It’s finally here – week zero of the high school football season! Yes, you heard right, Week 0. I know, it’s strange, and I still haven’t gotten used to it yet, but it at least allows us to have one more week of high school football than before.
Many teams are playing for real this week, but a lot of games will be jamboree or preseason games. With that, all of the games below are real and will count toward a team’s non-region record, which will only come into play if there is a tiebreaker scenario within any given region.
One important note, the AHSAA’s big kickoff event, the “Champions Challenge” is actually two preseason games this year, and not for real. The match-ups are good between 1A champ Maplesville and 2A champ Fyffe, and then Hewitt-Trussville takes on Pell City. Just know that these aren’t “real” games and won’t count against their records.
I’m also trying something new this season, betting lines! Well, not actually for betting of course, but it has become standard practice for ESPN and other broadcasts to utilize Vegas lines when trying to give a feel for how a game turns out. Many times they are right on the money, but others they are completely wrong. There will be lines that hit right on the nose and others that are 40 points off. I have come up with a formula that determines the lines, and although we don’t have a lot to work with so far this year (well…nothing so far), I am using some of last year’s stats along with players that were lost to graduation/transfer/whatever.
It’s more for fun than anything, and we’ll see how accurate I actually am. The lines don’t reflect my personal picks, and if my formula spits out a line I completely disagree with, then I’ll pick against it. Also, my picks are straight up, not on the line, just to clear that up.
You can also catch the lines over at joxpreps.com.
So here is a look at some of the big “real” games this week. Check out the Friday morning preview on WJOX 94.5, and read below for more games.
Gadsden City at Spain Park (-6)
Spain Park is looking to get back on top of 7A Region 3 this season after falling from first to third last year. Hoover is always tough to beat, but a couple of big non-region games can get them ready for a tough region schedule.
Last year, Spain Park took down Gadsden City to start the season 21-17 at Gadsden City. That sent Gadsden City on a downward spiral as they went 1-5 over their first 6 games. However, they still were able to make it to the semi-finals in the playoffs after upsetting Mountain Brook and Hewitt-Trussville.
This year, Gadsden City gets a new head coach in Bart Sessions. However, Sessions knows plenty about Spain Park as he helped lead the defense a couple of years ago to a Super 7 appearance. Sessions was at Tuscaloosa County last year, taking over a tough challenge with an 0-10 team. After one year, he ends up at Gadsden City and gets to open against Spain Park.
For the Jaguars, the team is now led by Braxton Barker (yes, Jay’s son) at quarterback who comes in with experience after earning playing time last season. Behind him in the backfield is D’Arie Johnson, who backed up Larry Wooden last season. There will be two great run games on display with Johnson for Spain Park and Jaelyn Fleming for Gadsden City, who was an honorable mention all-state player last year as an athlete, however Gadsden City also lost Damon Williams at running back.
Both Spain Park and Gadsden City are in good position to make the playoffs this year, and very well could meet up as early as the first round of the playoffs depending on how their respective seasons go, but with Spain Park winning last year at Gadsden City, you have to think playing at home on the freshly installed turf will help give them an edge this week as well.
Jon’s Pick: Spain Park
Hoover at Grayson (GA) (-10)
Spain Park isn’t the only team in a big non-region game from the city of Hoover as the Bucs travel across state lines and face Grayson out of Georgia. Grayson is the defending 7A champion in Georgia and finished #7 in the country in the USA Today Super 25 poll.
However, Grayson’s coach Jeff Herron, who was one of the winningest coaches in the state of Georgia, left Grayson to coach a high school in South Carolina. They also have to replace ELEVEN 3, 4 and 5 stars that graduated last year.
Hoover meanwhile, still has their head coach as Josh Niblett looks to claim yet another state title, and they start as the #9 team in the country according to the USA Today Super 25.
Hoover also has the revenge factor going for them as Grayson not only defeated Hoover last year, but they also took down Ramsay to beat the 6A and 7A champion last season. So Hoover not only wants to win this for themselves, but for the state of Alabama as well.
With the talent that Grayson lost on the field and at head coach, the situation seems to be a little better for Hoover, but it’s still no gimme. This is a clash of titans still and a battle for supremacy between Georgia and Alabama.
Jon’s Pick: Hoover
Pinson Valley (-14) at McAdory
One of the hottest teams to talk about right now in 6A is Pinson Valley. Former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix is now leading the program and son Bo Nix is set to lead the team at quarterback this season.
Last season, Pinson finished the regular season at 7-3 and 3rd in 6A Region 6 with wins over rival Clay-Chalkville and McAdory, who they open up with again this season. Matt Glover did a great job with the Indians last season and that momentum is looking to be carried over to this season.
Pinson ended their season with a win over Jackson-Olin and that great defense, followed by a one-score loss to Austin in the second round of the playoffs. This season they look to avenge that, but while Pinson gets Bo Nix, Austin gets new Auburn commit Asa Martin back at running back from IMG Academy.
While I fully expect these two teams to be the top dogs in the north for 6A, they have to take it one week at a time, starting with this weekend as Pinson has to travel to McAdory.
McAdory finished 7-3 in the regular season last year, and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Blount 27-25. Of their losses, Blount no longer has Kadarius Toney as he’s moved on to Florida and Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa no longer has Brian Robinson as he’s moved on to Alabama. However, Pinson now has even more weapons and that first game will be a tough one before they jump into region play in a few weeks.
Jon’s Pick: Pinson Valley
Muscle Shoals (-3) at Gardendale
Gardendale opens their season this week with Muscle Shoals, a team they beat on the road last year 14-10 to start the season off. They get the Trojans at home this time and look to start as strong as they did last year where many considered them one of the top teams in the state after a strong start over Muscle Shoals and James Clemens.
This is an important game because there is a good chance that they could meet early in the playoffs as their two regions meet up in the first round so they could start the postseason against each other just like they are starting the regular season. Why do I bring that up? Because Muscle Shoals did beat them in the second round last year after Gardendale won the first match-up. If you end up with Pinson and Austin winning those regions, then if one finishes second and the other finishes third, they meet round one.
Gardendale has some talent back, and I like what Matt Plunkett is doing with the program. They definitely will be tested early on, which could have them playing on another level come region play in week 3.
Jon’s Pick: Gardendale
Jackson-Olin (-20) at Woodlawn
This is a big opening match-up between two Birmingham city schools as Tim Vakakes and Jackson-Olin take on Woodlawn and new head coach George Bates.
Bates was the leader of that great Minor team last year, so we’ll see if he can build Woodlawn up to be a power in 5A. For Jackson-Olin, the Mustangs are coming off a season where they finished second in 6A Region 5 and hosted a playoff game where they fell to Pinson Valley. They were one field goal away from being 9-1 in the regular season last year.
Jackson-Olin handled Woodlawn last season 35-6 in this opening game, but things are a little different now. JO had a great defense last season anchored by 5-star LB Tadarian Moultry, who is now at Auburn. Now, they have a leader on that defense who I think is just as talented in 4-star DT Coynis Miller.
This will be a good first test for Woodlawn with their new identity, but also a good first test for Jackson-Olin, who I think has the best chance of the 6A teams in Birmingham to make a run in the playoffs this year similar to what Ramsay did last year. Jackson-Olin has a real shot to win 6A Region 5 with Ramsay falling off a bit from last season, and will compete with the Rams along with Homewood, Hueytown and Parker for the region title.
Jon’s Pick: Jackson-Olin
Other top games (picks in bold):
Bob Jones at Central-Phenix City (-12)
Daphne at Davidson (-2)
McGill-Toolen (-7) at Spanish Fort
Homewood (-6) vs. Pelham
Clay-Chalkville (-10) at Florence
Jasper at Austin (-17)
Mae Jemison at Calera (-1)
Cordova at Mortimer Jordan (-3)
Gordo (-7) at Fayette County