Changes In The South

By: JJ Lanier news services

When you look at the stability, or really instability in most cases, when it comes to head coaches and quarterbacks throughout the NFL, the NFC South in many ways is the exception.

Two of the divisions head coaches, Sean Payton and Ron Rivera, have been with their respective organizations for at least nine years.

Dan Quinn is currently in his fifth year with Falcons, whose predecessor, Mike Smith, was with the organization for seven years. In fact, the Buccaneers seem to be the only divisional team that has head coaches come and go as if they’re a seasonal employee at Target.

The quarterback position has been even more stable, with Jameis Winston being the shortest tenured of the bunch, at five years in the league.

Longevity is always great when you’re in the midst of it, but like all things, it eventually comes to an end; the NFC South may begin to see that stability start to falter at the end of this season.

The biggest changes will more than likely be seen within the Carolina Panthers organization. As it looks right now, the only person less likely to be the Panthers starting quarterback at the beginning of next season than Cam Newton is Colin Kaepernick.

As much of a lightning rod as Newton has been- some legitimate, some petty- it’s all but a certainty that the best quarterback in franchise history won’t be back for a tenth season.

Meanwhile, Rivera, who began his head coaching career the same year Newton entered the league, is trending towards sharing the same fate as his QB.

The 2-time Coach of the Year has dodged the pink slip in the past due to his team finishing the season strong, but I’m not sure that could even save his job this time around.

The end of an era in Carolina is starting to look less like a possibility and more like an inevitability.

There isn’t going to be a change at quarterback for the Falcons, at least not this year, but the same can’t be said for their head coach.

There is the slight possibility that Quinn could pull a “Rivera” and keep his job if Atlanta were to finish the season strong, but I doubt it.

As for Ryan, his job obviously isn’t in jeopardy, but he is starting to get up there in age and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new head coach looking to begin grooming his replacement.

As for Tampa, I think Winston’s time there is over, but who knows. Would you really be all that surprised if they brought him back? And Bruce Arians isn’t going anywhere as of now, but he’s not the long-term solution, so the smart money is on that dynamic looking dramatically different within the next year or two.

Then there’s the Saints, the organization that has been the most stable in both areas. I imagine at some point Brees will contemplate retirement, if he hasn’t already, but he’s still got a few good years left, so don’t expect that coach/qb combo to change anytime soon.

The NFL specializes in turnover, so it really is a testament to the teams in the NFC South that they’ve gotten as much consistency out of the two most important positions on a football over the past decade.

Just don’t be surprised when those familiar faces start to change; sooner rather than later.

Hall Of Fame Steal

By: TJ Hartnett news services

The ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame is always a fascinating thing to unpack and dissect as we examine the bona fides of the newly eligible and reevaluate the careers of those who have remained on the ballot from the previous year’s attempt.

Several former Atlanta Braves populate the several dozen potential Hall of Famers eligible for induction in the summer of 2020, including the first (and, sadly, probably last) appearance of popular shortstop Rafael Furcal.

With Furcal, we have the spark that started off games for the last six years of Atlanta’s legendary 14-straight NL East Division wins.

‘Fookie,’ as Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox called him (would ‘Raffy’ have probably been better? …yes.), exploded onto the scene in 2000, making the leap straight from Single A to the Major League ballclub thanks to an offseason injury to then shortstop (now bench coach) Walt Weiss.

Furcal hit .295 with 40 stolen bases that season en route to a Rookie of the Year award.

He was a consistent presence at the top of the lineup after that, never hitting below .275 and never swiping fewer than 22 bases. Other highlights during his time with the Braves include hitting three triples in a game (tying an MLB record) and recording the 12th-ever unassisted triple play in 2003.

When he left Atlanta, Furcal put in five and a half solid years (one of which – 2005 – was pretty spectacular) with the Los Angeles Dodgers, before being traded to St. Louis in 2011, where he won the World Series.

His career did not end with the same pop with which it began – a 9-game stint with Miami in 2014 – but he hung his cleats up with a .281 batting average, a .748 OPS, and 314 stolen bases. Is it enough to make the Hall?

It isn’t. This will undoubtedly be Furcal’s only season on the ballot – it’s too overcrowded with better candidates for him to get the necessary 5% of the vote to stick around another year.

It’s a shame, too, because while Furcal didn’t have the kind of eye-popping numbers that merit induction, he was an indispensable piece of winning teams for his entire career (almost every winning team has a player like this – essential to the team and overshadowed by his teammates).

There were plenty of factors that led to the end of the Braves’ 14-season winning streak, but the fact that Furcal leaving coincided with that end is no coincidence.

The fact that Furcal’s teams made the playoffs in 10 of 14 seasons is no coincidence either (10 out of 13 if you discount that week and a half he played for the Marlins). Fookie was a winning player, and that’s not nothing.

Unfortunately, it also isn’t going to be enough. Furcal’s biggest skillset was his speed – both bat speed and baserunning speed – and that’s a skill that conveniently doesn’t slump (hence his consistency) but inconveniently doesn’t age well (hence his numbers beginning to dwindle at age 33 and his retirement at age 36).

Maybe if Furcal’s seasons of peak production had stretched out a little longer, he’d have a better case; but alas, it isn’t so.

It also can’t help that headlining this year’s new Hall of Fame candidates is one of the best shortstops of all time, Derek Jeter.

Furcal pales in comparison, though, to be fair, so do most players at any position. Jeter is likely to be the second unanimous election come January (now that we’re done with that no-unanimous-elections nonsense – what a joke that was for decades).

Despite the fact that he won’t be immortalized in the Hall, Furcal should be able to rest easy knowing that he was a crucial and cherished part of winning teams for his whole career. It’s not a plaque in Cooperstown, but it’s enough to be proud of.

The Trask Train

By: Robert Craft news services

The Gators started slow against Missouri in Columbia. Blame it on the coaching, the weather, or anything you want, but do NOT blame it on Kyle Trask.

After going into the locker room with a 6-3 lead, Gator Nation on Twitter was in meltdown mode. The major debate before, during, and after was: should Kyle Trask be the starting quarterback at Florida?

Kyle Trask was the backup quarterback after Feleipe Franks went down with a dislocated ankle. Trask stepped in and stepped up.

Trask has led the Gators to a great season and afforded a chance for a New Year’s Six Bowl Game.

The optimist on Twitter would look at Kyle Trask and say he holds the ball too long; he isn’t a running threat and he doesn’t fit Dan Mullen’s offense.

No one was paying attention when Trask lead a come from behind win against Kentucky. Nobody cared when he showed intestinal fortitude in the convincing win against Auburn. Trask had fans believing in his team in a shootout in Baton Rouge. As Birdman would say, put some “Respeck” on Kyle Trask’s name.

The loss to Georgia has some fans not caring about the 2020 season.  The big question fans are asking, “Is Trask able to lead this team to a championship or would Florida be better off playing Emory Jones to gain experience for 2020?”

Let me throw another monkey wrench into the quarterback room. What happens if Feleipe Franks decides to return to the Gators next season?

I have seen a lot of fans questioning Dan Mullen on Emory Jones’s playing time. The reason is that Emory has not progressed enough in the passing games to allow him to take the QB1 job.

I think Kyle Trask won the backup quarterback job during camp and now give the Gators the best chance to win. He is completing 66.8% of his passes this season, a bit over 2/3.

Remember this is Trask’s first year playing as a starting quarterback since Junior High. Trask’s ability to make the correct reads and deliver the football on time in limited playing time has translated into wins.

Florida’s rushing attack has been non-existent this season. The offensive line can’t bust a grape and the running backs are averaging less than 4.1 yards per carry.

Coach Mullen was hired to win games. Florida’s new fun and gun offense put their talent in the best position to win. Kyle Trask as the starting quarterback also puts the Gators in the best position to win.

The answer to whether Trask can win a championship has proven to be “NO”, at least for the 2019 season.  Trask is a redshirt Junior and has one year left at Florida.

The 2020 team will be different. Florida loses a lot of leadership and production players, but Coach Mullen has changed the direction of the program in two short years and has the Gators trajectory heading in the right direction.

Perhaps it would behoove Gator fans on Twitter and Facebook to be a little more patient with Kyle Trask. Just last year, LSU fans were having the same discussion with Joe Burrow. This season Burrow is lighting it up and is the favorite to win the Heisman.

I am not saying Trask will take the same path as Burrow, but you have to let the young man develop. Trask is going to have to take the right steps forward in a continually challenging SEC Conference, but his trajectory indicates success on the Swamp’s horizon.

Mullen, Gator Nation, and the players know that to win a championship, you have to beat Georgia. That is not an easy task, considering Georgia is an Elite, championship program.

To the fans questioning Coach Mullen’s decisions, I say “Trust The Process!

There is still work to be done. There is still time to jump on the Trask Train! Trask 2020, make the Gators Great Again!”

Not Your Father’s Tigers

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The college football regular season is winding down. Clemson won the national championship last year and they are in the hunt again this season.

They currently have the top ranked recruiting class for 2020. Let’s take a look at some of the incoming talent.

So far, they have 20 commits including six 5-star recruits and nine 4-star. The Tigers have a hard commit from the top player in the nation, defensive tackle Bryan Bresee. He attends Damascus High in Maryland.

At 6’5, 290 pounds he already looks like a pro lineman. He’s dominant and if you have not seen his highlights yet I advise you to check him out.

Another 5-star defensive lineman joining Bresee in Death Valley is defensive end Myles Murphy. Murphy attends Hillgrove in Powder Springs, Ga. He’s 6’5, 260 lbs. so he also looks physically imposing. At The Opening he ran a 4.65 forty and had a 34.10 vertical. He’s the No. 4 recruit in the country.

Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is the best pro style QB in this entire recruiting class.

He’s like a bigger more powerful version of Tua, standing at 6’4 and 246 pounds. You might be familiar with him from the show QB 1 Beyond the Lights.

He plays for national power St. John Bosco (California). Getting a highly recruited player like him from California shows just how much Clemson has grown as a program. They typically recruit well in the Southeast but rarely get players from outside that region.

DJ also plays basketball and baseball so he’s a good athlete and he moves well for his size. Through 11 games this season he has passed for 3,177 yards, 35 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He also completes 63% of his passes.

His team travels and plays several ranked teams from out of state. They also played the top high school team in the nation, Mater Dei so his numbers are impressive.

Running back Demarkcus Bowman (Lakeland, Fl) is ranked No. 3 nationally at his position. He averaged 11.9 yards per carry this season and last season was the same. Through 10 regular season games he has 1,523 yards and 23 touchdowns. He’s a big play threat and his longest run of the season is 88 yards.

Cornerback Fred Davis II (Jacksonville, Fl) is 6’0 so he has good size for the position. He’s ranked third at the position nationally. His official forty time is 4.3 so he’s very fast. He is expected to step on campus and be a shutdown corner.

The final 5-star player is defensive tackle Demonte Capehart from IMG Academy. IMG recruits nationally so being a standout player for that team means he’s an elite player. He’s the No. 4 recruit in the state of Florida.

Capehart is 6’5 and 295 pounds. Many of these players have prototypical size already.

Clemson has been very successful without having top 5 recruiting classes. Now that they are getting this much talent it’s frightening for the rest of the college football programs.

Their defensive line should be the best within the next two years.

Round of 16

By: Jason Bishop news services

The second round of High School Football playoffs approaches this week. Here are previews for the games this round for our area teams in southeast Georgia.

Coffee County Trojans @ Mays Raiders: Coffee County finished with the number 3 seed from the vaunted 1-6A region. That region includes Valdosta, Lee, Houston and Northside Warner Robins.

The Trojans enter the second round at 8-3 and looking to get a shot at the winner of Stephenson and Allatoona in the round of 8.

However, in order to do that Coffee will have to get through Mays, no easy task.

Mays is 10-1 and the region champ from region 5-6A. This game will also be played in Atlanta as Coffee is a 3 seed and Mays is a 1 seed. The Raiders have wins against Creekside, South Paulding and Northgate on the season.

Despite the fact Mays is a region champ, I think the Trojans will win this game and move on to the Elite 8. This will be a war.

            Lanier Longhorns @ Richmond Hill Wildcats: Richmond Hill won region 2-6A and carries a one seed. Most did not expect the Wildcats to win the region, but they did.

Richmond Hill is 7-3 on the season after the first-round win over 4 seed ML King. The Wildcats best win is probably against region foe Glynn Academy, who also is still playing.

Lanier is the 2 seed from region 8-6A. The only loss of the season for the Longhorns is to powerhouse and region champ Dacula.

Lanier’s best win probably came last week against a 6-5 Sprayberry team. The Longhorns schedule was very soft this season. They are currently 10-1. Lanier will be heading to Richmond Hill from Sugar Hill, not a short trip.

This might be closer than most think, but I will take Lanier to move on.

Glynn Academy Red Terrors @ Dacula Falcons: By most standards, Glynn has had a subpar season. The Terrors finished the season 5-4 and a 2 seed in region 2-6A.

The Red Terrors have come to expect region championships and deep playoff runs under head coach Rocky Hidalgo.

The Red Terrors dominated a tough Tucker team in the first round 31-7 at Glynn County Stadium.

Now Glynn will head up to Atlanta to battle with the number 1 seed from region 8-6A, the Dacula Falcons.

The Falcons are currently unbeaten (11-0), and have beaten Lanier, Dalton, and 7A playoff team Mill Creek.

This is tough test for Glynn. Plus, the Red Terrors will have to venture up to Atlanta for this game. I will take Dacula in a close game.

Brunswick High Pirates @ Harrison Hoyas: The Pirates got off to tough start this season, but rebounded and made the playoffs as the 3 seed from region 2-6A. The Pirates are 6-5 on the season and won their first playoff game since 2010 last week against Morrow, 34-13.

This week Brunswick will head to Kennesaw to take on undefeated Harrison (11-0).

The Hoyas are the number one seed from region 6-6A. Harrison is currently enjoying a stretch of success that dates back to when Justin Fields was their QB.

Harrison has beaten Sprayberry, Dalton, Allatoona and last week ended the season of Winder-Barrow.

The Pirates best win of the season came last week with the Morrow win.

This is going to be tough one for the Pirates. I will take Harrison to move on.

Buford Wolves @ Ware County Gators: Ware comes into this game 8-3 and the number one seed from region 2-5A.

The Gators rebounded from a tough start to the season and went through region play to win the region.

Last week Ware struggled with 4 seed Ola but pulled away late to advance. Waiting for them is powerhouse Buford.

Buford is 10-1. That loss was to Clarke County Central, which lost the region for the Wolves. Buford, instead, earned a 2 seed and will be heading to the Swamp in Waycross to take on the Gators.

The wins the Wolves have season reads as a “Who’s who” of high school powers in North Georgia. That list includes Milton, Newton, Archer, Cedar Shoals, and Decatur.

Ware’s best win is Wayne County. Ware may be overmatched here.

I will take Buford to move on to the Elite 8.

            Wayne County Yellow Jackets @ Clarke County Central Gladiators: The Yellow Jackets have been a tough team to figure out this season.

Certain weeks they have looked like a serious state title contender and others weeks not so much.

Wayne is 8-2 on the season and ended up with the 2 seed from region 2-5A.

The Yellow Jackets took down Stockbridge last week in a game I gave them no chance of winning. Yet, they did and moved on the round of 16.

Waiting for them is the number one seed from region 8-6A, Clarke County Central. The Gladiators are 8-3 on the season and beat Lithia Springs last week, 63-34.

Clarke Central will be a tough out for Wayne, but is beatable.  This should be a tough, tight game.

The Yellow Jackets will have to go to Athens to play this game and that could be the difference.  I will take Clarke Central in a nail biter.

The SEC Fortune Teller

By: JJ Lanier news services

As sportswriters, we love to make predictions, especially when we don’t revisit our assumptions afterwards to see how well we did.

So, in the spirit of trying to hold myself accountable, here are three semi-bold predictions for the upcoming SEC basketball season, that I’ll come back to at season’s end to see how I did.

1- Florida, not Kentucky, will enter the SEC Tournament with the best conference record. On the surface it’s easy to dismiss this as an overreaction on my part to Kentucky’s loss to Evansville; I promise it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, as much as I enjoy watching a John Calipari coached team lose that type of game, the outcome will have absolutely zero bearing on the team they’ll ultimately become.

The reason I’m going with Florida is, besides the dearth of talent on the Gators roster, Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Normally, the expectations for a graduate transfer aren’t quite that high because if they were that talented to begin with, they would’ve either already been drafted, or would still be with their original team; Blackshear is the rare exception.

Having watched him play at Virginia Tech for the past few years, he is a better than average talent who will bring experience and tenacity to the Gators.

He’s that “heart and soul” type player you want on your team in big time games, because in most instances he’s going to deliver. He may not be the best player in the conference, but he could wind up being the most important.

2- Anthony Edwards will be the SEC Player of the Year. I say this about Edwards for two reasons.

The first is that I genuinely think he may be the most talented player in the country. In a freshman class that is underwhelming compared to the last few years, Edwards is one of the few players that would’ve been a top tier talent in those earlier classes.

The second, and what may factor in as much as his talent, is that Tom Crean is going to make sure Edwards is showcased as much as he can.

It’s like if you were the owner of Willie’s Wee-Nee Wagon for a day, would you spend it advertising the burger and hotdogs, or would you push the pork chop sandwich?

You’re going to go with what works best, right. (By the way, Cole Anthony is going to get the same treatment at UNC that Edwards will get.)

Edwards has the potential to be a program changing recruit, so you know Crean is going to give him every opportunity to put up numbers. Edwards won’t be the most efficient player in the country, but he may turn out to the best.

3- Only 5 teams from the SEC will hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Out of the three predictions, this is the one most likely to come back and bite me.

College basketball is so wide open this year it’s difficult to find a team, let alone multiple teams, you feel confident in.

This may be the season all those whose clamor to see more mid-major teams in the tournament get their wish.

Regardless of whether or not any of these predictions come true, this season promises to be an entertaining one. It’ll just be a little bit easier to revisit in a few months if I happen to be right.

The Closing Act

By: TJ Hartnett news services

While the first two moves of the Atlanta Braves’ offseason failed to impress (the re-signing of Tyler Flowers and Nick Markakis), Alex Anthopoulos and company made a bigger splash by signing the best free agent relief pitcher on the market.

Atlanta inked All-Star closer Will Smith to a 3-year, $39 million contract (with a 4th year club option for another $13 million), shoring up what was their most glaring weakness going into the 2019 season and checking off one of the bigger offseason boxes on their list (though far from their only need).

This is a signing that looks good and should pay dividends, even if Brian Snitker keeps Smith’s former teammate from the San Francisco Giants Mark Melancon in the closer role.

Smith’s numbers against lefties are ridiculous. He has allowed a .157 batting average against and an OPS of a meager .395 from southpaws, not to mention an insane 42-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties. That’s 42 strikeouts for every 1 walk that he surrenders.

Really bonkers stuff from Smith. His numbers against righties (.212 average, .709 OPS) are strong as well. He gets strikeouts, with 37% of his outs coming from a K, and he’s managed to keep walks low and balls in the ballpark for his whole career.

The indication that Melancon will retain his role as the team’s closer isn’t much of a surprise, given that Melancon converted all 11 save opportunities after Atlanta acquired him midseason.

He’ll back the guy who’s played for him; but it may not stay that way for long. Smith seems like the more natural choice, given his stuff and his strikeouts, plus the fact that Melancon has one year left on his contract and Smith just signed for three (maybe four). That means the job will be Smith’s eventually anyway. Time will tell how things shake out.

Perhaps, the more interesting (and immediate) consequence to consider of Smith’s signing is what it means for the rest of the Braves’ offseason. $13 is nothing to scoff at, which could mean one of two things: 1) Liberty Media has decided to open their checkbook and Atlanta is ready to spend on talent, or 2) this was the big signing of the offseason for the Braves.

Knowing Liberty Media, the latter does seem likely.

Josh Donaldson is still out there, having predictably rejected the Braves’ qualifying offer of nearly $18 million to play third base for them in 2020.

The market for him will be one to watch. I still feel that everything being relatively equal, Donaldson will return to Atlanta, umbrella in tow.

I don’t foresee him signing with the team sight unseen, but even with a salary discrepancy of, say $10 million (another team offers him 3 years, $80 million vs. a Braves offer of 3 years, $70 million), he’ll be back at the hot corner in Suntrust Park this April.

I also think that Madison Bumgarner is still on the table after the Smith signing. I do wonder, however, if both would be.

Certainly, signing Donaldson to somewhere around $25 million eliminates even the vaguest possibility of a Gerrit Cole joining the Braves. (A long shot regardless – the Braves can’t win a bidding war.)

Madison Bumgarner might be looking at something more akin to $10-15 million per year for 2 or 3 seasons. That’s not unreasonable for the Braves to afford.

The issue then becomes finding a catcher and deciding what to do in the outfield (start the season with Inciarte, Acuna, and a farm hand?).

Questions are infinite, but at the end of the day the Braves took care of a need, and that’s a good start.

The Inflated SEC

By: Mike Anthony news services

On Tuesday night, the latest installment of the College Football Playoff rankings were released.

There weren’t too many surprises. LSU topped the chart after an historic win over Alabama. Ohio State continues to churn along and the defending champions from Clemson won’t drop out of a coveted top-4 so long as they remain undefeated.

The only small surprise was that Alabama fell all the way out of the top-4, coming in at No. 5 while Georgia claimed the final spot – for now – in the ultimate playoff.

There is still a month to play in the regular season and history suggests that a big shakeup or two are still in store, but the latest rankings continued a long-running trend.

For more than a decade it has been pretty much impossible for Southeastern Conference teams to not make up a large portion of any poll.

To be fair, there is no reason to be surprised by seeing SEC teams ranked near the top. The conference won seven consecutive national championships from 2006-12 and has won two more since then. A team from the SEC was also the runner-up in three other title games since 2012.

It’s inarguable that the SEC routinely produces some of the best teams each year. But a quick look at how the rankings – both the playoff rankings and the Associated Press poll – play out each week shows why the league is all but guaranteed to get a crack at the title, even in down years.

The fact that the thousands of bowl game fans doing the ‘S-E-C’ chant don’t want to admit is that, for all the greatness of the top few teams each season, the bottom of the league features bad teams the likes of which can be found in any other conference. But the real issue with the SEC and the rankings comes from the 4-5 teams in the middle of the conference standings.

Year in and year out, ranked SEC teams that suffer tough losses never seem to suffer the same sort of hit in the polls as similar middling teams from other leagues.

As an example, from the most recent playoff rankings, Florida and Auburn are the two highest ranked two-loss teams and both come in ahead of undefeated P5 school Baylor, as well as five other teams with just one loss.

The constant argument is that the SEC is just so much better that its teams play exponentially tougher schedules and deserve the benefit of a doubt.

That’s simply not true in practice. Alabama has yet to beat a ranked team this season and only has one left on its schedule.

Auburn has only beaten one ranked team this season in Oregon. Florida’s only win over a ranked team came when it beat Auburn.

That’s the vicious circle which continues to play out in the SEC’s favor. Anytime a favorite wins, like it should against a league doormat, it gets extra credit for winning an SEC game.

When a favorite loses, the blow in the rankings is softened for the same reason. And anytime an otherwise unimpressive SEC team jumps up to beat a league rival, the voters overreact and race to throw that team right into a top-20 spot.

And that’s how the league continues to take up nearly a third of each new poll despite not being nearly the dominant force it was a decade ago.

The top few teams in the SEC are great and have a legitimate shot at a national championship each season. But all of their lesser friends need to stop sucking up all the air in the rankings that could be used on better teams from other conferences.


By: Jason Bishop news services

And here we go. The GHSA football playoffs kick off Friday night and here is a run down of area teams and their matchups in the first round.


Frederica Academy Knights @ Southland Academy Raiders: Southland ended up with the 2 seed in region 3 AAA in GISA. The Raiders upset TiftArea in the final game of the year to earn that seed.

The Knights wore down against Bulloch is the regular season finale and comes into the playoffs having lost 2 straight. The Knights finished the season 4-5, the first losing regular season for the program since 2014. Southland finished 6-4.

Despite having to travel all the way to Americus for this game, I like the Knights to win a close game and advance to the second round of the GISA playoffs.

ECI Bulldogs @ MCA Buccaneers: What a great turn around season for MCA under first year coach Bradley Warren. The Bucs finished the season 5-5, a vast improvement from 2018.

MCA also earned a first-round playoff home game at the Ship and the overall 13 seed out of 24 in GHSA A-Public.

ECI plays in the same region as MCA and lost their cross over game against Savannah Calvary Day. The Bulldogs finished with a 5-5 mark on the season as well. However, three of those losses came to higher division schools…Metter, Vidalia and Dublin. Those losses also came in the first three weeks of the season.

This is will be a tall order for the Bucs. Look for ECI to advance and pull away late, but the future is bright in Darien.

Brantley County Herons @ Peach County Trojans: Brantley makes the playoffs for the first time since in forever. The Herons grabbed the four seed from region 2-3A.

Unfortunately, awaiting the Herons in the first round is powerhouse Peach County. Peach went 9-1 in the regular season and won region 4-3A. Brantley finished 5-5 under Coach Geoff Cannon.

Aside from Brantley having to travel to Fort Valley for this game, the Herons went 1-3 on the road this season. I do not see the Herons escaping the Trojans.

Central Chargers @ Pierce County Bears: Pierce had a tremendous season under first year coach Ryan Herring. The Bears finished 10-0 and blew out most everyone they played. Pierce earned the number one seed in region 2-3A.

Central, from Macon, finished with a losing record of 3-7 and earned the 4 seed from region 4-3A.

I do not look for this game to be close at any point. Pierce will win handily and earn their way to the second round.

Ola Mustangs @ Ware County Gators: The Ware County Gators had an up and down season but played well in the region portion of their schedule to earn the number one seed in region 2-5A. They did so by blowing the #2 seed from the region, Wayne County in the season finale.

The Gators will welcome the Ola Mustangs to the Swamp in Waycross.

Ola went 7-3 on the regular season and that was only good enough for the 4 seed out of region 4-5A. It is not often you see a 7-3 four seed.

The Gators finished 7-3 themselves on the season. I see potential for an upset written all over this game, but I will take Ware at home in tough fought first round win.

Stockbridge Tigers @ Wayne County Yellow Jackets: Wayne earned the number 2 seed in region 2-5A but should still be licking its’ wounds after getting throttled by Ware County last week.

The Yellow Jackets will as well host a team from region 4-5A in Stockbridge. The Tigers finished 7-3 and are the 3 seed from that region.

Wayne finished the season with a 7-2 record, they lost a game in the regular season due to the hurricane.

I think Stockbridge is very good and they will be a tough test for the Yellow Jackets. I will take Stockbridge to move on.

Tucker Tigers @ Glynn Academy Red Terrors: Tucker will take the trip to Glynn County Stadium to play Glynn. The Red Terrors had a roller coaster year and finished 5-4 on the season, which was good for the 2 seed from region 2-6A.

Tucker finished 6-4 and lost to Stephenson in the final game of the year to lose the region championship for region 4-6A. With that loss, it took Tucker all the way from potential champs to the 3 seed.

Both of these teams have had a down year compared to where the bar is normally at for these programs.

Tucker’s region was a little tougher than Glynn’s region and the Tigers lost a tight game to region champ Stephenson last week. I will take the Tucker Tigers to move into the second round in a very good game.

Brunswick High Pirates @ Morrow Mustangs: Brunswick High made the playoffs for the first time in a couple of years as the 3 seed from region 2-6A.

The Pirates finished the season 5-5 and have had 2 weeks to prepare for the playoffs and get healthy.

Morrow dumptrucked MLK 39-13 last week to earn the 2 seed from region 4-6A. Once Stephenson beat Tucker for the region, the Mustangs were able to move up to the 2 seed as they beat Tucker head to head in the regular season.

Morrow finished 6-4 on the regular season.

This may end up being a break for the Pirates, getting Morrow instead of Tucker. We will see, but I am picking the Pirates to win their first playoff game in the Sean Pender era against Morrow.

Camden County Wildcats @ Marietta Blue Devils: Camden had a great season finishing 8-2 on the season. The only 2 losses came at the hands of region foes Colquitt and Lowndes, both powerhouses.

Those losses pushed Camden to the 3 seed in region 1-7A.

The Wildcats will head up to Atlanta to take on the Marietta Blue Devils. Marietta finished the season 8-2 and those losses came at the hands of powerhouses Grayson and McEachern.

The Blue Devils are the 2 seed from region 3-7A. What a great first round game. I will take Camden to take down Marietta on the road but in a close defensive struggle.

Improving The Gator Bite

By: Robert Craft news services

I have spent a lot less time writing about recruiting during the college football season.  The season is short and I want to enjoy every Saturday while I have it.

After watching the Georgia-Florida game, I definitely see a talent difference between the two SEC programs.

Georgia has been recruiting at an elite level since Kirby Smart arrived in Athens. Florida’s recruiting classes under Mullen have been good, but not elite. If Mullen wants to compete with Georgia on the field, he must first start winning some battles off the field.

Georgia has four commits from the state of Florida, all five are top 50 players in Florida.

They are four-star QB Carson Beck out of Jacksonville, four-star DT Jalen Carter out of Apopka, four-star OL Joshua Braun out of Live Oak and four-star WR Marcus Rosemy. I do not count 4-star DT Warren Brinson from IMG Academy because he is from Savannah.

Three of the four commits live less than a two hour drive from Gainesville. Coach Mullen must do a better job keeping the in-state talent in state (this goes for Miami, FSU and UCF).

Georgia is currently ranked fifth nationally and third in the SEC with 16 commits. Florida is currently ranked 11th nationally and sixth in the SEC with 19 commits.

Mullen’s current staff does not have an Alpha on the recruiting trail. Mullen must add one or more to his staff and increase staff in the recruiting department.

Florida currently has 19 commits and can take as many as 30 this cycle. I believe the Gators will take right around 27 this cycle.

The Gators’ strong season and HBO special exposure is having a positive impact on recruiting. Also, Willie Taggart’s firing will provide positive ramifications due to lack of competition.

Florida recruiting class has one quarterback, three receivers, four offensive linemen, one tight end, four defensive linemen, one linebacker and five defensive backs. Florida appears to be done adding to this class.

The Gators need to address depth on the offensive line and defensive line. This class should have five or six players in the trenches.

Here are some of the top targets still in the noncommitted group.

St. Thomas Aquinas offensive tackle Marcus Dumervil is the Gators main target. Dumervil is a four star and this is going to be a Florida-LSU battle.

Miami Columbus wide receiver Xzavier Henderson is the top wide receiver on the board. Henderson has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, ect. This is a three-way battle between Clemson, Georgia and Florida.

Deerfield Beach running back Jaylan Knighton has turned his interest towards the Gators after decommitting from FSU.

This 2020 class is in the same shape as the 2019 class. If fans are relying on on-field performance to provide a significant bump in this class, the loss to Georgia certainly doesn’t help.

The early signing period is December 18th. National Signing Day always brings a few surprises, and this year will be no exception.

Who is flipping and who is delaying their signing until February? Can the Gators close the talent gap with Georgia and the other elite programs?