If this is a rebuilding year for defending champion Marietta, the Blue Devils’ 2020 schedule doesn’t reflect any trepidation. Marietta might be the underdog in its first five football games this fall.
Below is a subjective ranking of the 10-toughest football schedules in Class AAAAAAA.
1. Marietta: The 2019 state-championship team was among the most talented in Georgia history. But seven seniors who signed with major Division 1 programs are graduating. They’re going places such as LSU (tight end Arik Gilbert and defensive end B.J. Ojulari) and Tennessee (quarterback Harrison Bailey). The rising senior class won’t be nearly so good. Nobody’s rising senior class will be. Yet Marietta’s non-region five games include four likely top-10 preseason teams (Parkview, Colquitt County, Camden County and McEachern) and an out-of-state opponent, Armwood of Florida, that made its semifinals last season. The region schedule isn't too bad, but Harrison is the 2019 Class AAAAAA champion, and Hillgrove, North Cobb and Walton are common visitors in the top 10, as well.
2. McEachern: If the Indians enter October with a .500 record through six games, they’ll be pleased whether they admit it or not. North Gwinnett and Grayson probably will be preseason top-five teams. Marietta is the defending state champion. Hillgrove is McEachern’s arch-rival in a series that is 5-5. And then, in Game 6, McEachern travels to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to play St. Thomas Aquinas, Florida’s reigning Class 7A champion and a 2020 national-championship contender. McEachern’s Region 2 isn’t particularly strong, however, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
3. Lowndes: A third 10-0 regular season in four seasons is probably too optimistic, though the Vikings bring back quite a bit of talent. The class runner-up in 2019, Lowndes faces Alabama power Hoover in the Corky Kell Classic, plus AAAAAA perennials Lee County and Valdosta. Colquitt County and Camden County are part of the Region 1 schedule.
4. Mill Creek: The Hawks are taking on what are probably Gwinnett County’s three best teams – Grayson, Parkview and North Gwinnett. No other school is braving that. North Gwinnett is a Region 8 game that could decide a championship. Dacula and improving Norcross also pose a threat.
5. Parkview: The Parkview-Grayson game Oct. 16 should be for the Region 4 title, but Parkview will warm up with North Gwinnett, Marietta, Mill Creek and Tucker. Parkview coach Eric Godfree also has scheduled his former school, Loganville.
6. Camden County: For the past four seasons, Region 1 had four teams, and only three were guaranteed playoff berths, so Camden was careful not to overschedule outside of region play for fear that would work against a fourth-place team looking to win a wild card berth. Now, all four Region 1 teams will qualify, giving Camden the green light to schedule the likes of Marietta, Coffee and Warner Robins. The region schedule includes Lowndes and Colquitt County again.
7. Archer: Archer’s four non-region games offer no let up – Dacula, Warner Robins, Grayson, North Gwinnett, with three of those on the road. What keeps this schedule ranked low is the relatively softness of Region 7, which is out of the Tigers’ control.
8. Colquitt County: This might be the most fan-friendly schedule. Packers season-ticket holders will see Cedar Grove, Valdosta (and Rush Propst), Lowndes and Camden County visit Mack Tharpe Stadium. Colquitt opens at 2019 champion Marietta. This schedule would be rated higher if there were more road games, and if Northside of Warner Robins was its old self.
9. Grayson: The Rams are a potential No. 1-ranked team for preseason. And while this schedule is challenging, Grayson has a real shot to run the table, especially with the Region 4 showdown vs. Parkview at home on Oct. 16. Non-region opponents McEachern and Archer are likely top-10 preseason teams. Mill Creek might also be. Bryant, an Alabama team, is a level below those. Creekside and Stephenson are good lower-classification opponents, but Grayson should win those comfortably.
10. Brookwood: Grayson, Parkview and Dutch Fork represent the strongest trio of opponents that any team will face in 2020. Dutch Fork, ranked No. 9 nationally last season by MaxPreps, is South Carolina’s 2019 Class 5A champion. Brookwood has all three at home.
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