The reason for the season begins this week

The whole point of playing the season is to make the playoffs. It is just that simple to explain. If that is not the reason, why play at all? Back in August, every team was on equal footing – on paper. Now, every team is back to that same spot – on paper.

Make no mistake, there are teams that are favorites to win the titles. And the reason a team is a favorite is because of the way it played during the recently ended season. Based on the Alabama Sports Writers Association high school football poll last week, the teams favored to win titles this year are: Hoover (7A); Theodore (6A); UMS-Wright (5A); Catholic Montgomery (4A); Mars Hill (3A); Fyffe (2A); Elba (1A); Lee-Scott (AISA AAA); Patrician (AISA AA) and Jackson (AISA A). Will each of them go on to win the titles in their classifications? My guess is no. Several of them will, but some will not. At least that is my honest opinion.

Let’s take a look at each classification as the first rounds begin this week. We will start with the state’s biggest classification – the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 7A.

Locally, the big game is No. 2 Central High of Phenix City taking on Mary G. Montgomery High of Mobile. The game is slated for Friday night at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. The Red Devils, 8-2 overall, are the No. 1 seeded team in the playoffs from Region 2. The Red Devils tied with Auburn High at the top of the standings in Region 2 with 7-1 records. Central received the No. 1 seed by defeating Auburn head-to-head 38-17 three weeks ago. Central has won outright or shared in the last nine Region 2 titles. Overall, the 2022 title gives the Red Devils 18 in school history. The Red Devils have also represented the South part of the state in the Class 7A Championship Game in three of the last four seasons. Central won the 7A title in 2018 and the 6A title in 1993 when that was the highest classification. The Red Devils were runners-up in Class 7A in 2019 and 2021. This is the first time Central and Mary G. Montgomery have played in football.

As for Mary G. Montgomery, the Vikings, 6-4 overall and 4-2 in Region 1, are its region’s No. 4 seed. This is the Vikings’ first playoff appearance in 20 seasons. The last time Mary G. Montgomery reached the playoffs was in 2002 when they faced Daphne High in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs and lost 35-20. Since 2002, not counting this season’s 6-4 mark, the Vikings’ best record was 5-5 in 2016. Mary G. Montgomery lost its first four games of 2022 and won its last six to make the playoffs. The Vikings lost to No. 1 seed Foley 42-41 in overtime and to No. 3 Fairhope 38-23. They beat No. 2 Baker 37-20.

I’m going way out on a limb here and I’m going to pick Central to win this first-round game in the Class 7A playoffs.

Auburn, 9-1 overall and the No. 2 seed for Region 2, will be at home at Duck Samford Stadium to face Fairhope, 8-2 overall and the No. 3 seed from Region 1. The Fairhope Pirates are coached by a familiar face to the Auburn Tigers – their former coach Tim Carter. Fairhope’s two losses were to Foley 39-38 and to Baker 42-10. Auburn, of course, lost to Central 38-17. Auburn and Fairhope have met twice – both times in the first round of the playoffs in 2011 and 2018. They split the two games with Fairhope winning 43-42 in 2011 and Auburn winning 34-23 in 2018. The series will no longer be divided equally after Friday night as one of the two schools will have two wins while the other team will have two losses. The team with two losses will be Fairhope.

Foley High, 8-2 overall and the No. 1 seed for Region 1, will play host to Dothan High, 7-3 overall and the No. 4 seed for Region 2, in the first round. Foley opened the season by losing to Prattville High 34-20. They beat their region’s No. 4 seed 43-42 in overtime in their first region contest. They lost to their region’s No. 2 seed Baker 56-35. They beat No. 3 Fairhope 39-38. Dothan lost to the top three seeds in Region 2 – No. 1 Central 35-28, No. 2 Auburn 42-14 and No. 3 Enterprise 51-28. Dothan will not be wasting a trip to Foley to face the Lions. I think the Wolves will beat Foley.

Baker, 4-6 overall is the No. 2 seed for Region 1, will play host to Region 2’s No. 3 seed Enterprise, 7-3 overall, in the first round of the playoffs. Baker defeated the No. 1 seed for its region Foley 56-35 and its No. 3 seed Fairhope 42-10, but lost to its No. 4 seed 37-20. Enterprise lost to its Region’s No. 1 seed Central 27-7, No. 2 seed Auburn 31-21 and beat its No. 4 seed Dothan 51-28. Oh, and Enterprise defeated Dothan by 23 points – the same Dothan team that routed Baker 43-15 for its fifth win of the year. In another first round shocker, I’m picking Enterprise to win this game.

Here are my picks for the North portion of the bracket in Class 7A: Hoover over Bob Jones. Thompson over Huntsville. Hewitt-Trussville over Florence. Vestavia Hills over Austin.

Class 1A winners: Maplesville, Leroy, Autaugaville, Brantley, Elba, Sweet Water, Millry, Keith, Meek, Pickens County, Valley Head, Ragland, Spring Garden, Hackleburg, Lynn and Addison.

Class 2A winners: Lanett, JU Blackshear, Reeltown, G.W. Long, Ariton, Highland Home, Clarke County, Vincent, Lexington, Tuscaloosa Academy, Fyffe, Cleveland, Lamar County, Pisgah, Aliceville and Falkville.

Class 3A winners: Dadeville, Straughn, St. James, Opp, Mobile Christian, Saks, Excel, Randolph County, Mars Hill Bible, Winfield, Madison Academy, Sylvania, Piedmont, J.B. Pennington, Gordo and Lauderdale County.

Class 4A winners: Anniston, Orange Beach, American Christian, Andalusia, Montgomery Catholic, Bibb County, T.R. Miller, Handley, Priceville, Haleyville, Deshler, Etowah, Cherokee County, West Morgan, Dora, and Randolph.

Class 5A winners: Central-Clay County, Gulf Shores, Demopolis, Faith Academy, Charles Henderson, Tallassee, UMS-Wright, Pleasant Grove, Arab, Moody, Leeds, Scottsboro, Ramsey and Fairview.

Class 6A winners: Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, Saraland, Homewood, Spanish Fort, St. Paul’s, Pelham, Theodore, Hueytown, Gadsden City, Pinson Valley, Hartselle, Center Point, Clay-Chalkville, Hazel Green, Oxford and Fort Payne.

AISA A Winners: Lowndes Academy, Southern Choctaw, Jackson Academy and Crenshaw Christian.

AISA AA Winners: Chambers Academy, Clarke Prep, Patrician Academy and Edgewood Academy.

AISA AAA: Lee-Scott and Glenwood byes. Monroe Academy and Morgan Academy.

There you have my picks for the first rounds of the playoffs. No science, no algorithms, just guesses.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for the Citizen of East Alabama.