Its too early to give final grades, but going into the final exam, in this case the playoffs, the preseason predictions look pretty good.
There have been some surprises, but for the most part the season has been predictable.
• Fourteen of the teams in the N&O preseason top 20 poll still are ranked, including eight of the top 10. Southeast Raleigh was No. 8 in the preseason and Cary was No. 10. Neither is in the rankings now.
But Garner, Leesville Road, Durham Hillside, Wakefield, Middle Creek, Wake Forest-Rolesville and Cleveland were the top seven teams in the preseason and Cardinal Gibbons was No. 9. All are still ranked in the top nine.
Lee County, Orange, Northern Durham, Heritage, Carrboro and South Johnston were not ranked in the preseason, but are now. Northern Durham was tabbed as one to watch, although the Knights look like they are a year ahead of schedule. Bunn (8-2) was ranked in the preseason, but isnt ranked now and probably should be.
Carrboro, Orange and South Johnston surprised me.
• The preseason coach, player and underclassman were Clayton coach Gary Fowler, Wakefield quarterback Connor Mitch and Leesville Road runner Braxton Berrios. They look like pretty good choices right now.
In hindsight, the most overlooked players were Cleveland runner Isaac Martin, Northern Durham runner Kaylyn Flemming and Garner linebacker Jeremie Bolobiongo.
• Raheim Hines was picked as the most important transfer, but maybe Leesville Road quarterback Evan Parker would have been a better choice.
Mitch, Wakefields quarterback, was predicted to be a record-setter. He set the state record with nine touchdown passes and 667 passing yards in a 70-42 victory against Broughton. Dont know when were going to have another quarterback in the area like him. If you go watch a Wakefield game now, you might be able to brag about it later.
• First-year coach of the year? Rodney Sink at Wakefield. The Wolverines have delivered so far.
Top newcomer? Wake Forest-Rolesvilles Bryce Love developed into the Cougars leading ball carrier.
• Best conference? No question. The Cap Eight 4As top three teams are exceptional and fourth-place Heritage would have been higher in another league.
• Knightdale was the pick as the areas surprise team and the Knights havent disappointed, although Carrboro has been a big surprise, too.
• Raleigh Word of God was picked as the most likely team to play for a state title and thats probable.
On the five key questions heading into the season:
1. What will Cleveland do for an encore? Go 9-1 entering the playoffs.
2. Who will challenge Leesville Road, Wakefield and Wake Forest-Rolesville in the Cap 8? Even though Wakefield finished fourth, the Big Three rule.
3. Who emerges in the Tri-Nine 4A? Middle Creek developed as a dominating team and went undefeated in the league.
4. Is Hillside going to keep it going? Yes. The Hornets won the PAC-Six and are 8-2 entering the playoffs.
5. Who is going to carry the ball for Garner? Raevon Smith has averaged 120 yards rushing and the Trojans are getting 285 rushing yards per game.