41 teams that are exceeding preseason expectations

The Cass football team is off to a 5-0 start under first-year coach Steve Gates.

Credit: Randi Burleson

Credit: Randi Burleson

Six weeks of the regular season are complete, and six remain. Here are the five teams in each classification that have shown the most conspicuous improvements from 2019.

Class 7A

1. Brookwood: The Broncos are 13.8 points better than projected in preseason, according to the computer Maxwell Ratings. That’s the biggest jump of any team in 7A and the second-biggest statewide. A 5-6 finisher a year ago, Brookwood is 5-0 for the first time since 2005, during a state runner-up season. The Broncos are as high as No. 4 in the rankings for the first time since 2011, when they opened No. 1 after the 2010 championship season. Grayson and Parkview will be tests in region play.

2. Norcross: The Blue Devils, 6-6 a year ago, are 5-0 for the first time since 2016, and Maxwell has them 13.5 points better than projected, making them the third-most surprisingly good team statewide. They are favored to win their region, which would be the first since 2016, also the last time Norcross was ranked as high as its current No. 5.

3. Cherokee: The Warriors are 5-0 for the first time since 2007, with victories over Rome and Cartersville, the latter ending the state’s longest regular-season winning streak. Cherokee was 0-10 when its current seniors were freshmen. Maxwell rates Cherokee, Milton and Roswell about even in Region 5. Cherokee has never won a region title.

4. East Coweta: Last week’s victory over then-No. 7 Collins Hill put the Indians (5-1) in the top 10 for the first time since 2010. Their only loss is to No. 5 Norcross. East Coweta has been 15-19 over the past three seasons. They are slight favorites to win Region 2, according to Maxwell. It would be the Indians' first region title since 2001.

5. Newnan: The Cougars, which finished 6-5 the past two seasons, are 5-0 for the first time since 2009. They’ve beaten two ranked teams – Sandy Creek and Harris County – but from lower classifications, so their measuring sticks lie ahead. The Nov. 20 game with archrival East Coweta could be for the Region 2 title. It would be Newnan’s first since 2009.

Class 6A

1. Lovejoy: The Wildcats are 5-0 for the first time since 2011, and their Sept. 25 victory over then-No. 3 North Gwinnett of Class 7A was their first over a top-10 team since 2012. After a 6-4 season in 2019, Lovejoy is 13.1 points better than projected, according to Maxwell. Unranked in preseason, they are now No. 4 and favored to win Region 4 ahead of traditional powers Westlake and Tucker.

2. Douglas County: The Tigers are 5-0 for the first time since 2016, and they’re 11.6 points better than projected, according to Maxwell. Some saw this coming, as Douglas County was ranked No. 10 in preseason despite a 5-5 finish in 2019. The Tigers have a wealth of college prospects. Maxwell now rates them as the team to beat in Region 5 over Carrollton and Rome. It would be the program’s first region title since 2002.

3. River Ridge: The Knights had been 0-20 all-time against their county rivals. Now, under second-year coach Michael Collins, they’ve beaten Woodstock and Etowah for the first times each, and their 4-0 start is their best since 2011. Rated 11.2 points better than in preseason, River Ridge is in line for its first playoff berth since 2011.

4. Hughes: The Panthers, in steady decline the previous four seasons, bottomed out at 2-8 last season, but second-year coach Daniel Williams has them 4-0 for the first time since the school opened in 2009. They’re 9.4 points better than projected.

5. Richmond Hill: After a region title and state semifinal appearance in 2019, Richmond Hill was supposed to be good, but improving breakthrough seasons isn’t easy. Programmed to sniff that out, Maxwell ranked Richmond Hill only No. 14 in preseason. Now, the Wildcats are No. 4. The victory over Camden County, a 7A team, established Richmond Hill as the best team on the coast.

Class 5A

1. Cass: The Colonels are 12.3 points better than projected, making them the most surprisingly good team in 5A, according to Maxwell. They’re 5-0 for the first time since 2004 after going 8-32 over the previous four seasons.

2. Ware County: Ware is almost always good, but the Gators are 8.6 points better than expected, according to Maxwell. That’s the difference between being a lower-half top-10 team and the No. 1 team in the consensus No. 1 team in 5A. Ware, seeking its first state title, is 5-0 with victories over four top-10 teams.

3. Ola: The Mustangs – 5-0 for the first time in history – are 6.3 points better than expected, and they’ve advanced from No. 20 in preseason to No. 9. Picked to finish a distant fourth in Region 4, Ola now is projected to host a playoff game for the first time in history and is a co-favorite with Jones County for what could be the school’s first region title. Maxwell puts odds at 33.4 percent.

4. Calhoun: The Yellow Jackets finished as the 16th-best team in Class 3A last season, according to Maxwell. Now they’re No. 7 in 5A, suggesting 2019 was a fluke. That’s also a jump from No. 129 to No. 38 overall in the state as Calhoun resumes its traditional role of state contender.

5. Veterans: Despite the loss to Oconee County, Maxwell still views the Warhawks as the No. 4 team in 5A, up from No. 14 in preseason, and 8.4 points better than projected. They’ve gone from the No. 49 team in all classes in 2019 to No. 22, according to Maxwell.

Class 4A

1. Jefferson: The Dragons were Maxwell’s No. 3 Class 4A team in preseason, but they’re exceeding high expectations. Now No. 1, they’re rated 6.7 points better than projected, the biggest improvement in the class. Jefferson was the No. 186 team in all classes last year, per Maxwell. Now, Jefferson is No. 12.

2. Hardaway: The Golden Hawks (3-1) have jumped from No. 27 in preseason to No. 13 and could challenge Carver of Columbus in Region 2. It would be Hardaway’s first region title since 1984. The Hawks have a 39.8 percent chance of it, per Maxwell.

3. Northwest Whitfield: The Bruins are 4-0 for the first time since 2014, and they’ve moved up to No. 18 from No. 30 in Maxwell’s preseason rankings. Originally predicted to finish fifth in Region 7, they’re now rated behind only Cedartown in pursuit of their first region title since 2000.

4. Luella: The Lions, under new coach Craig Coleman, are 4-1, their best start since 2014, and projected to finish second in Region 5 after being pegged sixth in preseason. Luella has never won a region or hosted a playoff game. They haven’t had a winning season since 2008.

5. LaGrange: The Grangers (4-1) have equaled their victory total of the previous three seasons combined under first-year coach Matt Napier, the former Callaway coordinator. Maxwell projects LaGrange will make its first playoff appearance since 2014.

Class 3A

1. Cherokee Bluff: This Hall County school is in its third year, so improvement was expected, but the 5-0 start is impressive, and the Bears' first winning season and playoff appearance are near. The Bears are 9.0 points better than projected in preseason.

2. Appling County: The Pirates (4-0) have moved up from No. 17 in preseason to No. 7 in Maxwell’s rankings. They’re 7.0 points better than projected and given a 54.6 percent chance of winning their first region title since 2013.

3. Oconee County: One would expect the Class 4A runner-up to thrive in 3A, but it has been better than expected as the Warriors have beaten four top-10 teams, three from higher classes. They’re rated 8.1 points better than in preseason and No. 13 overall in the state, up from No. 56.

4. Franklin County: The Lions, 0-5 at this point last year, are 5-0 for the first time since 1983. A seven-win season would be the program’s best since 2000.

5. Crisp County: It’s hard to improve on a 2019 state runner-up finish, but the Cougars are 4-0 and rated 5.5 points higher than projected. The 2019 team was rated the 41st best team in all classes. The current team, allowing 3.5 points per game, is No. 25, playing like the best in school history.

Class 2A

1. Putnam County: The War Eagles, rated 12.9 points better than in preseason, are 5-0 for the first time since 1994 and almost assured of their first winning season since 2015. They’re Maxwell’s favorite to win Region. Their last region title was 2010.

2. Haralson County: The Rebels are 5-0, just as last season, but ranked for the first time since 1976. And it’s not just a result of dropping into Class 2A. Maxwell rated the 2019 Rebels, who finished 8-3, as the No. 212 overall team in the state. This season, Maxwell rates this Haralson team at No. 129.

3. Temple: The Tigers are 4-2, their losses coming against bigger schools. They’re 9.9 points better than in preseason and stand at No. 15 in Class 2A. They finished at No. 30 last year. Maxwell now rates Temple slightly ahead of traditionally strong Bremen and Heard County in Region 5, even though Temple has lost 19 straight to those teams dating to 2003.

4. Fitzgerald: The Purple Hurricane is always good, but the 2020 team has jumped from the No. 83 overall team in preseason to No. 40, and to No. 1 in Class 2A, after the program’s first 5-0 start since the 2015 2A runner-up team. Fitzgerald has beaten three top-10 opponents, including then-No. 6 Pierce County of 3A last week.

5. Fannin County: The Rebels are 4-0 for the first time since 1995. Maxwell doesn’t see Fannin as particularly stronger than in 2019, when the team went 6-5 in Class 3A. But Region 7-AA is lighter, and Maxwell gives Fannin a 26.7 percent chance of winning it. Fannin last won a region in 2007.

Class A Private

1. Fellowship Christian: Fellowship has sneaked up to No. 2 in Class A Private from No. 6, and to No. 66 overall from No. 137. That’s ahead of more widely celebrated Eagle’s Landing Christian and Prince Avenue Christian.

2. Pacelli: Dwight Jones, in his second season at this Columbus Catholic school, has the Vikings 4-0 for the first time since 2014. Pacelli is the most improved A Private team, according to Maxwell.

3. Christian Heritage: Christian Heritage has moved up to No. 6 from No. 15 since the preseason rankings. The Lions' only loss is to Fellowship. They’re Maxwell’s favorite to win Region 4.

4. Trinity Christian: Trinity lost only 17-10 at No. 1 Athens Academy and now is the No. 6 team in the consensus rankings. The Lions play Eagle’s Landing Christian this week.

5. North Cobb Christian: The Eagles were humbled two weeks ago by Fellowship, but the Maxwell Ratings are sold. They’re No. 7, up from No. 17 in preseason.

Class A Public

1. Wheeler County: This southeast Georgia team is the most improved in the state in any classification, according to the Maxwell Ratings, which show the Bulldogs as 18.7 points better than projected in preseason. They had 1-9 finishes each of the past two seasons but are 4-1 this year after a loss to Dublin Tuesday night. The team’s new coach is Thomas Smith, who won a Georgia Independent School Association championship at Robert Toombs Academy in 2013.

2. Metter: The Tigers are No. 1 for the first time since 1982. The move down to Class A helps, but Maxwell had them at No. 209 in all classes in preseason, and Metter is now No. 103.

3. Gordon Lee: The Trojans, under second-year coach Josh Groce, are 5-0 for the first time since 2002 and one win from their first winning season since 2006. They’re the highest-rated team in Region 6. Their last region title was 1978.

4. Washington-Wilkes: The Tigers have a new coach, Sid Fritts, and they’re 4-0 for the first time since 2013. They’re also up to No. 10 in the Maxwell Ratings from No. 26 in preseason.

5. Taylor County/Chattahoochee County: Both Region 5 teams are 4-0, Taylor for the first time since 2004, Chattahoochee for the first since 2009. Taylor has moved to No. 13 from No. 28 in the preseason rankings. Chattahoochee has gone No. 14 from No. 31 after beating Marion County for the first time since 2009. Neither was projected in preseason to make the playoffs.

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