has been a steady climb for Georgia high school football, but one that has put the state squarely into the discussion for its place within the Big Five states for high school football.
The play at the top this season has been down — as evidenced by the placement of teams within the HSFB100 national rankings — but the depth may be stronger than ever. As the playoffs start, there is no doubt that the top two classes will produce one of the most unpredictable tournaments in the country.
While there are nationally relevant teams at the lower levels in Georgia — Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek in AAAA and Buford (Ga.) High in AAA — there does not appear to be much in the way of those teams from claiming titles in each class this year and this breakdown will focus on the highest two classes.
There is a very good argument to be made that every quadrant in this class is up for debate and that there are four nationally-relevant teams in each that could emerge when the dust settles.
In the first quadrant, there are discussion points for Kennesaw (Ga.) North Cobb, Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County, Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter and Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge.
One of those four will be eliminated Friday night when Lassiter and Peachtree Ridge lock up in the first round.
The potential second round battle between North Cobb and Colquitt County will likely determine which teams comes out of this quadrant and into the Final Four within the state.
Whichever teams exits the top half of the bracket will likely be taking on one of Lovejoy (Ga.) High, Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes, Marietta (Ga.) High or defending champion, Norcross.
The odds are that this will be a bracket that comes down to Norcross and Lovejoy, but at times this year both of those two teams looked lifeless. The least relevant game in the tournament may be happening here as Suwanee (Ga.) Lambert squares off with Snellville (Ga.) Brookwood in the first round. At 5-5, Brookwood is expected to win but all five of its losses this year have come to teams in the playoffs and all five wins have come against teams that failed to qualify.
Across the bracket are two more equally interesting quadrants.
The top half of the bracket may not have as many nationally known teams but there are four that could emerge as Valdosta (Ga.) High, Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern, Alpharetta (Ga.) High and Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill have all spent time being nationally relevant or nationally ranked.
None of the four favorites meet in the first round and so whichever is able to advance without injury could have the advantage next week when the group starts to knock each another around.
A similar arrangement is happening in the fourth quadrant as none of the four contenders see one another in the first game.
Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County, Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove, Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett have all been nationally ranked this year, while the lone unbeaten team in the bracket — Lawrenceville (Ga.) Archer — has yet to earn that same respect.
Camden County is expected to meet Hillgrove next week with Archer and North Gwinnett tangling as well and each winner is as good as a coin flip right now.
The road to Atlanta is a short one for many of the teams expected to contend, but figuring out which will be the team at the top of the pyramid is a tough choice to make.
The second largest class does play second fiddle in Georgia, but it is not by much.
The depth is just not on the same level across the board and the national rankings are currently only being given to Gainesville (Ga.) High — which will have its hands full to open the playoffs Friday night — and Tucker (Ga.) High.
The best game in the first round may be in the upper quadrant as Flowery Branch (Ga.) High takes on Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson.
Stephenson moved down from the highest classification in the last re-classifying and hopes to improve on its reputation as a one-and-done playoff program with a win to open the bracket. With teams like Dallas (Ga.) North Paulding and Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside also being in this fight for the final four, it will make for an interesting watch.
In the lower quadrant, there are three programs that are battling for the spot in the semi finals as well as national rankings.
All of Warner Robins (Ga.) High, Thomasville (Ga.) Thomas County Central, and Marietta (Ga.) Kell could come out of the bracket as the trio has combined to lose just three games all season. Kell may have the easier path as its second game is not against one of the others in the rotation and should advance to the quarterfinals with relative ease.
The opposite side of the bracket appears to have three teams that rise above the rest and may all be worthy of national rankings.
Warner Robins (Ga.) Northside, Tucker, and Gainesville may be the three best teams in the entire tournament, but only one can emerge to play for the championship.
Northside and Tucker figure to play in the quarterfinals if Northside is able to advance beyond Waycross (Ga.) Ware County.
Gainesville’s toughest test before the semifinals may come in the opening round as it will play Lithonia (Ga.) King. The rest of the bracket does not appear to be as much of a challenge and even King should be a win as it fell 60-34 two weeks prior to Tucker.
The results for this tournament appear to be a little more clear with Kell representing one side and either Gainesville or Tucker from the opposite side. If it is some combination of those three, the state final will be a treat to watch.