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Thursday February 11th, 2016 8:02AM

Another banner year in prep sports could be on tap in 2014-15

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
The inevitable state of change in sports is a constant every year. But the upcoming 2014-15 prep season could take things to a level not seen in the northeast Georgia area in decades, if reality turns out to be as good as the hype.<br /> <br /> Fans of all sports, especially football and basketball, should expect some wide-open and competitive races for playoff spots and the renewal of some old rivalries and hopefully the beginnings of some new ones.<br /> <br /> The latest round of region realignment created one star-studded region from top to bottom in 8-AAAA, and a wide-open region in 7-AAA, where no matter the sport nearly everyone is expected to challenge for a playoff spot.<br /> <br /> With realignment, of course, comes the breaking up of some traditional rivalries while at the same time creating what could be some of the state's best new rivalries.<br /> <br /> With the beginning of the football and softball schedules just over a month away, the new changes, especially in football, will make every week a virtual playoff showdown. <br /> <br /> No region in football, regardless of classification, will have it tougher than 8-AAAA. The additions of Buford, North Hall, Chestatee, White County, and North Oconee, along with region stalwarts Monroe Area and Stephens County, makes every schedule loaded with pitfalls. Six of the nine members made the playoffs in 2013 with Buford the defending Class AAA state champion.<br /> <br /> However, Buford and North Hall both are replacing their starting quarterbacks while defending region champ Monroe Area is rebuilding and will be doing so with a new skipper after head coach Matt Fligg departed at the end of last season. The Wolves may be the early favorites but there are no gimme wins in this region. Basketball and baseball should also be extremely competitive in 8-AAAA.<br /> <br /> Region 7-AAA may be just the opposite of 8-AAAA with Buford, North Hall, and White County moving up and taking three of the four playoff spots in football with them. West Hall is the only team from a year ago to advance to the playoffs and the Spartans lost several key players, including quarterback Zach English and former Georgia-signee Hunter Atkinson (TE).<br /> <br /> But, 7-AAA also is offering up what could be some of the better rivalries in the area with Lumpkin County and Dawson County back in the same region for the first time since 2005. The old foes have met just four times since after playing every season from 1980-2005. East Hall and West Hall will feature, along with Banks County. Basketball, wrestling, and baseball should all be wide-open playoff races as well.<br /> <br /> Region 8-AAA is another region that will be tough in every sport and will have a solid Jackson County flavor. Jefferson, Jackson County, and East Jackson will all be in the same region for the first time. Add Morgan County, Hart County, and Elbert County to the mix and it should be a fun year. Basketball season and baseball season should have everyone in the running for the playoffs as well.<br /> <br /> Region 8-AAAAA saw just one change as Lanier moved into the region from Class AAAA. Region 8-A also remained in tact.<br /> <br /> One of the more intriguing storylines of the football season will be all the new signal-callers in the area. Buford, Gainesville, Flowery Branch, and West Hall, all playoff teams from a year ago, will feature new quarterbacks coming into the 2014 season.<br /> <br /> The Red Elephants may have the tallest task of the group having to replace Deshaun Watson, who set nearly every state passing record and was one of the top quarterbacks in the nation over the past four seasons.<br /> <br /> Habersham Central is on the move again in Class AAAAAA. The Raiders are leaving 7-AAAAAA, where they struggled against Gwinnett County schools twice their size to Region 6-AAAAAA, dominated by Forsyth County schools. What they lose in proximity of travel they more than make up for in competitiveness.<br /> <br /> Overall, area regions have defending state champions in football (Buford 8-AAAA), basketball (Morgan County boys, 8-AAA), softball (Buford), wrestling (Commerce 8-A, Jefferson 8-AAA, Buford), and golf (North Oconee boys 8-AAAA, Commerce girls 8-A).
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