Team on the rise: The Dade County juniors and seniors have been playing football together since middle school. The players know the system and know each other. The Wolverines went 7-4 last year but lost in the first round of the state playoffs.
Team on the decline: Model had almost everything going its way through its first eight games last season with seven wins. But the Blue Devils went into a tailspin and lost their last three games by a combined score of 74-22.
Toughest schedule: Dade County plays neighboring rival North Sand Mountain and a North Carolina playoff team in Robbinsville and goes up two classifications to play at Ridgeland in an old rivalry game and against Northwest Whitfield.
Dream schedule: Armuchee opens its season with home games against Class A schools Fellowship Christian and Trion. And in the region, it faces Darlington at home.
Players to watch: Darlington senior linebacker Robert Muschamp (nephew of Florida coach Will Muschamp) was named to the preseason all-state team by Georgia High School Football Daily. Darlington senior running back Trayvon Thomas has committed to Auburn after suffering a knee injury in his sophomore year. Dade County offensive lineman Reid Hulgan has received several FBS scholarship offers, including from Alabama-Birmingham. Gordon Lee's Caleb O'Neal is a small-college prospect, and Chattooga quarterback Isaac Foster also may play college football.
Predicted order of finish: Calhoun moving up to AAA guarantees a new champion. Darlington and Dade County are the likely top contenders, followed by Coosa, Model, Chattooga, Gordon Lee and Armuchee.
The football teams in Georgia's Region 7-AA will not be stung by the Yellow Jackets this year.
Calhoun moved up to Region 6-AAA after a decade of dominating Class AA schools in Region 6 and then Region 7B.
That opens the door for a new champion to emerge for the first time since 2006, when Hal Lamb's Yellow Jackets joined the region.
"I think it's going to be nice this year because it's more of a level playing field," said Dade County coach Bradley Warren. "The classifications this time make it a little more equal."
Dade's Wolverines played the Yellow Jackets twice in recent seasons to determine the region champion. Calhoun won both times. The last three meetings were 42-7, 50-14 and 38-0 Calhoun victories.
Calhoun has been so dominant that it won a region championship every year of this century.
"They do a great job, but there's no way they were a AA school," Warren said. "The bad part is that you always want to play good competition. I'd like to play them this year to see where we are."
Calhoun, Pepperell and Murray County all moved up in classification. Darlington and Gordon Lee joined the region from Class A.
"Murray County is rebuilding, so we lose a program that struggled," Warren said. "Pepperell has been a powerhouse in the Rome area for many years."
But it's gone.
The change could help Gordon Lee.
"It's a great situation for us with shorter travel, and playing old rivals," Trojans coach Charlie Wiggins said. "We have an opportunity to have better crowds from visiting opponents."
Darlington, and maybe even Gordon Lee, can challenge for a title in a region where there is no defending champion. Chattooga, with its young talent, could be a contender, too, with 14 returning starters under new coach Charles Hammon.
"A lot of the traditional teams are still in the region," Warren said. "Darlington has a good program and Gordon Lee is an old rival of ours. It should be an interesting year."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.