This week, Week 6 in North-Central Florida high school football, the cupboard is a little bare schedule wise.
Many of the top area teams, such as Buchholz and Hawthorne, have their midseason byes, and others, like Williston and Bradford, face easy prey.
With massive games looming on the horizon, I instead want to use this space to address five burning questions for Gainesville area high school football for the last five weeks of the season:
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Can Buchholz keep the momentum going post No. 2 ranking into district play?
As coach Chuck Bell admitted Tuesday evening, the first rankings tend to attract much attention but ultimately don’t mean much.
“You have to take it for what it is,” Bell said. “It’s the first poll of the season, using a computer poll that nobody even knows the formula.”
Bell admitted he introduced the term “rat poison” to his team for the first time Tuesday. The expression, popularized by Alabama coach Nick Saban, represents distractions from outside forces that prevent a team from doing its job.
“These guys are very impressionable, and their brains are very impressionable,” he said. “Just because we got a very talented roster, winning isn’t a foregone conclusion.”
After its bye, Buchholz plays a “road” game at 1-4 GHS next Thursday in the annual city rivalry before embarking on its toughest stretch.
District road games at Oakleaf and Fleming Island, with a home against Bartram sandwiched in between. The Bobcats then close at Trinity Catholic (Ocala), the defending Class 1S finalist.
Given the history and talent, the Bartram game represents the stiffest competition, but all three games in the “district of death” offer a different test in Buchholz’s quest for a perfect season and District 4 title.
Will any 1R teams challenge Hawthorne and Williston?
Through five weeks, we learned a lot in the area, but what’s the clearest? Hawthorne (5-0) and Williston (5-0) are the teams to beat in 1R.
The question instead that needs an answer is which team locally can knock the Hornets and Red Devils off the throne.
Newberry (4-1) ranks as the best of the bunch at fourth in the class according to the FHSAA. It failed at its first bite at the apple in week two with a 40-10 loss to Hawthorne, but it receives a second chance next Friday with hosting Williston.
Problem for Newberry is it resides in Region 4 alongside Hawthorne, Williston and traditional powerhouse Pahokee.
Instead, I look at Region 3. Lafayette (3-1) is the No. 1 seed in the region if the playoffs were to begin today. Fort White (4-1) is No. 2, Union County is No. 4 and Branford (3-1) is No. 5.
The Fightin’ Tigers (2-2) are lone in the bunch with two losses, but both losses came to teams in the FHSAA’s top 80 – Walton (No. 18) and Orlando Christian Prep (No. 79).
We’ll get a good gauge of UC’s ability when it travels to Hawthorne on Oct. 13.
Can Columbia still make the postseason?
Among the 2023 season’s biggest surprises (and disappointments) is Columbia. The Tigers sit at 0-4 after a Class 3S state semifinal appearance in 2020.
All CHS’s four losses came to teams ranked or receiving votes in the top 10 of USA Today’s Florida Network rankings.
In addition, it still holds a chance at the postseason.
The Tigers begin play in 3S District 3 this Friday against Orange Park (2-3). None of the four teams in that district – Columbia, Orange Park, Ridgeview and Middleburg – maintain winning records.
Columbia needs to get a win before the playoff talk becomes real. But given the Tigers pedigree and level of competition, a playoff bid doesn’t appear out of view if it can turn its season around.
Which teams can finish with an undefeated regular season?
Prior to last week, seven teams in the Sun’s coverage area remained unbeaten. That number now sits at five after Branford lost 32-22 to Paxon and Fort White lost 42-7 to Williston.
Four of the five rank inside the top 21 in the FHSAA poll – Buchholz, Williston, Hawthorne and Bradford. Oak Hall (4-0) is the lone other. The Eagles play in the Sunshine State Athletic Association, not the FHSAA.
Still, Oak Hall’s four wins raises eyebrows in a good way. At least 34 points in all four wins, and an average margin of victory of 42.75.
Three of its final four come against teams with .500 or below record, with Master’s Academy (Oviedo) at 3-1 to end the campaign.
There’s no place like home, and Bradford (4-0) will experience plenty of that. BHS plays four of its last six at “Tornado Alley.”
Still, tough contests loom for the Tornadoes. Bradford’s opponents combined record is 20-4. A district title seems likely, but a perfect season will be arduous.
Can Eastside and PK Yonge make a second half move?
Besides the quartet of 1R teams and Buchholz/Bradford, two other local teams hold playoff spots now – Eastside and PK Yonge.
In 2S, Eastside (2-2) seeds fourth in Region 3 behind Bradford, Yulee and Palatka.
They’ve lost to Buchholz and Bradford, but the rest of the schedule is winnable, with one exception – Newberry. The Panthers beat EHS 14-7 last season at home, but this year, the game is at Citizens.
If Eastside can run the table and finish 8-2, it can potentially avoid their kryptonite in the regional semifinals – Bradford.
In 1S, PKY earned a four seed despite a 4-6 record. At 2-2 in 2023, a higher seed appears a possibility for the Blue Wave. It’s projected a No. 3 seed. It still needs to play Newberry and Trinity Catholic, but the combined record of its other three are 3-11.
Still, a bounce back is needed in Willie Jackson’s first season after back-to-back losses to Union County and Hawthorne by a total of 85 points.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: 5 burning questions for Gainesville area high school football teams