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Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

AA blog: Filling out our bracket

There's something about a bracket that just begs to be filled out. All those possibilities, combinations, potential matchups. I've never been able to resist.

So what you see above is my best shot at predicting the Class AA future. And before anybody gets their knickers in a twist, let's get this out of the way right from the start: I will be wrong. I'm always wrong. I've been filling out brackets for the NCAA tournaments for about 25 years and I don't think I've ever won a single pool. So, there's that.

For a more scientific take, here's the Maxwell Projections (note: UPDATED).

Best chances to win state

1. Greater Atlanta Christian

I've got the Spartans winning it all in a rematch of Week 1's down-to-the-wire win over Benedictine. The Spartans, who have been ranked No. 1 since the preseason, will have plenty of chances to fall before that point -- most notably in a possible showdown with No. 2 Vidalia in the quarterfinals -- but GAC looks like AA's most complete team to me. Highly touted prospects Micah Abernathy and Darius Slayton get most of the attention, but this is a team with many ways to beat  you: on the ground, through the air and with a defense that is equally tough against the run and the pass.

2. Fitzgerald

Do I think Fitzgerald is the second-best team in the state? No, I'm not willing to go that far. But I do think the Purple Hurricanes have perhaps the best combination of talent and opportunity. They likely won't face a top-10 team before the semifinals, and until then I don't see them facing a team that can slow down their running game (currently averaging 340 yards per game).

3. Vidalia

I actually think Vidalia might be the best team in the state, and if they can get past GAC, the Indians could be bringing home their first state title since 1969. But getting past GAC won't be easy, likewise Fitzgerald in the semifinals. Winning state championships is hard work.

4. Benedictine

To this point it looks like we've been ignoring the left side of the bracket. Be assured, that's not the case. It's just that the bottom left quadrant of the bracket is so brutal, it's hard to place great odds on any particular team surviving. Somebody of course will, and whoever does will have an excellent chance to win it all. My choice is Benedictine. Since the loss to Vidalia, there may not be a hotter team in the state. The Cadets averaged 65 points per game in their final three contests, including an average of 52 points in the first halves of those games. We already know Benedictine can play with the state's best. The Cadets' only two losses came against the top two teams in AA and by a total of 10 points. The fact that they lost shouldn't be discounted, but neither should the fact that they're only a couple of plays from being undefeated and the top-ranked team in AA.

5. Macon County

This is where it gets really tough. I think each of the top six teams are legitimate contenders for the state championship, but at least one of them isn't getting out of the second round. That's when we're likely to see Macon County and Lovett square off. I'm going with the hot hand. Macon County enters the playoffs on a high after earning the Region 4-AA title in cathartic fashion over three-time defending champ Lamar County. And I believe there's much to be said for peaking at the right time. I can't explain the Bulldogs' Week 1 loss to Americus-Sumter, but the only other strike against them is a 41-34 loss to Fitzgerald (see above). If RB/LB Roquan Smith becomes the story of this year's playoffs, I won't be surprised.

6. Lovett

Tough draw for the defending champs.  Assuming the Lions get past Bremen in the first round, they're looking at a possible run of Macon County, Benedictine and Brooks County just to get back to the dome. It could be done, but that's a tall order for any team.

7. Brooks County

If this were a ranking of teams most likely to reach the finals, Brooks would be higher. If it were a ranking of potential semifinalists, Brooks County would probably be No. 1 or 2. What hurts the Trojans in my estimation is the way they lost to Fitzgerald -- 57-29. Those 57 points allowed and that 28-point spread are the reasons why I think they're less likely than the other teams on this list to win it all.

Toughest calls of the first round

Wesleyan at Heard County

I've gone back and forth on this one since the bracket came out -- I had one version with Wesleyan in the quarterfinals, in fact. On one hand, I love what the Wolves have done defensively against the run, in particular shutting down B.E.S.T. Academy's Deshawn Waller, one of the best backs in AA. On the other hand, there's Duranta Dunson. Heard County's standout running back/safety is fully healthy and the Braves are playing their best football of the season. Ultimately I went with Heard County because I feel like Wesleyan is not best-suited to exploit the Braves defense, which has been their weakness over the last two years.

Model at Union County

A classic case of strength on strength. Union County is second in the state in scoring (41.7 points per game), Model is third in the state in scoring defense (9.2 points per game). I don't expect Model to be able to shut down the Panthers' passing game, but ultimately, I'm choosing the Blue Devils due largely to Nakyle Watkins. The bruising 215-pound senior averages over 120 rushing yards per game and should be able to help Model keep Union County's prolific offense on the sidelines.


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