The time has finally and officially arrived. No more preseason prognostications, and the Times Free Press's preview section was there with your paper this morning.
There are the rivalries that extend well beyond Baylor and McCallie or Marion County and South Pittsburg and the meetings of teams that haven't played each other in at least a decade, not to mention the intrastate power struggles like that of Riverdale and Ooltewah.
Teams will begin deciding which four from their respective regions will advance to the November playoffs.
So with hot dogs, popcorn and cool autumn evenings in mind, here's a list of suggestions on where to be each Friday leading up to those playoffs.
There's little question that Riverdale's trip to Ooltewah should draw a crowd. The visitors, ranked No. 4 in the Class 6A preseason poll, are loaded and should be the biggest challenge the Owls will face until their Sept. 18 home date with Rhea County.
There's always the possibility of seeing more than a football free-for-all when Walker Valley and Bradley Central play. They'll go at it tonight at Walker Valley in a game that was postponed from Thursday due to weather concerns. It's also Bradley offensive coordinator Keith Freeman's debut as a head coach. He's filling in this week and next for Damon Floyd, who agreed to a two-game suspension decree meted out by the TSSAA for an alleged recruiting violation.
In its season opener, Northwest Whitfield goes to Ringgold for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Ringgold's Tigers won 21-11 on the road last year, the teams' first meeting since 2007, when the Bruins had their biggest scoring spree of the year in a 54-22 victory. This one should serve as an indicator of where some of the northwest Georgia area's power will lie besides Calhoun and Dalton.
Friday, Aug. 28
Tim Daniels would downplay any special meaning, but the man who resurrected Red Bank football and who still teaches at the school returns to Tom Weathers Field to stand on the visitors' sideline with Baylor.
While Dalton plays at Calhoun in a Georgia nonregion battle of powers, another renewal takes place at Tyner when Notre Dame comes to visit.
Beyond Red Bank being the nearest public high school to Baylor, parents of the participants will remember the teams having some knockdown dragouts. Daniels had four seasons with at least 10 wins during his time leading the Lions (2002-11). The teams haven't played since 1993, a 7-6 Baylor win.
Two of the area's expected powers in their respective classifications, Tyner and Notre Dame last met in 1992 and, yes, Wayne Turner was Tyner's coach then, too. His Rams posted a 42-7 victory, avenging a 14-6 loss the previous year, his first as successor to Carey Henley. Notre Dame's coaches in those games were Jay Bass and Lamar Brown.
Friday, Sept. 4
In the first of several key Region 3-2A games, Marion County will play at Meigs County and there's no question that the outcome will play a major part in deciding the region championship. Both clubs return numerous starters from playoff teams and Marion County played well enough to reach the 2014 state championship game. The teams were annual competitors from 1997 to 2004, with Meigs holding a 5-3 advantage.
Friday, Sept. 11
There are no fewer than four rivalry games this night, from Cleveland at Bradley Central up I-75 to South Pittsburg at Marion County down I-24. Notre Dame drives to Knoxville Catholic, and, in the newbie of the quartet, East Hamilton crosses I-75 to play at Ooltewah.
Will there be a little extra spice in Cleveland on this particular Friday night? According to TSSAA sources, Cleveland and Bradley reported one another for alleged recruiting violations, costing one preseason scrimmages and both jamboree appearances. This will be Cleveland coach Scott Cummings' official introduction to the Cleveland-Bradley rivalry.
The parochial rivalry between Catholic and Notre Dame was resumed two years ago after an eight-year hiatus. Catholic has won two straight in the series, but last year's three-point win over Notre Dame was the Chattanooga Irish's last loss before a winning streak that ended in the state semifinals.
The South Pittsburg-Marion rivalry is the state's oldest, and last year's 48-6 victory ended an eight-year Marion County losing streak. The return of fiery Vic Grider to the Pirates' sideline should only add interest in the county battle between two teams that refuse to wear the same athletic outfitters' apparel.
Ooltewah clobbered the Hurricanes last year, but in 2013 East Hamilton avenged a regular-season loss and put the Owls out of the playoffs. Ooltewah, once directed by current Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood, leads the series 4-1.
Friday, Sept. 18
It will be a contrast in styles when Rhea County brings its physical wing-T brand of offense to Ooltewah for a huge Region 4-5A clash to take on the fast-paced Owls. Both teams are state-ranked already, and all preseason indications are that this will be two of the top teams in the area squaring off. It's a rematch of Rhea County's blowout win in the second round of last year's playoffs. Get there early because the stadium is sure to fill quickly.
Friday, Sept. 25
Rhea County school officials already have called off school this day because their Eagles will be traveling to Indianapolis to play Indiana power Cathedral in a game at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Colts. Many in Evensville, Dayton and Spring City already have booked their hotel rooms.
Coming off an important region game against Tyner the previous week, Boyd-Buchanan has another key region game, this one with 2014 2A state runner-up Marion County.
Across the state lines, Georgia playoff hopeful Ringgold travels to defending AAA state champion Calhoun in an important region game, and Alabama playoff probables North Jackson and Scottsboro play in Scottsboro.
Thursday, Oct. 1
Often regarded as the No. 3 of three high school football teams with Cleveland addresses,Walker Valley will host Cleveland after opening the season against Bradley Central. But in addition to being a region game, this could be for in-county bragging rights. Although they beat Bradley last year, the Mustangs lost to Cleveland, a team they've defeated just once since beginning play in 2006.
Friday, Oct. 2
Both McCallie and Baylor were ranked in the preseason, but that has little bearing on the local significance of this game.
Yeah, their students and boosters get along all right — until it's time for one of those always special nights. The traffic again will be heavy on Signal Mountain Road as a capacity crowd battles its way into Baylor's Heywood Stadium. McCallie won last year 35-9, ending a five-year Baylor run.
If you're not into the private school scene, there should be a dandy in Jasper — another pivotal Region 3-2A game — where Marion County will host Tyner.
Friday, Oct. 9
There are actually seven games — divided geographically across the region — worth special mention, including Central at Hixson, Cleveland at Rhea County and defending Division II-AA state champion Ensworth at McCallie.
For the first time in years, though, Whitwell enters the season ranked above county rival South Pittsburg. This one could be for the Region 3-1A championship. R.C. Helton has reinvented Whitwell football and Vic Grider has returned to put the fire back in a proud South Pittsburg program.
And another of the crucial Region 3-2A battles takes place at Boyd-Buchanan, with the Buccaneers hosting Meigs County.
In Georgia, Dalton is at home against down-the-freeway rival Rome. Over in Alabama, Fort Payne hosts Scottsboro.
Friday, Oct. 16
Folks on Signal Mountain believe payback is due after Notre Dame upended the Eagles in a big way last year, the first time in Signal's history that had happened. Notre Dame, a 2014 3A state semifinalist, is loaded again; the Eagles are battling low roster numbers as the season begins.
Pivotal region battles find East Hamilton at Central and Meigs County at Tyner.
Friday, Oct. 23
Another of the state's perennial powerhouses, Alcoa, will be in town to play at Red Bank, which bolstered its nonregion schedule this year with the likes of the defending state champion Tornadoes, Baylor and McCallie.
Livingston Academy and Hixson, now in the same region, met twice last year, Livingston winning in the postseason after losing to Hixson during the regular season.
McMinn Central, which lost to Notre Dame in the state quarterfinals last year, will visit the Irish in a game that should match two explosive offenses.
Friday, Oct. 30
The final night of Tennessee's regular season has McCallie at Brentwood Academy, perhaps with Division II-AA's top postseason seed on the line — that is, if McCallie survives a nine-week gauntlet that includes suburban Atlanta program Parkview, Blackman and a trip to Orlando to play nationally ranked Oxbridge Academy.
Another region title could be on the line when Red Bank, which joined 3-3A this year, plays at Notre Dame.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.