Unless you're a paranoid high school football coach, it's never too early to begin looking ahead at playoff scenarios. And now that we've passed the halfway point of the 2011 prep season, a slew of tonight's games will help determine postseason positioning.
Just this week the TSSAA released its midseason look at possible playoff groupings, where teams are placed in quadrants based on location. Matchups in those quadrants will be determined by each team's record, and while postseason scenarios can and will change each week depending on Friday night results, there were a few interesting possibilities.
In Class 4A, third-ranked Signal Mountain and seventh-ranked Red Bank are projected to be in the same eight-team quadrant, while in 6A, Bradley Central is in a group with six of the eight currently state ranked.
Any area teams that are in the same 3A bracket at Christ Presbyterian Academy will face one of the state's stingiest defenses. The Lions have allowed just 28 points in their first give games, by far the fewest of any team in the state.
Here are the TSSAA's current playoff groupings as well as a breakdown of the implications of tonight's games on area districts:
Class 6A East/Middle: 10th-ranked Bradley Central (3-2), No. 2 Riverdale (6-0), No. 7 Siegel (5-1), No. 6 Blackman (5-1), No. 9 Oakland (4-2), No. 8 Farragut (4-1), McMinn County (3-2), Cookeville (4-2).
"Obviously we're not looking that far ahead, but there wouldn't be a good draw for anybody in that bracket," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said. "We'll look at it as a positive just to make the playoffs, but you'd have to run the gauntlet among that group. Wow. To have six of the eight teams in your bracket state-ranked, that would be tough."
5A East/Middle: Ooltewah (4-2), Cleveland (3-3), No. 7 Tullahoma (4-2), Shelbyville (5-1), Lenoir City (3-2), No. 2 Powell (6-0), Anderson County (3-3), Knoxville Catholic (2-3).
4A East: Notre Dame (4-2), second-ranked Greeneville (4-1), Hixson (3-2), Sullivan East (4-1), Sequoyah (3-2), Fulton (2-3), Carter (4-2), Gibbs (3-3).
4A East/Middle: Third-ranked Signal Mountain (5-1), No. 7 Red Bank (4-1), No. 8 Giles County (3-2), No. 10 Marshall County (4-1), Page (3-3), DeKalb County (5-1), Livingston Academy (4-1), Macon County (2-3).
3A East: Polk County (4-2), Meigs County (3-2), Sweetwater (3-3), No. 9 Kingston (5-1), Loudon (3-2), No. 7 Alcoa (3-3), No. 8 Austin-East (3-3), No. 4 CAK (5-1).
3A East/Middle: Sequatchie County (5-1), Bledsoe County (4-1), Upperman (3-3), No. 5 Smith County (6-0), Pearl-Cohn (3-3), No. 2 CPA (5-0), No. 10 Harpeth (5-0), Cheatham County (3-3).
2A East/Middle: Top-ranked Boyd-Buchanan (6-0), Silverdale Baptist (3-3), Watertown (5-0), Rockwood (3-3), No. 7 Friendship Christian (4-2), No. 2 Trousdale County (4-1).
1A East: Lookout Valley (3-3), Grace Academy (2-3), Copper Basin (2-4), No. 7 Coalfield (4-1), No. 9 Sunbright (3-2), No. 5 Greenback (6-0).
1A East/Middle: Third-ranked South Pittsburg (4-1), Gordonsville (3-2), No. 8 Eagleville (6-0), No. 6 Columbia Academy (4-0), Moore County (4-2), Huntland (2-3).
All but one of tonight's 18 games involving area Tennessee teams are district matchups, so much of the playoff picture will begin becoming clearer. Here are the implications of tonight's key games for each area district:
District 5-A: If Grace Academy beats Copper Basin tonight, Boyd-Buchanan will secure the district championship. Otherwise, the Buccaneers can win the title in their head-to-head game at Copper Basin in week 10. Also if Grace beats Copper Basin, it will set up a week 10 second-place showdown at Silverdale Baptist.
District 6-A: Two games tonight will wrap up the district standings. South Pittsburg clinches the title with a win over Whitwell, and the winner of the Marion County at Lookout Valley game will earn second.
District 5-AA: Polk County ends its season hosting Meigs County in what likely will determine first place. If Meigs were to beat Polk, the tiebreaker would go to overall record. From this point, Polk has by far the tougher schedule with Signal Mountain, South Pittsburg and a road game at Sequoyah, while Meigs plays at McMinn County but also has winless Cannon County and winless Tellico Plains, which each allows more than 42 points per game.
District 6-AA: As has been the case the last few years, this is not only the most jumbled district, but the playoff order likely won't be decided until after the final week of the regular season. Six of the eight teams are within one game of each another. Even Tyner (1-4) has five district games remaining and could still win it.
District 7-AA: Tonight's Bledsoe County game at Sequatchie County is huge for several reasons. If Sequatchie wins, it will set up a winner-take-all scenario when Signal Mountain visits Dunlap in week 10. A Bledsoe win would put the Warriors in great shape for at least a second-place finish, since they won't face an opponent with a winning record the rest of the season. Regardless of the outcome of this game, Signal Mountain remains the prohibitive favorite to claim a second straight district title, even after stepping up in classification.
District 5-AAA: Similar to 6-AA, there are no certainties in this district, other than the fact that winless Rhea County is eliminated. Bradley Central, Cleveland, McMinn County, Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy could all still win the league. Even Walker Valley, which is 0-5 overall, has lost just one district game.