2019 Tennessee high school football playoff odds + analysis

This is a companion piece to what’s on Twitter today. A quick explainer:

  1. Remember that this is a loose guide to how the playoff may go. Because one team is 2% more likely to win the title does not necessarily mean they’d beat said team head-to-head. It just means they’ve got a slightly higher chance of winning five straight games. Please do not Tweet at me about this unless you’ve read the rest of the article.
  2. The analysis here is brief by nature. I don’t have the time or energy to discuss why one team is 2% more likely to win the title. That’s what the ratings have gathered after 11 weeks of football; considering they’ve nailed 80% of game predictions in all but one of the last seven weeks, they’re probably going to be accurate.
  3. These are not perfect ratings, and they fluctuate week-to-week. 14-to-18 year olds are…well, not the most consistent people on the planet. As such, it’s hard for them to churn out robotic, in-line-with-ranking performances weekly. What happens if a team wins by 20 more points than they were expected to? Well, they’ll likely get a small ratings bump. If a team that was supposed to win by 28 wins by 4? A small ratings decrease.
  4. Why is (insert team) not favored to beat (insert team)? They haven’t played anybody! (shrug)

1A

Favorites (20% or higher): South Pittsburg (35.1% to win 1A title), Lake County (28.4%), Huntingdon (28.3%)
Second-tier contenders (5% or higher): Greenback (7.1%)

Analysis: As much as high school football can be predictable, you can pretty easily outline the semifinals: South Pittsburg will travel to the Greenback/Oliver Springs winner, while Huntingdon will host Lake County. There’s an 88% chance of the first thing happening and an 87% chance of the second. Huntingdon would be favored because they’re at home. Greenback fans are a little dismayed at being underdogs to South Pittsburg, but I think it’s fair. Greenback lost to Meigs County 27-20; South Pittsburg beat Meigs, 27-16. Also, South Pitt and Greenback own the same number of Top 10000 wins on MaxPreps. Will it be a close game? Of course! Should South Pitt be the favorite right now? I think so.

2A

Favorites: Peabody (53.9% to win 2A), Meigs County (22.3%)
Second-tier contenders: Watertown (7%), Trousdale County (6.7%), Forrest (4.9%)
Darkhorses: Fairley (1.6%), Tyner Academy (1.1%), Hampton (1.1%)

Analysis: Again, looks fair. There’s one thing I feel pretty confident about: Peabody making the 2A title game. Other than that, there’s a lot of uncertainty. The system isn’t quite sure who’s better between a pair of excellent teams in Watertown and Trousdale County (it would favor Trousdale by about 2.5 points on a neutral field), and plenty of secondary contenders lurk in the shadows. Meanwhile, Meigs County has to beat either Hampton (#8 in my 2A ratings) or Oneida (#11) to get to a semifinal against any of Trousdale (#3), Watertown (#4), or Tyner (#6). Peabody, meanwhile, wouldn’t have to play anyone tougher than Forrest (#5) or Lewis Co. (#9) in the semifinals.

3A

Favorites: Pearl-Cohn (45.2% to win 3A), Alcoa (41.9%)
Second-tier contenders: Loudon (5.6%)
Darkhorses: Covington (2.8%), South Gibson (1.8%), Red Bank (1.1%)

Analysis: Predictably, this is the most controversial projection by a mile. Alcoa’s won four straight 3A titles; Pearl-Cohn hasn’t won one since 1997 and has only made the title game once since then. So why is Pearl-Cohn a tiny favorite? Let me offer the following four-step theory:

  1. Pearl-Cohn, not Alcoa, was in the slightly tougher region. Before your eyes hit the back of your head, consider this: in Region play, Pearl-Cohn had to beat East Nashville (#7 in 3A ratings) and Stratford (#10) to finish undefeated. Alcoa played Gatlinburg-Pittman (#11) and Austin-East (#12), but played no other 3A-2 competition tougher than Kingston (#21). Add in that Giles County (#15) was in Pearl-Cohn’s region, and it makes a little more sense.
  2. Alcoa’s non-region schedule was slightly tougher, but Pearl-Cohn’s was nothing to sneeze at. Pearl-Cohn owns the better best win (Montgomery Bell Academy versus Dobyns-Bennett) and three of the best four (Independence, Cane Ridge) before we get to Alcoa’s second-best win (Blackman). The bottom end of both schedules sucked, but it’s hard to find a public school schedule you can’t say that about. Alcoa’s only sin on the season was a two-touchdown loss to Maryville; if you removed that one game from their ratings, they would get about a 1-2 point bump…or enough to still make them co-favorites with Pearl-Cohn, if not about half-a-point favorites on a neutral field.
  3. Alcoa does have the better point differential on the season, but the ratings I use generally have a cutoff point of useful margin of victory, usually set in the 30s. In all honesty, it’s hard to say a team is truly better because they beat an overwhelmed opponent by 56 and not 42.
  4. Also, these two teams are just really good, possibly equally so. Pearl-Cohn allowed more than 15 points in a game once all season; Alcoa never allowed more than 17. I think they are perfectly acceptable co-favorites. The ratings favor Pearl-Cohn by 1.4 points on a neutral field, which translates to…a 53% chance of beating Alcoa. It is, quite literally, a coin flip. If the coin flip goes Alcoa’s way, it is not surprising in any meaningful sense. Same for Pearl-Cohn.

Anyway, focusing on the Alcoa/P-C issue makes it hard to talk about the others in this class, especially because said title game has a 58% chance of coming to fruition. In the 42% chance it doesn’t, here are the most likely culprits: Loudon, who has stunned everyone this year in becoming an East Tennessee force; Covington, who struggled for two weeks midseason and has mostly recovered; South Gibson, who has one loss all season by a single point in the Game of the Year (Haywood, 50-49).

4A

Favorites: Haywood (22.6%), Elizabethton (20.3%)
Second-tier contenders: Anderson Co. (11.8%), Greeneville (11.2%), Hardin Co. (10.6%), Livingston Academy (9.1%), Marshall Co. (8.4%)
Darkhorses: Crockett Co. (1.3%), Nolensville (1.3%), Tullahoma (1.2%), East Hamilton (1%)

Analysis: Meanwhile, this class could get stupid quickly. I’ve never seen seven teams at 8% or higher to win the title, and all of them have great arguments. Let me clarify each.

  1. Haywood: The Tomcats are #6 in my 4A ratings, which should immediately let you know that they would be underdogs to all of Greeneville, Elizabethton, Anderson County, Livingston Academy, and Marshall County on a neutral field. And yet: they’re the 4A favorite. Why? Because they have the easiest path to the semifinals, and finals, by far. Haywood would play no team rated higher than #11 Crockett County in 4A prior to the semifinals. Their toughest-possible 4A semifinal opponent is #7 Hardin County, who they’d be a ~2 point favorite on the road at. That is why Haywood is the 4A favorite. Also, they’re a good football team.
  2. Elizabethton: Betsy’s case makes more sense. They’re #2 in my ratings by 0.8 points behind Greeneville, a team they beat. Why is this the case? The ratings see a Betsy team that had to go 3-0 in one-score games to finish 10-0, including against a Greeneville team they trailed by 14 in the third quarter to. That generally doesn’t happen, and this is before it gets into the case of having to play either Greeneville or Anderson County (#3) in the quarterfinals before likely playing Livingston Academy (#4) or Marshall County (#5) in the semifinals. It is a brutal slate just to make the 4A title game.
  3. Anderson County: Same as Elizabethton, but with the added misfortune of almost certainly drawing Greeneville (#1) in the second round, followed by Elizabethton (#2) in the quarterfinals. If they beat both, crown them 4A champions on the field.
  4. Greeneville: Same as Elizabethton and Anderson County.
  5. Hardin County: Hardin County lost their first game to McNairy Central by 14 and then immediately took off. They’re 9-0 since, though three of the wins were by seven or fewer points. Hardin County’s path to the semifinals is relatively easy to chart: beat #30 Portland in the first round, either #12 Creek Wood or #13 Jackson North Side in the second, beat either #14 Springfield or #16 Lexington in the quarterfinals.
  6. Livingston Academy: #4 team in 4A, 10-0. This is a very good football team that has the misfortune of playing in the top half of the bracket. To make the title game, they have to go through #9 Nolensville in the second round, either #5 Marshall County or #8 Tullahoma in the quarterfinals, and then one of #1 Greeneville, #2 Elizabethton, or #3 Anderson County in the semifinals.
  7. Marshall County: Livingston Academy’s slate, but having to play #8 Tullahoma in the second round.

5A

Favorites: Powell (38%)
Second-tier contenders: Henry County (13.3%), South-Doyle (13%), Knoxville West (8.5%), Beech (6.5%), Tennessee (6.5%), Page (5.1%)
Darkhorses: Shelbyville Central (4.8%), Gallatin (2.1%)

Analysis: Powell went 10-0 against the toughest schedule in 5A by my ratings, so they’re the favorite. Behind them in odds is a Henry County team with a relatively easy semifinals path, a South-Doyle team that is either great (38-10 over Central, 61-7 over Grace) or terrible (7-3 loss to Seymour) that Powell beat, a Knoxville West team that Powell beat, a Beech squad that’s 10-0 with *three* wins by four points or less, a Tennessee High team that surprised everyone to go 9-1, and two Region 5 squads (Page and Shelbyville Central) that essentially played to a draw earlier in the season. Also, Gallatin is here. The most likely game is Powell/Henry County, but there’s just a 17% shot of it happening. Powell has to go through #2 Knoxville West and likely #3 South-Doyle just to make the 5A title game.

6A

Favorites: Maryville (28%), Oakland (25.3%)
Second-tier contenders: Ravenwood (17.5%), Houston (8.4%), Dobyns-Bennett (6.8%), Brentwood (6.3%), Whitehaven (6%)

Analysis: Correctly, everyone is awaiting a Maryville/Oakland rematch in the semifinals. However: this could theoretically not happen. Why? Consider Maryville likely has to travel to Dobyns-Bennett, an 8-2 football team that’s #6 in my ratings, for the quarterfinals. That’s fairly tough! Also, Oakland has to beat either Blackman (#10) or Hendersonville (#13)….okay, they’re just about a semifinals lock. But still: Maryville’s road is a little tougher than you’d think, though they’re #1 in my ratings over Oakland. Other teams involved: Ravenwood is a five-point favorite on a neutral field over anyone in the bottom half of the bracket, though even a quarterfinals appearance requires a win at #8 Cane Ridge. Houston will make the quarterfinals and so will Whitehaven, but only one of them can make the semifinals. Also, Brentwood is still here and would host Ravenwood in the quarterfinals.

II-A

Favorites: Nashville Christian (50.4%), Davidson Academy (22.1%)
Second-tier contenders: University School of Jackson (14.1%), Friendship Christian (9.9%)
Darkhorses: Columbia Academy (1.8%), Fayette Academy (1.2%)

Analysis: Not much of it is needed. Nashville Christian is the only undefeated school in II-A and is an eight-point favorite on a neutral field over every team in II-A, though they do have to play #3 USJ in the semifinals. Their most likely title game opponent would be #2 Davidson Academy, but they have to travel to #4 Friendship Christian to get there. I can’t say I really foresee any team below those four making the title game or winning it all, but high school football is a weird sport.

II-AA

Favorites: Evangelical Christian (52.8%), Christ Presbyterian Academy (20.2%)
Second-tier contenders: Grace Christian (7.8%), Franklin Road Academy (7.3%), Battle Ground Academy (5.6%)
Darkhorses: Lipscomb Academy (3.1%), Chattanooga Christian (1.7%)

Analysis: Pretty similar to II-A, actually. Evangelical has been the best team in II-AA for most of the season, but the real surprise is how well Christ Presbyterian has recovered from an 0-4 start. CPA has been lights-out for the second half of the season, and if you just included ratings from Week 5 onward, they’d be just a one-point underdog on a neural site against Evangelical. However, it’s not quite that simple: just to make the title game, CPA has to beat #7 Chattanooga Christian or #8 CAK, followed by a likely matchup against either #4 Grace Christian or #6 Lipscomb Academy. It’s a tough road made tougher by how close the competition has been in this class this year. CPA/Evangelical is the most likely title game, but Grace/Evangelical isn’t far behind.

II-AAA

Favorites: McCallie (32.7%), Baylor (27.8%)
Second-tier contenders: Memphis University (12.8%), Ensworth (10.8%), Briarcrest Christian (6.7%), Montgomery Bell Academy (5.6%)
Darkhorses: Knoxville Catholic (3%)

Analysis: Things were basically perfect for McCallie until two weeks ago, when they lost to Clearwater Academy International. That was followed by a surprising home loss to Ensworth, and now, McCallie looks like a different team in a bad way. There are zero off days in this insanely tough class; even their opening game against Christian Brothers will be difficult. McCallie gets to avoid Baylor, Memphis University, MBA, and Knoxville Catholic until the finals….which still means they have to go through Ensworth (#3 in II-AAA ratings) a second time or Briarcrest Christian (#6), who was undefeated until Week 11. This class is absolutely bonkers; any non-Christian Brothers winner really does seem realistic.

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