Mr. Football's Top First-Round

Now the regular season has come to a close and after a 10-game campaign some great teams are left standing. Over the next four weeks, the action will really be intense as teams will attempt to reach the ultimate goal of getting to Murfreesboro during the first week of December.

As the weather grows colder (hopefully not much more brisk as it was in every Friday in October) things are bound to heat up on the gridiron. Now, there are now second chances. It's really simple now because it's win or go home.

On the flip side, teams get a clean slate at 0-0. There's bound to be an upset or two along the way as Livingston Academy proved last season (as a 5-5 fourth seed, Livingston got hot and claimed five straight and hoisted the Class 3A trophy).

Over the next few weeks, everything is big. But here are some top picks. Familiarity Breeds Contempt: Week 1 of the 2006 postseason has some old acquaintances reuniting in 2006. The first big rivalry game is: Bearden at Farragut in Class 5A.

Bearden (7-3) at Farragut (7-3)

These two schools are located just a few miles apart and this will be their fourth meeting in two years. Farragut took the regular-season match-up this year 27-14 as the Bulldogs had trouble taking care of the football. These two bitter West Knoxville rivals met in the opening round last year. The Admirals prevailed there. Coach Eddie Courtney's squad also took the traditional meeting last season.

Bearden has a revitalized program thanks to new coach Bill Wilson, who's definitely a front runner for KIL coach of the year. The Bulldogs, led by quarterback Dawson Halliday and Torey Works on offense, had their best season in quite some time. They had wins over West and Central and lost close ones to Kingsport-Dobyns Bennett and Sevier County. Their three losses came to the Admirals, Smoky Bears and Admirals.

Farragut had a great regular season as they followed running back Andre Sterling to some big wins, including a victory over Oak Ridge that sent the Wildcats home for 2006.

The rivalry combined with the playoff atmosphere makes this a must-see for any football fan looking for something to do this week.

My Pick: Bearden

Other familiar foes rekindling postseason relationships include Cleveland and West as well as Central and Rhea County.

Cleveland (7-3) at West (6-4)

These two squads will meet in the first round for the third time in six years. The Blue Raiders and Rebels split the previous two meetings (Both in Bradley County). West beat Cleveland last time the Rebels were in the playoffs and coach Scott Cummings is hoping to celebrate a win on Bill Wilson Field this time.

For West, it's the first home playoff team in at least a decade. The Blue Raiders boast a program rich in tradition. Both will hope to get a chance to dethrone Maryville down the road. But they'll have to win this one first as the longest journey begins with a single step.

My Pick: Celeveland

Central (7-3) at Rhea County (7-3)

The Bobcats and Rhea County played last year in Fountain City and Central advanced after opening a big lead.

Joel Helton's squad had to hang on for a 28-27 victory.

Over the previous four seasons, Central has been one of the most consistent teams in East Tennessee. That has not been the case this season. The Bobcats opened with wins over Middlesboro, Farragut, Halls and Lenoir City.

Then, they dropped consecutive games to Bearden and Maryville. They rebounded to beat South-Doyle, Clinton and Powell. Central, however, was anything but impressive. They closed the regular season by losing to West.

Central has been ravaged by injuries this year and it hasn't helped is cause in recent games. The Bobcats have had turnovers and penalties in recent games. Central can win here if the right team shows up. But it will be tough. Perhaps the most daunting task in Round 1 belongs to Brainerd, which gets first crack at Maryville.

My Pick: Rhea County

Brainerd (4-6) at Maryville (10-0)

The Rebels begin their quest for another title while Brainerd makes its first trip to the playoff since moving to Class 4A. Look for Maryville to breeze here and move on to face the Central-Rhea County winner. Tyler Maples, Adrian Baker Brent Burnette And Company just has too much firepower for Brainerd.

My Pick: Maryville

Powell (5-5) at Red Bank (10-0)

The Panthers and Lions are traditional playoff qualifiers but they'll meet here for the first time in the postseason. The Lions are three-time defending Region 4-3 Champions. They haven't had trouble getting out of the first round. That's been it however.

They've played Halls first in each of the last two seasons and ran smack into Central in the next round. The Red Devils aren't around this year and a Central win means the Bobcats will likely go to Maryville in the second round. So, perhaps Red Bank may have a little better run in 2006. But the Panthers are dangerous despite a mediocre record. They may be the best 5-5 team around.

The Eastern portion of the Class 3A bracket may feature the most talent crop of teams in Tennessee. The winner out of this field will definitely have to survive some scares. All the usual suspects are there.

My Pick: Red Bank

Gibbs (3-7) at Catholic (10-0)

The Irish are the hands on favorite to win the big one but their long tough road starts here. Catholic should have what it takes to advance but stranger things have happened. Catholic isn't about to take anything for granted because an upset at the hands of Livingston Academy sent them packing early last season.

My Pick: Catholic

Kingston (6-4) at Carter (9-1)

This Battle of Bees should be a dandy as the Yellow Jackets travel to Strawberry Plains to face the Hornets. Carter is looking to redeem itself after being bounced in the first round by Livingston Academy last season.

My Pick: Carter

Claiborne (8-2) at Fulton (9-1)

The Falcons who have made three appearances in the state championship game in the last four years hope to make a return trip. First they'll have to beat the Bulldogs.

My Pick: Fulton

In Class 2A: Alcoa looks to be the favorite. But Loudon and Gatlinburg-Pittman have had great seasons as well.

Sweetwater (7-3) at Gatlinburg-Pittman (10-0)

The Highlanders went 10-0 this season and were no doubt motivated by last-year's 91-7 first-round playoff loss to Alcoa. They would no doubt like to avenge that one. But they can't look past Sweetwater because it pack a pretty mean punch of its own.

My Pick: Sweetwater

In Class 1A: Grace Christian makes its first postseason appearance against Coalfield, which had its first-ever 10-win regular season.

Grace Christian (4-6) at Coalfield (10-0)

Both these teams will look to continue their historic seasons. These teams will likely be successful in the years to come but only one can advance this year.

My Pick: Coalfield

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