The state football finals will be played this season at Georgia State Stadium. 

Football playoff primer: Best teams, games, storylines

The Georgia high school football playoffs begin this week with 240 of the GHSA’s 422 football-playing schools advancing past the regular season.
Eight state champions will be crowned after five weekly rounds of playoffs that conclude Dec. 13-14 at Georgia State Stadium. Here’s a look at some of the more intriguing teams, draws and storylines:
Favorites: The No. 1-ranked teams are Lowndes (AAAAAAA), Dacula (AAAAAA), Carrollton (AAAAA), Cartersville (AAAA), Peach County (AAA), Rockmart (AA), Athens Academy (A Private) and Irwin County (A Public). Dacula and Athens Academy have never won state titles. Rockmart last won in 1950, Irwin in 1975, Carrollton in 1998, Lowndes in 2007, Peach County in 2009 and Cartersville in 2016.
Defending champions: They are Milton (AAAAAAA), Lee County (AAAAAA), Bainbridge (AAAAA), Blessed Trinity (AAA), Cedar Grove (AAA), Heard County (AA), Eagle’s Landing Christian (A Private) and Clinch County (A Public). Bainbridge and Heard County enter the playoffs unranked.
Best players: Every preseason AJC Super 11 pick and each of the consensus top 40 senior prospects in Georgia are members of playoff teams. Among them are 2,000-yard rusher Jahmyr Gibbs of Dalton, 1,000-yard receiver Arik Gilbert of Marietta and the state’s consensus No. 1 prospect, Myles Murphy of Hillgrove.
Best storyline: Irwin County has lost in four championship games in the past five seasons, but this might be coach Buddy Nobles’ best team yet. Nobles continues to coach as he battles a stomach cancer diagnosed late in the summer.
Worst storyline: Beach got thrown out of the playoffs last weekend after the GHSA forced the Savannah school to forfeit its victories because of the use of self-reported ineligible players. Beach was replaced by Southeast Bulloch, which got the good news Monday morning while the staff was packing up for the season. Another Savannah team, Islands, missed the playoffs for having to forfeit four games during the regular season. Islands was charged with recruiting.
Newcomers: Denmark (opened in 2018), Hampton (2014) and Lithia Springs (1976) are in the state playoffs for the first time. North Atlanta is making its first appearance since 1996, and Morrow is breaking a 21-year drought. Shiloh last appeared in 2003, Decatur in 2005. All other qualifiers have appeared at least one other time this decade, including Hiram (last appearance 2010), Warren County (2010) and Sprayberry (2011).
Regulars: The state playoffs expanded to four qualifiers per region in 1996. Since then, only Peach County and Marist have qualified each year. The others that have qualified each year this century are Buford, Calhoun, Commerce, Cook, Fitzgerald, Gainesville and Stephenson. The playoff retention rate this season was exactly 80 percent — 192 of the 240 teams returned from 2018.
Who’s missing: Northside-Warner Robins is not playing in the postseason for the first time since 1990. Lovejoy and Dooly County are out for the first time since 2009. All other schools with streaks of five seasons or longer are back. The most surprising team not to make it, according to the computer Maxwell Ratings, is Mount Zion of Carroll County. The Class A Eagles’ odds of missing were 814-to-1. They finished 1-9 after a 10-2 finish in 2018.
Best first-round matchup: Denmark at Sandy Creek. Denmark, ranked No. 8 in Class AAAA in its second year of existence, has lost only to No. 3 Blessed Trinity and No. 4 Marist and just beat previous No. 7 Flowery Branch 34-14. Denmark’s QB-WR pair of Aaron McLaughlin and Ze’Vian Capers are committed to Auburn. Sandy Creek, ranked No. 5, is 9-1, its only loss to No. 1 Cartersville. Sandy Creek’s best player, WR/DB Brian Branch, is an Alabama commit.
Other good first-rounders: Defending AAAAA champion Bainbridge travels to No. 9 Griffin. Troup, which got as high as No. 3 in the AAAA rankings, plays at Blessed Trinity. No. 1 Lowndes of AAAAAAA must play Hillgrove, which lost on the last play to No. 2 McEachern, the only other unbeaten team in the highest class. Dalton and star back Gibbs will visit No. 1 Dacula of AAAAAA. Camden County, which has lost only to No. 1 Lowndes and No. 3 Colquitt County, travels to No. 6 Marietta.
What’s next: The second round continues next week with eight round-of-16 games in all eight brackets. The highest eight seeds in the Class A private and public divisions, which have first-round byes, will make their debuts.

Predictions: Below are the projected margins of victory as provided by the computer Maxwell Ratings. The predicted winner is on the left.

Class AAAAAAA

Archer vs. Collins Hill -10

Colquitt Co. vs. North Cobb -29

East Coweta vs. Etowah -15

Grayson vs. Mountain View -30

Lowndes vs. Hillgrove -38

Marietta vs. Camden Co. -8

McEachern vs. North Paulding -34

Mill Creek vs. Newton -13

Milton vs. Central Gwinnett -32

Norcross vs. South Forsyth -2

North Forsyth vs. Brookwood -3

North Gwinnett vs. Shiloh -29

Parkview vs. West Forsyth -27

Roswell vs. Wheeler -17

Walton vs. Newnan -4

Westlake vs. Cherokee -4

Class AAAAAA

Allatoona vs. Gainesville -17

Alpharetta vs. Creekside -3

Brunswick at Morrow -1

Coffee at Heritage, Conyers -35

Dacula vs. Dalton -25

Glynn Academy vs. Tucker -7

Harrison vs. Winder-Barrow -33

Houston Co. at Evans -19

Johns Creek vs. Alexander -18

Lanier vs. Sprayberry -14

Lee Co. vs. Greenbrier -41

Mays vs. Northview -19

Richmond Hill vs. M.L. King -14

South Paulding vs. North Atlanta -12

Stephenson vs. Bradwell Inst. -26

Valdosta vs. Lakeside, Evans -40

Class AAAAA

Bainbridge at Griffin -2

Buford vs. Decatur -37

Carrollton vs. Arabia Mountain -41

Cedar Shoals at Carver, Atlanta -9

Clarke Central vs. Lithia Springs -38

Dutchtown vs. Statesboro -8

Jones Co. vs. South Effingham -6

Kell at Columbia -20

Riverwood vs. Loganville -11

Rome vs. Lithonia -37

Southwest DeKalb vs. Hiram -6

Starr's Mill vs. Harris Co. -5

Veterans vs. Riverdale -18

Ware Co. vs. Ola -21

Warner Robins vs. Jonesboro -36

Wayne Co. vs. Stockbridge -9

Class AAAA

Blessed Trinity vs. Troup -22

Burke Co. vs. Americus-Sumter -20

Cairo vs. Baldwin -12

Cartersville vs. Flowery Branch -14

Carver, Col. vs. Richmond Acad. -31

Marist vs. Cedartown -24

Mary Persons at Eastside -6

North Oconee vs. Pickens -21

Oconee Co. vs. NW Whitfield -31

Perry vs. Hampton -28

Ridgeland vs. Madison Co. -3

Sandy Creek vs. Denmark -3

St. Pius at Heritage, Ringgold -8

Thomson vs. Hardaway -11

West Laurens vs. Luella -40

Woodward Acd. vs. Upson-Lee -36

Class AAA

Appling Co. vs. Westside, Macon -21

Benedictine vs. Monroe -27

Calhoun vs. Morgan Co. -12

Cedar Grove vs. Fannin Co. -38

Crisp Co. vs. Southeast Bulloch -36

GAC vs. Pace Academy -18

Hart Co. vs. Haralson Co. -14

Jefferson vs. Sonoraville -31

Jenkins vs. Adairsville -34

Liberty Co. at Jackson -12

Lovett at North Hall -6

North Murray vs. Monroe Area -17

Peach Co. vs. Brantley Co. -41

Pierce Co. vs. Central, Macon -40

Westminster vs. Dawson Co. -15

Windsor Forest at Cook -1

Class AA

Bleckley Co. vs. Fitzgerald -2

Bremen vs. Model -22

Brooks Co. vs. Washington Co. -1

Callaway vs. Chattooga -34

Douglass vs. Elbert Co. -2

Dublin vs. Early Co. -28

Hapeville vs. Putnam Co. -39

Metter vs. Screven Co. -22

Pepperell vs. Heard Co. -16

Rabun Co. vs. B.E.S.T. Acad. -41

Rockmart vs. Temple -39

Swainsboro at Harlem -14

Thomasville vs. Dodge Co. -7

Toombs Co. vs. Hephzibah -20

Union Co. vs. South Atlanta -22

Vidalia at Jefferson Co. -1

Class A (Private)

Aquinas vs. Mt. Paran Christian -8

Hebron Christ. vs. Mount Vernon -13

North Cobb Christ. vs. George Walton -6

Prince Avenue vs. Stratford Acd. -30

Sav. Christian vs. Calvary Day -12

Trinity Christian vs. St. Francis -11

Wesleyan vs. First Presbyterian -33

Whitefield Acd. vs. Brookstone -26

Class A (Public)

Claxton vs. Schley Co. -9

Commerce vs. Trion -23

ECI at McIntosh Co. Academy -1

Manchester vs. Taylor Co. -20

Turner Co. vs. Macon Co. -13

Warren Co. at Terrell Co. -20

Wash.-Wilkes vs. Chatt. Co. -33

Wilcox Co. vs. Seminole Co. -41

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