Defending football champions size up repeat chances

Wesleyan appears to be in the best position of last year's five state champions to defend its title. The Wolves are 10-0 and have been ranked No. 1 in Class A since the preseason.

Many fans of the Norcross private school wonder if Wesleyan could compete with the much larger Gwinnett football programs surrounding it.

"I think we could give schools like Buford and North Gwinnett a good game," Wesleyan quarterback Conor Welton said earlier this year. "I think our starters match up well with anyone's starters. It would be very interesting in the later stages of the game to see how the depth plays out."

Here is a quick look on the other four defending champions:

Camden County (AAAAA): The Wildcats (8-2) are one of the biggest dark horses in the state's largest division. How good is Camden County? No one really knows. They began the season with the No. 1 ranking, but then made some costly mistakes in a season-opening 14-10 loss to the current No. 1, Grayson. Camden split its next two games, including an impressive 30-24 win over Florida's First Coast before cruising -- as it always does -- through easy competition in Region 3-AAAAA. We'll get to find out the real deal about the Wildcats in the second-round match vs. Lowndes. Friday's opponent, Newton, has never won a state playoff game.

Tucker (AAAA): Coach Franklin Stephens knows his team better than anyone else. That's why he publicly requested that his team not be ranked No. 1 to start the year. Nevertheless, perhaps as a courtesy for defending champions, Tucker (8-2) started off No. 1, holding until a 32-7 loss to Marist. Tucker is too young and inexperienced to make a title run. However, winning a couple of playoff games would set up the Tigers nicely as one of the top contenders for next season.

Cairo (AAA): It's a safe bet that the team with the state's best nickname -- the Syrupmakers -- won't be making its third consecutive appearance in the state finals. Cairo (7-3) lost too much firepower on offense with the graduation of quarterback Angelo Pease and running back Reginald Bryant and ranks as the classification's lowest-scoring team at 15 points per game. If Cairo wins its first two playoff games, it likely will face No. 1-ranked Gainesville in the quarterfinals.

Buford (AA): The sky is not falling for Buford (9-1), which some would have you think after its 28-21 loss to Lovett -- the Gwinnett program's first region loss since 2000. If anything, the Wolves needed a wake-up call to avoid complacency. How did Buford respond? By winning its next seven games, including three by shutouts. Calhoun is the state's No. 1 team, but No. 3 Buford is the team everyone fears. Buford had a terrific playoff draw, and it would be surprising not to see the two-time champs reach the semifinals.