There are a lot of potential storylines for the 2021 season in Middle Tennessee high school football, but some stand out more than others.
Reclassification drives several such points, while some traditional powers look to improve on disappointing finishes from 2020. Other storylines will surely emerge, but as kickoff nears, these are already developing.
Here are 10 such storylines in the region:
10. Will Green Hill follow the Nolensville plan in year two?
First-year schools aren’t eligible for the postseason, but the Hawks spent their inaugural campaign planting seeds for the future. Combine the foundation with their home in Region 5-5, which includes teams trying to rebuild such as Station Camp, Hunters Lane and White County, and things on the hill might get very interesting quickly in 2021. Nolensville has reached the playoffs each of its first four eligible seasons – including the 4A semifinals in 2019 and 2020 – and a top-four finish for Green Hill is more than just a possibility in 2021.
9. Who comes out of the western half of a potentially wide-open Class 5A bracket?
Let’s just stay in 5A for the next one as the region Green Hill resides in also has a couple of contenders eyeing deep runs in Mt. Juliet and Hillsboro. And Nolensville joins the fray after moving up from Class 4A to replace Summit in Region 6-5A. Page wants in on the action in that region as well, and there’s a decent chance one of those four schools will be practicing on Thanksgiving morning in preparation for a semifinal game the following night.
There are two big roadblocks to any one of those teams’ title hopes, however: One resides in Paris, as perennial power Henry County hasn’t gone anywhere and the Patriots pose the biggest threat to the western half of the bracket. The second roadblock to a title is the eastern half of the bracket, especially among Oak Ridge, Powell and other Knoxville-area teams, seems to be stronger this year. Either way, Class 5A appears to be a wide-open race in 2021.
8. Can Trousdale County or Watertown get over the hump and make the BlueCross Bowl?
In recent years, Region 4-2A rivals Trousdale County and Watertown have all but settled their region title race early in the season, having played in Week 3 each of the past four years in the previous alignment. Their showcase game against each other now gets moved to Week 11 for 2021, making the stakes that much higher.
It’s been Watertown’s region each of the past three years, while the Yellow Jackets have exacted revenge in the playoffs each of those years. Trousdale County’s problem has been Meigs County the last two seasons, with the Tigers sending the Yellow Jackets home one game short of the BlueCross Bowl each time. Trousdale County’s last state title came in 2013 and the natives are hungry for another gold ball to come back to Hartsville.
Watertown wants the same shot, but there’s only one ladder to climb, and both the Purple Tigers and Yellow Jackets have their hands on it. Mark down their Oct. 29 regular season finale, and a potential quarterfinal rematch on Nov. 19.
7. Who could win Division II-Class A with Davidson Academy moving up?
Did you hear that big exhale when the new regions were announced? That came from the group of teams remaining in Division II-Class A when reigning three-time champion Davidson Academy was officially announced to move up to Class AA. It leaves a gold ball to be claimed and quite a few teams who’d like to get their hands on it.
Start with the team the Bears knocked out in the semifinals two of the last three years – Nashville Christian. The Eagles haven’t been to the BlueCross Bowl since they were in Class 1A in 2015, but they’ve been knocked out by the eventual Division II-Class A champion in three of the last four years. The Eagles face a challenge by Donelson Christian Academy, the other 2020 semifinalist.
There’s Friendship Christian, who won the 2017 title, and Middle Tennessee Christian in the East region. Both of those teams have some additional travel in that region, but both could also win that region as well.
And don’t think for a second that contenders only reside in Middle Tennessee – University School of Jackson lost each of the last two BlueCross Bowls to Davidson Academy and might have made the biggest exhale when the changes were made official.
6. Can MBA or Brentwood Academy bounce back from disappointing playoff exits, or will Pope John Paul II make a run?
Both MBA and Brentwood Academy thought they were on a collision course for a BlueCross Bowl rematch in 2020. Both left disappointed after semifinal losses. Each team could very well use 2021 as a revenge tour of sorts despite both squads needing to replace key pieces, but another area team might be primed for a breakthrough.
Pope John Paul II has exactly one playoff victory to its credit in program history, but the 2021 season might have the most promise given the offensive talent returning for the Knights. Junior quarterback Kenny Minchey might be the biggest reason JPII has high hopes, but nothing is certain in Division II-Class AAA. The Knights, too, come off of playoff disappointment, having coughed up a lead at Brentwood Academy in their quarterfinal meeting last year.
The state’s highest Division II classification did not have a Middle Tennessee representative at the BlueCross Bowl in 2020, the first time that had happened since 2005. Those teams don’t want a repeat of that.
5. How will Metro teams bounce back after a shortened 2020 season?
After a year in which Metro Nashville teams waited a month to get on the field, ending in less-than-desirable results for most teams, 2021 is certainly a welcome change for those squads with a regular run-up to the season.
And reclassification has given some of those teams an opportunity to take big steps forward. Pearl-Cohn moves up to Class 4A, getting the Firebirds away from any potential championship game against Alcoa. Their move also removes a roadblock for East Nashville and Stratford, who have a chance to make a deeper run in Class 3A through the western half of the bracket.
Hillsboro no longer has to contend with the likes of Beech in Class 5A as the Buccaneers were ushered off to join Class 6A this year, but now Mt. Juliet becomes the Burros’ biggest competition for a region title.
Cane Ridge wouldn’t have to see a Williamson County school until the Class 6A semifinals, but the Ravens will have to go through the likes of Beech and Hendersonville if they hope to have a home game in late November.
4. How will reigning champs Summit and Davidson Academy fare after moving up to new classes?
In a weird twist, two 2020 champs will not be defending their titles from a year ago. Instead, Class 5A winner Summit and Division II-Class A Davidson Academy will chase crowns in a higher classification.
Both teams still have good situations, but the Bears might have it a little tougher given the likes of CPA and Lipscomb Academy reside in their new region.
Summit has no cakewalk, however, entering a Thunderdome of sorts in an all-Williamson County alignment in Region 7-6A. Still, with many key players returning, the Spartans are considered contenders to represent the western half of the 6A bracket in Chattanooga.
3. How will CPA and Lipscomb Academy top their 2020 meetings?
Division II-Class AA still runs through Middle Tennessee. The area had three of the four semifinalists in 2020 and produced a terrific BlueCross Bowl championship game when CPA and Lipscomb Academy took things down to the final couple of minutes to decide their title.
Both teams return several key players and could very well meet more than once again. The Mustangs have improved each year of Trent Dilfer’s tenure. They fell at CPA in the 2019 semifinals, then won the regular season meeting in 2020 before falling in the BlueCross Bowl.
Will the pattern hold and give Lipscomb Academy its first title since 2007, or will CPA make it three titles in four years?
2. Region 7-6A: Is it the most competitive in the state?
Don’t expect any easy games in Region 7-6A this season. Summit joins the group to replace Dickson County and it only made what is now an all-Williamson County region tougher. The Spartans will have to run a gauntlet featuring Ravenwood, Independence and Brentwood, all while avoiding off nights against Franklin and Centennial, if they hope to win this region.
Ravenwood might be considered the favorite, but whoever finishes first will have to earn it.
There’s a legitimate case to be made for four teams to win the region, and a case to be made for Centennial and Franklin to knock somebody out of the top four.
It won’t be a surprise to see one of these teams playing for a gold ball in Chattanooga in December, just like it won’t be a surprise to see the team they may likely be facing there…
1. Can anyone stop Oakland?
It certainly seems the Patriots are primed for a repeat in Class 6A. After all, they do return each of their top three skill players in 2021 with Jordan James, Isaiah Horton and Antonio Patterson all coming back for an encore.
They’ll face the usual challenges, such as holding off Riverdale and a potential eighth-consecutive semifinal meeting with Maryville. But this nationally ranked Oakland team will have more eyeballs on it than ever before due to the big trio’s efforts.
The Patriots will, without question, be the favorites to win Class 6A. But that doesn’t mean other teams won’t give their best shot.
Follow Chris Brooks on Twitter @Brooks_615 and on Instagram @cbrooks615.