It’s an annual exercise, really. As soon as the brackets drop, fans all over start projecting which teams will move forward and which ones won’t.
All that the next few hundred words will do is put those in writing.
One caveat: Everything here assumes no games dropping due to COVID-19. That in itself is everyone’s biggest hurdle and an unrealistic expectation, but with all else equal, this exercise goes on as if games are going to happen. If they’ve already been cancelled, we’ll note it.
We’ll do this for every team in the 615 Preps coverage area with the exception of Division II-AAA, as those brackets won’t be set until after this week.
This is what I believe is every team’s biggest hurdle to a deeper playoff run or winning a state title, whether it’s due to a powerhouse in the same side of the bracket or a potential championship game showdown with an annual contender — these teams have the best chance to trip up all of the area squads this postseason.
Now, on to every team’s biggest hurdle this playoff season:
Gordonsville: South Pittsburg, quarterfinal round. The two teams the Tigers are likely to face in the first two rounds are the same ones they knocked off last season — Whitwell and Copper Basin, just in the opposite order this time. That pits the Region 4 champ against Region 3 champ South Pittsburg in round three. This time, the Pirates will have to make the long bus trip. Gordonsville’s better than the team that suffered a 40-0 loss at South Pitt last year. The question is, can they get past the Pirates?
Jo Byrns: South Pittsburg, first round. The Red Devils are likely overmatched here, traveling to face the annually-contending Pirates.
Watertown/Trousdale County: Each other, quarterfinal round. It’s not hard to figure — each of the last two years, Watertown has won the regular-season meeting and the Region 4 title, only to fall to Trousdale County in the quarterfinals. In 2018, it was a sloppy, messy, 15-8 loss to the Yellow Jackets. Last year, it was a sloppy, messy, 22-19 loss to the Yellow Jackets. Is the third time the charm, or does history repeat itself?
Westmoreland: Marion County, first round. This will be the seventh time the Eagles face Marion County in the first round of the playoffs. Westmoreland has won a couple of those games, but none since 2006. It’s also the fourth time in six years they’re paired together, and none of those results have been kind to the Eagles.
Eagleville: Riverside, first round. Riverside is a familiar foe for the Eagles, as this will be the third time in four years they’ll square off. They’ve split the first two, with Eagleville winning 23-9 in 2017 and Riverside prevailing 36-35 in 2018.
Smith County: Red Bank, second round. Brainerd won’t be an easy win for the Owls, but it’s a winnable game. Round two, however, may be too much as Red Bank — which hasn’t lost a game on the field this season — would likely be next for the Owls. The last points the Lions gave up in games they played? Oct. 2, a 42-14 win over Sweetwater. Only once has an opponent reached 20 against the Red Bank defense, and it’ll take that much to keep up with the Lions.
Pearl-Cohn: Alcoa, BlueCross Bowl. No explanation needed. It’s Alcoa. Sure, the Firebirds might have a hiccup or two on the way to Cookeville, but they’ve played too well in their shortened season to come up short of a championship game appearance again.
Fairview: Pearl-Cohn, second round. The worst case scenario for the Yellow Jackets happened after losing to Stewart County. Fairview would have gotten to host a potential quarterfinal game with Pearl-Cohn had the Yellow Jackets won their region. Instead, that goes to Stewart County, and now it’s a round two game at Pearl-Cohn that’s the big hurdle. And East Nashville won’t be an easy out, either.
East Nashville: Pearl-Cohn, second round. The Eagles’ defense will be tasked with slowing a Fairview offense that can come at you from many different directions. Teams will study the Stewart County film to see how they stopped the Yellow Jackets, but can the Eagles replicate it? Slow down Logan Nardozzi and it’s doable. Beyond that, Pearl-Cohn looms large.
Harpeth: Giles County, first round. Truth be told, this is more of a toss-up game than a total roadblock. Stewart County’s the roadblock in the second round, but Harpeth can’t think that far ahead or they’ll be sent home faster than someone who showed up to work in their pajamas.
Stratford: Stewart County, first round. It wasn’t going to be an easy matchup regardless of the opponent. But at least for the Spartans, they get to play a playoff game. Back in August, they would have taken that deal.
DeKalb County: Tullahoma, quarterfinal round. First they were, then they weren’t, now they are in the playoffs as the top seed from Region 3. The good news is they’ll get a couple of rounds of home games before they have to trek to Tullahoma for a quarterfinal game. That’s the first roadblock. If the Tigers were to get by into the semifinals, it’s likely that defending champion Elizabethton will be waiting for them in Smithville.
Nolensville: Tullahoma, quarterfinal round. The Knights would have to get by DeKalb County in the second round in order to set up a rematch with Tullahoma, a game they lost 29-14 on Oct. 23. The same rule applies to Nolensville as it does DeKalb County — beat Tullahoma, and Elizabethton’s likely the next one to show up at the door.
Macon County: Tullahoma, second round. The Tigers have a fight on their hands in round one against Marshall County at home. If they get by, they’ll hit the road to take on the unbeaten Wildcats next.
Spring Hill: DeKalb County, first round. The Raiders thought they’d be on to round two as DeKalb County had some COVID-19 cases pop up. But the Tigers learned they’d be available to play, and now Spring Hill has to hit the road. Given a second chance, who knows what DeKalb County might be able to do with it?
Springfield: Elizabethton, BlueCross Bowl. Same path as last year, except the Yellow Jackets would have to go to Haywood and win this time in the semifinals. But their experience can get them to Cookeville. Once there, however, they’ll have to learn from last year’s loss to the Cyclones.
Creek Wood: Springfield, quarterfinal round: The second half of last week’s region title showdown should tell you all you need to know about why a rematch with the Yellow Jackets would be tough. This team is talented enough to get that rematch, though.
White House Heritage: Springfield, second round: If the Patriots can get by Hardin County, they’d run into a hot Springfield team in round two and that’s a tough draw regardless of how well you’re playing at the time.
White House: Lexington, first round: The Blue Devils did what they needed to do to get into the dance, but they’ve got a long road trip and they’ll need their defense to continue their solid play of late if they want to advance.
Summit/Beech: each other, quarterfinal round. Circle it. Highlight it. Write it in big letters if you want, but this is a must-see game if it materializes in round three. The winner then will likely have to knock off Henry County (in Beech’s case, again) before a possible showdown with Knoxville West in the BlueCross Bowl. When they say championships have to be earned, this playoff bracket is exactly what they’re talking about.
Hillsboro/Page: Beech, second round. It’s not too high a hurdle to clear for the Burros (they played Beech extremely close in their regular season meeting), but if they were to get by the Buccaneers, they’d have to contend with the same path as the Bucs would have. Page has played better in the latter portion of the season and may get their shot at Beech if they continue their improved play.
Columbia/Gallatin: Summit, second round. Whichever team emerges from Gallatin with a win will have to visit Summit in round two. A Summit team that is probably healthier than most given their lack of games in October, and one which will have knocked some rust off in round one.
Hillwood: Summit, first round. The Hilltoppers draw a Summit team chomping at the bit to get back on the field. It’s been a frustrating second half having only been able to play once in October, and the Spartans are looking for someone to take that frustration out on in the playoffs.
Northeast: Henry County, quarterfinal round. Henry County won the first meeting 58-0 on Oct. 23. Yep, that’s a roadblock.
Clarksville: Northeast, second round: Munford is a bit of an unknown having only played one region game to win the top seed. If Clarksville gets by, it’ll try to avenge a 44-14 home loss to Northeast on Oct. 2.
Oakland: Maryville, semifinal round. This one’s obvious. They’ve met in the semifinals each of the last six years, and the home team has won each meeting since 2015. This year, Oakland would get to host.
Riverdale: Oakland, quarterfinal round. Round 2 of Battle of the Boro is very much possible, except it’d be at Oakland this time. If the Warriors are healthy, this might be a bit closer than the 30-7 result in the first meeting.
Hendersonville: Oakland, quarterfinal round. Of course, Hendersonvillle would like another go at the Patriots, too, but they’d have to take down both Blackman and likely Riverdale to do so.
Blackman: Oakland, quarterfinal round. If the Blaze can get by Hendersonville in round one, they’d run into the Warriors again. The first one was close, so it’s not too high a hurdle to clear. That brings us to the quarterfinals, where they’d likely run into Oakland. Blackman was put in quarantine the week of their game with the Patriots, so it’d be the first meeting this year. Who knows?
Mt. Juliet: Oakland, second round. See a theme developing here? The Golden Bears have played Oakland tough in recent years, and would need to lean on their defense again if another meeting were to happen. Problem is, they’ve got to worry about C.J. Taylor and Warren County first, as Oakland gave up nearly 200 yards to the Mr. Football candidate.
Rossview: Oakland, first round. I think you know by now why the Patriots are a roadblock for so many teams.
Wilson Central: Riverdale, first round. One team that was able to slow down C.J. Taylor and Warren County was Riverdale’s defense, so Zavier Ali and the Wildcats have their work cut out for them.
Ravenwood: Oakland/Maryville, BlueCross Bowl. We might get a 2019 rematch or an all-615 Preps area final. The Raptors have their sights on Cookeville.
Brentwood: Ravenwood, quarterfinal round. Could be the same story, third verse — Brentwood wins in the regular season, the Raptors get their revenge in the playoffs. And Brentwood has a potential rematch with Independence lurking in the second round, if they can get by a dangerous Cane Ridge team in round one. Lots of land mines to navigate.
Independence: Ravenwood, quarterfinal round. The Eagles would likely need to beat Brentwood a second time in order to get their rematch with Ravenwood, and the Week 11 loss to the Raptors should still be fresh in their minds if that happens.
Smyrna/Franklin: Ravenwood, second round. Their first-round matchup should be a good one, and the winner gets Ravenwood in round two. Both suffered double-digit losses to the Raptors in the regular season, Smyrna’s loss was 51-10.
Cane Ridge: Brentwood, first round. Very few teams have as tough a route as the Ravens do. But Cane Ridge also has the playmakers to potentially navigate the rough waters ahead, too. If they can get past Brentwood, they can do real damage to this bracket.
La Vergne: Independence, first round. The Wolverines have had some defensive woes against big-time runners this season, and Jaxson Campbell can make them pay for mistakes as well as anyone.
DCA: Davidson Academy, BlueCross Bowl. What a matchup it would be if both DCA and Davidson Academy met in the championship game as undefeated teams. DA wants a three-peat, DCA wants to bring a title back to its tornado-stricken campus.
MTCS: USJ, quarterfinal round. The Cougars are through to round two with Columbia Academy’s quarantine. They’ll draw a tough USJ team in the quarterfinals and have to make the trip to Jackson to play it. Both teams will have had a bye week to prepare.
Franklin Grace: DCA, quarterfinal round. The Lions have lost four straight games entering the postseason, but they could snap that skid against Trinity Christian in the first round. It would send them to DCA in round two, but they’d be trying to avenge a 47-2 loss to the Wildcats.
Davidson Academy: DCA, BlueCross Bowl. See DCA above.
Nashville Christian: Davidson Academy, semifinal round. They’re a better team than the one that lost 35-0 to the Bears in Week 3. But will it be enough to take down the two-time, defending champs? They also have to get past The King’s Academy if they even want to get that shot at revenge.
Friendship Christian: Davidson Academy, quarterfinal round. Rest assured, Davidson Academy won’t overlook Friendship Christian in the quarterfinals. But the Commanders could give the Bears all they want and then some.
Lipscomb Academy: CPA, BlueCross Bowl. A lot of folks would like to see a rematch of their Week 10 showdown in Cookeville. The best part is it would be the first game played that weekend, as AA leads off the Thursday games.
BGA: Northpoint Christian, first round. It’s been a mixed bag of results for BGA, and while they really didn’t throttled by anyone, they struggled during a three-game stretch in September that put them in this spot.
FRA: ECS, first round. The highlight of FRA’s season was that double-overtime win at White House on Sept. 11 to begin their season. It’s been downhill from there. Now they’re facing a real contender in the first round.
CPA: Lipscomb Academy, BlueCross Bowl. It’s about to be a very motivated Lions squad marching through this bracket for another shot at Lipscomb Academy.
Goodpasture: CAK, quarterfinal round. Goodpasture’s bounce-back season may very well continue a couple of weeks into November.
This bracket isn’t complete due to some games being scheduled for this week. We’ll add it here next week.
Follow Chris Brooks on Twitter and Instagram @CBrooksTN.