Insert any "friday night lights" cliche here, and we're off and running! (Notice: this preview briefly mentions a Georgia high school football player named Shaquille O'Neill.)
Camden County Wildcats - AAAAA Region 3, Kingsland
The two-time reigning state AAAAA champions return their star quarterback, 6-foot-4 senior Joel Ruiz, and not much else. The pride of Savannah must replace 19 starters from last year's team, which finished number 12 in the nation.
And returning a quarterback isn't as critical for Camden as it would be for other schools -- the Wildcats are very much a run-first team, passing only 16 percent of the time last year. Losing two first-team All-State offensive linemen, Jeremiah Booth and Thomas Martin, may add a challenge. They've made their name by playing outstanding defense, holding opponents under a touchdown per game last year.
The Wildcats also face a particularly tough schedule, including a trip to Ft. Lauderdale to face St. Thomas Aquinas, Florida's fifth-best team last year. Head coach Jeff Herron is as respected as any coach in the state, having won the 2008 title with a similar lack of experience.
Camden County puts their 12-game win streak on the line August 27, opening at home against Savannah.
Lowndes Vikings - AAAAA Region 1, Valdosta
Lowndes hopes to ride its overwhelming wing-T running game to its fourth state title in the past seven years and sixth straight region title. Lowndes also loses a pair of All-State offensive linemen, Justin Browning and Ed Christian. Their toughest matchup may be the battle for Winnersville, a road game against crosstown rival No. 8 Valdosta on October 8.
They return quite a few starters from last year's 10-2 team. The '09 Vikings only lost to fellow Five Pointsers Camden County and Northside (by a combined six points) and beat every other team on their schedule by two or more touchdowns. Lowndes' pass defense will be solid, as their best players may be dynamic athlete Tyler Hunter, the nation's ninth-best safety and a Florida State commit, and four-star defensive back Geraldo Orta.
Lowndes opened last Friday night with a 34-26 win over Georgia's 23rd-ranked South Gwinnett.
Griffin Bears - AAAA Region 3A, Griffin
Griffin tore through their schedule last year, only once winning by less than 21 points before losing a playoff battle with Sandy Creek. The state's top-ranked AAAA team lacks senior leadership this season, but features playmakers like running back Wontavious Washington.
The Bears' defense should be as smothering as ever. Expect big things from defensive end Xzavier Dickson, reigning region Defensive Player of the Year and a four-star prospect being recruited by Georgia, Florida, Georgia Tech, Auburn, and Alabama. He's backed by first-team All-State linebacker Kentorius Jackson and cornerback Corey Moore, a four-star Georgia commit.
The Bears kick off their season August 27, welcoming local rival Spalding.
Peachtree Ridge Lions - AAAAA Region 7, Suwanee
Peachtree Ridge has some work to do posting another 10-win season. Last year's team was primed to be the school's return to championship glory, but finished with a close playoff loss to Northside.
They've lost offensive weapon Brad Roby, an Ohio State signee also recruited by Alabama, and their starting quarterback Nick Lombardo to Elon. Returning only eight starters, the Lions' best remaining players are senior twin brothers. Tyler Botts is a defensive end being recruited by Georgia Tech and South Carolina, and Tanner Botts was an All-State linebacker last year.
The Lions won at McEachern last week on a controversial icing-the-kicker call, and open at home September 3 vs. Roswell.
Northside Eagles - AAAA Region 1, Warner Robins
After winning last year's AAAA Championship and finishing No. 4 overall, Northside must deal with a head coaching change. Longtime coach Conrad Nix surprised the school by stepping down after the season. Northside defensive coordinator Kevin Kinsler took over as head Eagle. Kinsler has been one of the state's best assistants for years, with his defenses giving up single-dight points per game nine times in the past 15 years.
Luckily, the team's offense has some measure of continuity, returning All-State quarterback Brian Van Brunt and All-Region running back Shaquille O'Neill. Your correspondent has previously noted how old it makes him feel to note that there are currently college freshmen named Shaquille, but this is the first Shaquille I've seen who went surname as well.
Northside had a four-game winning streak against archrival Warner Robins before losing 21-20 last year. The teams face off again October 1.
That's our preview. Who are you most looking forward to following?
[Image via Flickr user zackojones]