Two-a-days practice sessions have come and gone and are little more than a distant memory for literally thousands of high school football players. Those hot August scrimmages that many of us witnessed only a few short weeks ago are no longer the critical issues they once were. Some fans would actually have to pause and scan their memory banks if asked to name the teams their favorite squads scrimmaged against last month.
More than three-fourths of the high school football teams across the state now have two official games under their belts. But these games have not been against district opponents. As important as they have been, this week's contests easily outrank them.
It's the first official week of district (regional play for a few) competition. Games this week are the ones that really count as far as playoff possibilities are concerned. A loss this week could all but knock a team out of the playoff picture, especially with the new format regarding playoff participation.
The new post-season selection plan only guarantees that two teams from any given district get playoff invitations. Some of the state's tougher leagues, such as District 7AAA in Rutherford County, may have a hard time sending three teams to the playoffs this year.
If 7AAA has a third representative in this year's playoffs, it will come as a wild card pick. And although district standings make up the first criteria for playoff selection, a team's overall record is the next critical key. Three overall losses may be good enough for a bowl bid but could very well keep a good football team from this highly competitive district out of the big dance.
Coaches are notorious about using the phrase "we have to win this week" when trying to motivate their players, but those words will likely be used often this week across the state. With an early season mark in the loss column, District 7AAA members Oakland, Riverdale and Siegel now find themselves at a bit of a disadvantage. None can afford two more losses and still feel safe about receiving a playoff bid.
Dobyns Bennett, Hillsboro, Millington, Giles County, Westview and McKenzie find themselves in similar situations as well.
Now that we're in district play, we have to change our way of thinking when it comes to playoff qualifiers. From each grouping of teams, only two will get an automatic bid, not four as we've grown accustomed to in the past.
Bowl games were once very popular across the state. My guess is that we could see the rebirth of a number of bowl games this year. And that's not a bad thing.
(Murphy Fair, a Cannon County resident, has published Tennessee High School Football for the past 22 years. His website (murphyfair.com) gives high school fans further insight into the prep football scene.)