FACT: Tampa Bay is guaranteed at least one team in the state semifinals, and that will likely be the winner of a Plant-Tampa Bay Tech rematch in the region final. That game has to happen. It has Game of the Year II (Game of the Year I was Tech's 32-30 win over Plant in the season opener) written all over it.
FICTION: No one from Tampa Bay has a chance to win a state title in 5A because Lakeland and St. Thomas Aquinas are unbeatable. Listen, Lakeland needed a touchdown with 40 seconds left to beat Kathleen last week, and while playing in front of 10,000 on that small college stadium of theirs is no treat, I don't see Plant or Tampa Bay Tech being intimidated by it like Chamberlain was last year. As for Aquinas, beating them will be a herculean challenge, but truth is, Largo hung with them for a half each of the past two seasons. You telling me Plant and TBT can't do the same.
QUESTION: Locally, is this class all about Plant and TBT?
ANSWER: Countryside has a solid offense with standout running back Alton Taylor running behind a big offensive line. But is the defense tough enough to handle Tech's smash-mouth attack should they meet in the second round? Doubtful.
POINT: It's all about the running game and defense in the postseason, and Tech's running back combo of Maurice Hagens and Cludner LeCount and its nasty roughneck defense is as good as it gets.
COUNTERPOINT: It's all about balance and defense in the postseason, and Plant hasn't even had to unleash weapons like Allen Sampson, T.J. Glover, Deandre Queeen, James Wilder Jr. and Phillip Ely because the Panthers spread it out so well. Oh, and Plant's defense has allowed more than 13 points just once in eight straight wins since that season-opening loss.
FRIDAY: Look for Plant over Plant City, Alonso over Newsome, Tech over East Lake, Countryside over Freedom, Bradenton Manatee over Gibbs and Venice over St. Petersburg.
FACT: Though two years too late for my tastes, Hillsborough at Largo is the best opening-round game, with the Terriers stumbling across the bridge after getting smacked in the mouth last week by TBT and Largo hoping Myrick Gwyn explodes in his first start ever at running back and praying its linebackers stop missing tackles.
FICTION: Tarpon Springs has the easiest path in the playoffs. The Spongers will be fortunate to get by Lake Weir tonight, and even more fortunate to get past Gainesville. What once looked like an easy road is now surprisingly treacherous.
QUESTION: Can Armwood run the table?
ANSWER: Yes, they can. But will they? The Hawks have arguably the best defensive player in the area in linebacker Jermaine McKinney and an awesome defensive line, so anyone scoring enough on them to actually win until the region final seems unlikely (though I can't shake the feeling Hillsborough finally gets it together). Dwyer is the big challenge, with uber-recruit running back Matt Elam and 6-4, 225-pound quarterback Jacoby Brisset heading up a mighty offense. Still, Armwood is tough enough to make the state final.
POINT: Hillsborough was supposed to be the team in Class 4A this season. Some people (cough cough) pegged them for a state title. Guess all those transfers never meshed on offense and the defense turned out to be pretty soft.
COUNTERPOINT: The Terriers lost to Armwood, Tampa Bay Tech and by one point to Jefferson. Against the Hawks, they were down a score until Armwood ran in the clincher with three minutes left. I guess you could make the case that's not terrible. But here's the deal: unless the Terriers get better quickly on both lines, all the talent in the world isn't going to get them past a round or two in the playoffs. Protect quarterback Tarean Austin and stop the other team -- almost 800 yards allowed rushing in the losses -- and maybe you've got something.
FRIDAY: Armwood rolls over Sickles, Hillsborough drops Largo, Lake Weir surprises Tarpon Springs and Hudson falls in Gainesville.
FACT: This region holds the most intrigue. I think Jefferson-Land O'Lakes, Lakewood-Pasco, Nature Coast-North Marion are potentially all exciting games, and I'd feel the same way about any of the second-round matchups as well, though a Jefferson-Lakewood rematch sounds the most tasty.
FICTION: Land O'Lakes doesn't stand a chance against Jefferson. Everyone is sleeping on the Gators, mainly due to the Dragons' high-powered offense led by record-setting quarterback Quentin Williams. Minus Gator Stevie Weatherford, Pasco County doesn't have a quarterback in Williams' league (or pass catcher comparable to Andre Davis), but the Land O'Lakes defense did hold the three most prolific Pasco passers - Pasco's D.J. Clower, Gulf's Madison Burr and Hudson's Zack Wynn -- to 30-for-83 passing combined (36 percent). On offense, Weatherford and Alex Robinson are the most underrated duo in Tampa Bay.
QUESTION: Does Nature Coast have a run in them?
ANSWER: Unlikely. If the Sharks beat North Marion, they will meet Dunnellon in the rematch in the second round and can hang with any combo of Jefferson-Lakewood-Pasco-Land O'Lakes. But back to beating North Marion....
POINT: Jefferson beat Lakewood already, and a rematch in the second round would go about the same way.
COUNTERPOINT: Notice how every team that lost this season had the swine flu that week? Just sayin'. But illness that had reportedly slowed the Spartans down in their 27-6 loss aside, the Spartans played their worst game of the year, rushing for 62 yards and completing just 9 of 27 passes. They can't be that bad again, can they? Doubt it.
TONIGHT: I'm feeling North Marion over Nature Coast, Lakewood over Pasco and Jefferson over Land O'Lakes closer than people think.
FACT: Tampa Catholic is still, despite last week's loss to Jesuit, the bay area's best hope to reach a state title game. Yeah, that loss to Jesuit was pretty ugly, but the Crusaders also lost to the Tigers in 2007 when they finished as state runnerup. Quite frankly, I'm more concerned with the number of close games against teams they should have been blowing out all season, but I'm trying not to think about it when assessing the Crusaders chances of winning at Pahokee (a 47-21 loser last week to Belle Glades Glades Central) in the 2B semifinals. It will be Christian Green's big chance to prove he's a great quarterback and not just a wide receiver playing the position.
FICTION: Robinson is still, despite last week's loss to Plant, the bay area's best hope to reach a state title game. You can make a stronger case for the Knights now than a few weeks ago, and it would be a terrific story. They have the playmakers to do serious damage in the postseason, but it comes down to this -- I like TC's chances against Pahokee more than Robinson's chances against Glades Central's awesome aerial attack (did I mention it beat Pahokee 47-21?).
QUESTION: What about Jesuit?
ANSWER: It's impossible to imagine the Tigers getting smoked 50-10 by Robinson again, but if they meet in the second round the Knights would have to be favored. Jesuit (behind quarterback Bobby Eveld and running back Robby Garcia) has been great since that loss to Robinson, outscoring opponents 211-38, but the quality of opposition (minus Tampa Catholic) has been weak. Tonight's opponent, Hardee, has three rushers with 700 yards or more, and may be more battle-tested than the Tigers.
POINT: Class A and B are a wash against this year for local teams.
COUNTERPOINT: Just when I started believing in Class A Admiral Farragut it drops two straight to end the season. Berkeley Prep has a coach that knows how to win, quarterback Destin Nichols has 15 touchdown passes and only two picks, and playmaker Nelson Agholor has over 1,000 total yards and 20 touchdowns. But can the defense stop a Dixie County Wing-T that has produced almost 3,000 yards rushing this year, and in the second round shut down a Fort meade team that scored 50 in a win over the Bucs? Okay, so maybe not much of a counterpoint.
TONIGHT: A hunch has Hardee over Jesuit, Robinson beating Arcadia DeSoto County, Tampa Catholic flexing its bruised muscles over Dunbar, Dixie County handling Berkelely Prep and Sarasota Out-of-Door dumping the Blue Jackets.
-- JOHN C. COTEY