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.
Circa 2003-04, I was really into reading as much as I possibly could about college football and basketball history. If you can imagine this – and I’m sure it’ll shock anyone reading this – I particularly loved rating systems. I was obsessed with the BCS and with its interlocking parts – Sagarin, Billingsley, Howell, et al. For whatever reason, a certain group of schools grabbed my attention in 2004. They were all newcomers to I-A (now FBS) in football, and they were all from Florida.
Obviously, you know the first two by heart now: Florida Atlantic and Florida International. Both are commuter-ish schools near or in Miami that offer degrees of various repute and what might as well be coaching rebuilding programs. In both sports, the following coaches have taken their talents to (sorta close to) South Beach: Lane Kiffin, Butch Davis, Ron Turner (took Illinois to 2001 Sugar Bowl), Isiah Thomas, Mike Jarvis (mid/late-90s CBB guy that took St. John’s to the Elite Eight in 1999), etc. These are places you go to convince others you’re younger than you are.
The third of these was a total mystery, and still is: Florida A&M. For one season, and one only, they transitioned up from I-AA to I-A. They have a phenomenal all-time record of 567-274-23 (67%) in football, including six MEAC titles from 1990 to 2001 under head coach Billy Joe. (I implore you to read more about this here, from friend of the show Bill Connelly.) In basketball, I can remember them taking on Kentucky in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament. It would be Kentucky’s last win of that season.
Since that moment in time, Florida A&M serves as a historical oddity: the football program that died on impact in 2004, a basketball program that’s almost done the same, minus a play-in game loss in 2007 to Niagara. Largely, they operate of no consequence to anyone outside of Tallahassee, unless you know about the Marching 100, and I promised myself this wouldn’t be another post about marching bands. They do bring their basketball program to Knoxville this week. Unfortunately, they do not bring the marching band, or much notable history, with them.
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Hello! We’re in the next-to-last week of these projections. Analysis is limited, as I’m out of town at family Thanksgiving. Last week’s picks went 21-9 (70%), or one below the expected record of 22-8. Overall playoff record is now 160-38 (80.8%), which is solid and fine. Here are the games. (Remember, private schools are off this week.)
- (R3 #1) South Pittsburg 31 at (R2 #1) Greenback 26
- (R7 #1) Lake Co. 30 at (R6 #1) Huntingdon 33
- (R4 #2) Trousdale Co. 21 at (R2 #1) Meigs Co. 23
- (R7 #1) Peabody 32 at (R6 #3) Riverside 10
- (R3 #1) Loudon 17 at (R2 #1) Alcoa 30
- (R7 #3) Covington 16 at (R5 #1) Pearl-Cohn 29
- (R4 #2) Nolensville 17 at (R1 #1) Elizabethton 28
- (R7 #1) Haywood 29 at (R5 #1) Springfield 23
- (R3 #2) Knoxville West 26 at (R2 #2) Central 21 (7:00 PM ET, WVLT-TV)
- (R7 #2) Dyer Co. 24 at (R5 #3) Summit 30
- (R3 #1) Oakland 23 at (R2 #1) Maryville 34
- (R7 #1) Houston 24 at (R6 #2) Ravenwood 31
No new playoff odds on Twitter this week – I ended up being way too busy to get them done in image form, but they do exist. Regardless, you can…pretty easily figure out the projected title games. Next week’s title game analysis, obviously, will be much more robust, as I will not be traveling to three cities in two days.
Best of luck to all teams this week!
Chattanooga: a city in Tennessee. It is, indeed, a place you are allowed to reside. In all seriousness, it’s a solid little place: there’s minor league baseball, several quality food options, and a bunch of nice outdoor activities. Pound-for-pound, it’s one of the better mid-sized cities in the South. If I were not a nice man, I would say that they have minor league basketball and football, too, but that’s not very kind.
The Chattanooga Mocs basketball program has largely operated on the same treadmill for most of my life: never great, never bad, with one large outlier in the process. In 1997, Chattanooga was the best team in the Southern Conference and won the conference title, entering the NCAA Tournament at 22-10. They received a 14 seed, and in the minds of most, that was essentially it. That year, they’d draw 3 seed Georgia (yes, this used to be a thing) in the first round and were sizable underdogs. I’d imagine few bothered to even consider them for the upset; said Georgia team was one of the weakest 3 seeds ever, but you simply don’t pick a 14 seed to win.
All Chattanooga did was blow the doors off of Georgia for a half. At halftime, the Mocs led 46-31; they’d hold on for dear life in the second half, squeaking out a 73-70 victory. Realistically, that’s better than they could’ve expected to do. Surely, after a Round of 32 matchup with 6 seed Illinois, they’d be done. Instead, the Mocs demolished Illinois in the second half, winning 75-63. Now, out of nowhere, the Mocs were the talk of the nation – a 14 seed in the Sweet Sixteen for just the second time in NCAA Tournament history.
The dream would end soon, and they’d settle into the loop I mentioned previously. Since the end of their 1997 Sweet Sixteen loss to Providence, the Mocs have made the NCAA Tournament just three times, losing by double-digits in each matchup. They’ve finished outside of KenPom’s top 300 just once, but have never cracked his top 100 at season’s end. They’ve never lost fewer than three games in SoCon play, but – until Lamont Paris’ first year in 2017-18 – had never won fewer than five, either. They’re just…there. If nothing else, they provide a great opportunity to play college basketball and get a degree at a solid university. Life could be far worse.
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