Finally. No more passing leagues, scrimmages or jamborees. Just honest-to-goodness, bone-jarring, trash-talking Friday night football.
There are some things I know we'll see between the sweat-soaked season kickoff tonight and the teeth-chattering chill of state championship weekend.
* Every game involving Signal Mountain will carry with it a playoff atmosphere. There is no other local community more excited for the start of the season than Signal Mountain, and the fact the Eagles are talented and well-coached enough to be competitive with every team on their schedule will only add to the electricity surrounding the first-year varsity program.
* Soddy-Daisy will be the only team in the area with a player to pass for more than 2,000 yards and another to rush for more than 1,500. The offensive style remains the same under new head coach Kevin Orr, and with four seniors on the offensive line, senior quarterback Scott Parrott should approach the 2,600-plus yards he threw for last year and P.J. Hubbard has the potential to top 1,500 as a runner.
* Dalton will return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Although a 7-3 season is cause for celebration at many northwestern Georgia programs, the Catamounts backers aren't used to sitting at home in the postseason. It won't happen a second straight year.
* Despite having a new head coach and a sophomore starting quarterback, Cleveland not only will pull off one major upset this year but could equal its playoff win total this decade (2) with a deep postseason run.
* Ho-hum, North Jackson will claim its eighth Alabama Region 7-4A championship in the last nine years. Despite losing All-American linebacker Tana Patrick, who signed with Alabama, and 1,300-yard rusher A.J. Matthews, the Chiefs will continue to roll.
* Opposing defenders will get really tired of seeing Red Bank running back Keon Williams -- all 6-foot-1, 215 pounds of him -- barreling at them in the fourth quarter.
* Opposing offenses are going to be just as frustrated trying to keep Ooltewah defensive end Jacques Smith from wreaking havoc in their backfields. Smith said he is determined to increase his 13 sacks and 29 tackles for loss from last year because he was "embarrassed" that those numbers weren't as good as other top prospects in the nation.
* I think McCallie is vastly underrated and by the time the playoffs roll around could be the surprise team of Division II. There are some at Baylor who have accused me of favoring McCallie, but until they prove me wrong, I'm also sticking by my annual pick that the Blue Tornado's win streak will continue over the Red Raiders, reaching an incredible 12 years.
* A notable streak that I think will end, however, is Red Boiling Springs' run of futility. The Bulldogs enter the season having lost 61 consecutive games. That is by far the state's longest current losing streak; their last win came in the ninth week of the 2002 season. With a new head coach, Red Boiling Springs opens its season tonight at home against an Oakdale team that went 2-8 last season and follows that with another home game against Pickett County, which narrowly beat the Bulldogs 6-0 last year.
* By the time we reach Thanksgiving, the week of the state semifinals in Tennessee, I fully expect to see Ooltewah, Red Bank, Boyd-Buchanan and South Pittsburg still playing for the right to advance to Cookeville.