I had hoped my chosen profession meant I was finished with math equations. But thanks to the TSSAA's new playoff format, I've found myself studying quadrants and ratios like a trigonometry student.
The only certainty is that the complete postseason brackets won't be known until next Saturday's draw. However, most of the top contenders are already settled, so it's never too early to size up our area teams' chances of bringing back state titles.
The toughest roads to Cookeville run through classes 6A and 2A. In 6A it's possible that there will be as many as nine state-ranked teams in the same 16-team eastern bracket with top-ranked Ooltewah, including perennial power and second-ranked Maryville. Five of those potential opponents have combined to win 23 state titles, while the Owls are looking to get past the semifinals for the first time.
The eastern portion of Class 2A also is top-heavy, including top-ranked and seven-time state champion Trousdale County. According to one TSSAA source, the Yellow Jackets appear to be in line to host throughout the playoffs.
To host through the quarterfinals, Boyd-Buchanan and Signal Mountain must win out and have opponents finish strong to improve their strengths of schedule.
In 3A, seven of the 16 teams that will make up the eastern portion of the bracket are state-ranked. Third-ranked Polk County is one of three unbeaten teams that would compete in that bracket, and there are three one-loss teams as well. The biggest concern for everyone in 3A is top-ranked Alcoa, which became the first program in state history to win five consecutive state titles last year.
The area team with the easiest bracket appears to be top-ranked South Pittsburg in 1A. If the Pirates win out, they will have a first-round bye and will host throughout the playoffs. Add to that, only one potential postseason opponent in the East bracket currently has more than six wins.
Top-ranked Red Bank in 4A also appears to be in good shape for the postseason. There are only three teams that will be in the eastern bracket with the Lions that currently have more than six wins.
Provided Red Bank does what's expected and beats first-year program East Hamilton tonight, the Lions officially will claim their fifth league title in the last six years.
Where Red Bank is now is a testament to standing behind a coach who struggles early at a new program. I don't hear nearly as many complaints about Tim Daniels from some Red Bank supporters who had called for his job after going a combined 3-17 his first two years at the helm.
Since then, Daniels is 56-13 with consecutive region titles from 2004-07. Wins over East Hamilton and Hixson next week would give the program its first undefeated regular season since its state championship in 2000.
* Several area teams are a win away from securing a wild-card berth in the playoffs, while there are a few others whose postseason hopes could be dashed by a loss tonight.
The East Ridge at Central matchup is basically an elimination game for a 4A spot. Other area teams in dire need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive include Marion County, which travels to Boyd-Buchanan; Whitwell, which is at Chattanooga Chrsitian; and Hixson, which is at Brainerd.
Both Lookout Valley and Copper Basin are still alive for a wild card in 1A. They meet tonight in Copperhill, but a loss won't eliminate either.
* The last remaining area district champion to be crowned will in 6-AAA, which will be determined next week by Ooltewah's game at McMinn County.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...