For the GHSA's Class A football programs, making the playoffs is akin to solving a mathematical equation.
X number of wins = bonus points. Bonus points build up the team's power rating. The final power ratings determine the great majority of playoff spots for both the private school and public school brackets, each of which has 24 teams.
For the coaches in what has traditionally been Georgia's most competitive Class A league, Region 6-A, the key to getting to the postseason is really much more simple.
"Just win games, and the rest will take care of itself," Trion coach Justin Brown explained. "This region normally puts over half its teams in the playoffs, so it's tough, but if you do what you're supposed to do on the field, the system works."
Only one of the subdivided league's 15 schools, the region champion, is guaranteed a playoff spot. The rest are left to build strong résumés based on wins, with victories over higher-classification teams earning bonus points. Every team is also awarded points for each win a defeated opponent manages.
As Brown said, it still boils down to winning. The big difference is a Class A team's nonregion schedule is often just as important — and in a few cases more important — than region games.
Take Christian Heritage, for instance. The Lions play one Class AAAA school and two Class AAA schools before starting region play this year. Win those games, and the team can play .500 ball or even go 3-4 and make the private school playoffs due to bonus points.
Those games with bigger schools, though, can often carry a heavy price tag for the smaller schools.
"We hit the midpoint of our season last year and got some kids hurt playing those bigger schools, and suddenly we were staring at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 in the state in region play," said Christian Heritage second-year coach Jay Poag, whose team returns only six starters. "But that's our region. It's what's in front of us, and hopefully we'll grow from it."
In the "A" subregion, the consensus favorite is Darlington, which overcame a slow start last year to roll through league play and reached the state quarterfinals. There are, however, several holes to fill for the Tigers, including at quarterback.
Last year's No. 2 team, Mt. Zion-Carroll, graduated 20 seniors. Bowdon returns a strong group of playmakers, while Trion is expected, behind three-year starting quarterback Jarret Gill, to improve on its six-win 2016 season.
"Darlington is always going to be strong and well-coached," Brown said. "Mt. Zion is going to be down from where they were the past couple of years, but Bowdon will be tough.
"One positive for us this year is we don't have to make that Carroll County tour. Last year we had to go to Bremen, Bowdon and Mt. Zion. That should make a big difference."
Gordon Lee, which lost four of its final five games after a strong start last year, hopes to join the postseason party.
"Darlington should be the team to beat, and I think Trion will be mixed in there with them," Gordon Lee coach Greg Ellis said. "Our whole deal is we have to grow up. We have a lot of good young kids. Four weeks from now, when we start for real, hopefully they have grown up a bit."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.
Subregion 6A-A Outlook
Team to beat: Darlington, a state quarterfinal team a year ago, is the heavy favorite. The Tigers have the region’s best player in RB/DB Tijai Whatley, who is committed to Georgia Tech.
Watch out for: Trion has the region’s top QB in senior Jarret Gill and enough playmakers around him to be dangerous.
Best game: The state’s longest-running rivalry is again the marquee game. Gordon Lee hosts Trion on Oct. 27, and the fact the Bulldogs have owned the Trojans lately will only raise the intensity level at Billy Neil Ellis Stadium.
Dream schedule: Gordon Lee has a very favorable first month with nonregion games against Dade County, LaFayette and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. The Trojans also get to host Trion, part of an October schedule that has no road games.
Nightmare schedule: Christian Heritage opens the season against 2016 Class AAA playoff team North Murray, six-win AAA team Murray County and AAAA’s Southeast Whitfield, a stretch last season that did not go well. The Lions also have to play at Gordon Lee and end with Darlington and Mt. Zion-Carroll.
Players to watch: Darlington’s Whatley (6-2, 195) is a physical runner who is also used extensively in the pass game, while DL Jacob Hunt (6-4, 260) and Elijah Bell (6-3, 290) can dominate in the trenches. Trion’s Gill (6-3, 195) is already the program’s career passing leader, while Gordon Lee RB Braden Jarvis (6-foot, 170) and 6-7 Christian Heritage WR Christian Koneman are among the league’s top playmakers.
Predicted order of finish: Darlington, Bowdon, Trion, Gordon Lee, Mt. Zion, Christian Heritage, North Cobb Christian.