For the most part, 2012 will have the usual suspects: Lincoln County will be good and an Eric Parker-coached team will do well. But there will be some differences. Here are a few teams that could improve or be worse this upcoming season.
It would be difficult to not improve after a 2-9 season, but that's not the only reason. There are some great individual talents on the roster, including QB Bo Baldwin. Baldwin, who’s 6-foot-5, put up great numbers before getting injured last season. Now he's back for his junior year, with many big-time SEC and ACC programs already interested. Players like DeAndre Schoultz and Kentucky commit Justin Day also return for South Aiken. And it won't take long to find out where this team stacks up with some of the best; the Thoroughbreds play Richland Northeast, Greenwood, Northwestern, Silver Bluff and Strom Thurmond their first five games of the season.
Well, this is the only direction to go. The Bulldogs went 0-10 this past season, scoring more than six points just once and surrendering at least 34 points in nine games. But Harlem has a schedule to look to for optimism. With the GHSA adding a class, Harlem moves down to Class AA. The Bulldogs also replaced Lincoln County and Warren County with Georgia Military and Glascock County on the non-region schedule. Oglethorpe County and Social Circle also populate the non-region slate.
I don't think anyone expects the Mustangs to go 1-9 again, especially with three losses by seven points or less a year ago. No one will say Rick Knight's bunch will be world beaters, but this is a program that won 24 total games from 2008-2010. It also helps to play Class A teams Allendale-Fairfax and Baptist Hill.
This isn't a knock on coach Myron Newton. It's just that Butler went 8-3 in 2011, made the state playoffs and now has a new head coach trying to overcome some personnel losses. The Bulldogs' non-subregion schedule is also beefed up. Last year's non-region foes went 10-30 thanks to Harlem and Twiggs County going a combined 0-20. This season? Two of the three non-region teams (Laney and Statesboro) won 18 games total. There are wins to be had in the subregion, but there's also a Burke County game there, too.
No, the Yellow Jackets aren't going to fall apart. But they do have to replace 2,000-yard passer Tyrell Hillary, 1,000-yard receiver Montez McGuire ... and some guy named Vinny Miller who ran for 2,704 yards and scored 39 total touchdowns. Again, that's almost 3,000 yards and nearly 40 TDs from one player. Those are incredibly impressive statistics over a two-season stretch, let alone over one like Miller did. Also, when a program goes 12-2 for two consecutive years, it's not exactly difficult to slump a bit.
It would be tough enough to replace Marty Williams, who's at Clemson after recording more than 3,000 offensive yards as a senior. But Quadre Castleberry (700+ yards both receiving and rushing) is also part of the departed group. The Predators went 9-3 in 2011, reaching the second round of the state playoffs. But any team would struggle if tasked with having to move on without somebody like Williams.