Finally, after 16 weeks, we’ve made it. This weekend, the TSSAA high school football championships take place in Cookeville. I want to thank everyone who has read, shared, discussed, or noted in some fashion the work I’ve done with these this season. It was a huge leap of faith to assume anyone would be interested in a 342-team analytical preview of Tennessee high school football; it was an even bigger leap of faith to assume anyone would read a Week 7 preview of 100+ games. And yet: we made it. Thank you, everyone, for your support. I don’t know what this will look like in 2020 yet, but I’m hoping it’ll be even better.
There are nine games this week; there were 12 last week. The projections went 8-4 (66.7%) in said games, right along with the expectation. The playoff record is currently 168-42 (80%); the overall record is 1586-389 (80.3%). That’s a good year, and it somehow bested the King of Picks, Donovan Stewart, which I am fairly proud of. (However, Donovan has forgotten more about high school football than I will ever know, so listen to him more than me.)
In order of date and time, the games are listed below, with a short preview for each. All times listed are Central, so games start at 12 PM ET/11 AM CT, 4 PM ET/3 PM CT, and 8 PM ET/7 PM CT each day.
Thursday, December 5, 11 AM CT
- (W #3) University School of Jackson 22 vs. (W #2) Davidson Academy 21
Odds of USJ making final: 25.8%
Odds of Davidson Academy making final: 55.8%
Combined odds of this being eventual title game: 14.4%; third-most likely title game
These two schools have taken fun routes to get here. USJ demolished its first two Playoff opponents before drawing Nashville Christian in the semifinal round, a team they lost to 28-27 in the regular season. USJ jumped out to an early lead and never relented, getting into the title game with a 28-7 win. Davidson’s season can be divided neatly into Pre-Nashville Christian and Post-Nashville Christian. A home loss to Franklin Road in Week 1 parlayed itself into a tough road loss to Nashville Christian in Week 3 for an 0-2 start. Davidson is undefeated since, with their latest accomplishment being a relatively easy 27-10 win over Friendship in the semifinals. The system very slightly favors USJ, but Davidson beat USJ 21-12 in the regular season at home.
Thursday, December 5, 3 PM CT
- (W #1) Evangelical Christian 22 vs. (M #1) Christ Presbyterian Academy 20
Odds of Evangelical making final: 69.8%
Odds of CPA making final: 49.4%
Combined odds: 34.5%; most likely title game
No real surprise here as these have been the two best teams in II-AA for most of the season. Evangelical beat everyone but Houston on their schedule and only had serious struggles with Lausanne (21-14 win, regular season) and Battle Ground Academy (quarterfinal round) in the process. CPA, however, took the most challenging route possible to get here for their title defense. Losers of their first four games, it wasn’t until Region play started that they got rolling. When they did, it was over quickly: four Region games plus three Playoff games have resulted in a total margin of 229-63 in their seven wins. CPA lost to Evangelical 30-6 in Week 1, but a lot has changed for CPA since then.
Thursday, December 5, 7 PM CT
- (W #3) Montgomery Bell Academy 20 vs. (E #1) McCallie 22
Odds of MBA making final: 13.7%
Odds of McCallie making final: 58.1%
Combined odds: 8%; not in top five of most likely title games
MBA getting here feels like a surprise. None of their four losses this season were by more than eight points, but several of their wins – by scores of 17-14, 15-7, 10-7, 12-7 – were just as close. And yet: here they are. McCallie, meanwhile, has shaken off a two-loss streak to end the season and has looked the part of a title contender in their two Playoff games. It’s not quite the McCallie/Baylor showdown once promised, but this should be one of the three best title games of the weekend.
Friday, December 6, 11 AM CT
- (R7 #1) Lake Co. 32 vs. (R2 #1) Greenback 28
Odds of Lake Co. making final: 48.9%
Odds of Greenback making final: 24.7%
Combined odds: 12.1%; fourth-most likely title game
It shouldn’t be stunning that either of these teams are here; there were a clear top four teams in 1A this season, and both of these teams belonged to the pack. However, it was a bit surprising to see these two edge out their opponents in the fashion that they did. Lake County hasn’t been touched by anyone since Week 2 against Crockett County, but I expected Huntingdon to be a tougher opponent than they were; Lake won 30-20. Greenback continued their remarkable turnaround from an 0-2 start into a 12-0 run, beating the South Pittsburg team that battled Huntingdon for the #1 spot for the entire season in my ratings. Both teams score lots of points, and I’m hopeful that we get a shootout to start Friday.
Friday, December 6, 3 PM CT
- (R5 #1) Pearl-Cohn 20 vs. (R2 #1) Alcoa 24
Odds of Pearl-Cohn making final: 76%
Odds of Alcoa making final: 76.1%
Combined odds: 57.8%; most likely title game
Here’s another one the system nailed with ease. These were the two best teams in 3A from wire-to-wire, with the only battle being between which team ranked atop my weekly 3A poll. The system initially favored P-C by a tiny amount to start the playoffs, but Alcoa’s been more impressive in dispatching their overwhelmed opponents. P-C’s had a couple of strugglefests, and for that reason, it projects Alcoa to win its fifth straight 3A title. It’s the only remaining title streak above one right now.
Friday, December 6, 7 PM CT
- (R5 #3) Summit 23 vs. (R2 #2) Central 25
Odds of Summit making final: 3.6%
Odds of Central making final: 1.3%
Combined odds: 0.04%; not in top five, top ten, or top 20 most likely title games
This is the stunner of the year. Both schools enter the game 12-2, but Summit got demolished by Shelbyville late in the season and finished third in their own Region. Meanwhile, Central also got demolished by South-Doyle and lost their final game to Gibbs. This was after some lackluster outings against Fulton (13-12 win) and Hardin Valley (16-7) in a title defense that didn’t meet my expectations. Summit had to win three road games to get here. Central just had to win one, but it was a rematch with South-Doyle that they escaped with a 20-16 win. This wasn’t a final anyone saw coming, even if you were much higher on Central than I was. The nice thing about high school athletics is that it often provides us unexpected events that make little-to-no sense, yet are worth celebrating. Let’s enjoy the weirdness of either of these schools winning.
Saturday, December 7, 11 AM CT
- (R7 #1) Peabody 25 vs. (R2 #1) Meigs Co. 23
Odds of Peabody making final: 74.8%
Odds of Meigs Co. making final: 49.5%
Combined odds: 37%; most likely title game
No real surprise here, as, again, these were the two best teams in 2A for most of the season. Last year’s champion Peabody could reasonably not be here, though: after a season full of blowouts, they very nearly took a home loss in the quarterfinals to Fairley as a massive favorite…before Fairley’s quarterback threw an interception and fumbled a snap on a kneeldown in the final three minutes. Meigs suffered one loss all season, a 27-16 toughie to South Pittsburg, and mostly blew out the rest. It had to fight for a full 48 against Trousdale County last week, the third-best team in 2A, but managed to get here. Peabody obviously won last season and in 2014, but Meigs has never won; this is their first title game appearance since 1995. History may be in the making.
Saturday, December 7, 3 PM CT
- (R5 #1) Springfield 11 vs. (R1 #1) Elizabethton 35
Odds of Springfield making final: 4.4%
Odds of Elizabethton making final: 29.7%
Combined odds: 1.3%; not in top ten most likely title games
Elizabethton was the expected winner of the top half of the Class and comes out as the clear best team in 4A; when you beat Greeneville and demolish Nolensville, you’ve clearly earned that right. Springfield feels like such a random title game entrant, having gone 7-3 in the regular season with the fourth-best point differential in its own Region. And yet: they are massively clutch in close games. Springfield went 5-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season, including back-to-back overtime wins over Hardin Co. and Haywood to get here. They have a little bit of the Team of Destiny vibe, certainly. But Elizabethton feels clearly better, as would’ve any of the Big Three from East Tennessee.
Saturday, December 7, 7 PM CT
- (R6 #2) Ravenwood 25 at (R2 #1) Maryville 26
Odds of Ravenwood making final: 35.2%
Odds of Maryville making final: 42%
Combined odds: 14.8%; most likely title game
I’ve been hoping for this one ever since the system pinpointed Ravenwood as the best team in Regions 5-8 in this class in August. They struggled at times, certainly, but two resounding demolitions of Brentwood (34-6) and Houston (42-21) make them a clear, formidable foe for the almighty Maryville. The Rebels have been tested at times this year, but have passed every challenge: 17-3 over Alcoa, 35-24 over a surprisingly tough Farragut team, 12-0 over Oakland in the semifinal. Ravenwood’s path has been tougher, but I still give the very slight edge to Maryville.
Best of luck to all teams this week, and thank you to the fans of all 342 teams covered this year for a great season.