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Beyond the Scoreboard: Who's in, who's out, who's on the bubble in football playoffs

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Last year, 19 Western North Carolina schools received invites to the high school football playoffs, and it appears about 20 or 21 teams will get bids this season. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

All questions will be answered Saturday, when the NC High School Athletic Association releases brackets for the 224 teams that will make up the 2018 high school playoffs across the state.

Until then, there are plenty of questions about who is in, who is out and who is on the bubble for a playoff berth.

Last year, 19 Western North Carolina schools received invites, and it appears about 20 or 21 teams will get bids this season.

The playoffs begin Nov. 16 with eight classifications - the 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A divisions are subdivided into A and AA ranks based on enrollment figures - with the 1A and 1AA plus the 4A and 4AA brackets having 24 teams each and the 2A/2AA and 3A/3AA divisions featuring 32-team fields.

Guaranteed playoff spots from each conference are based on the size of the league - conferences with one to four teams are assured of one spot, leagues with five to eight team leagues get two berths and conferences with nine or more schools are promised three slots.

To complete the fields, computer rankings by MaxPreps.com are used to invite at-large teams.

Here's a look at what teams are guaranteed spots, what schools are looking good and what schools can put up their gear.

Western Mountain Athletic 3A Conference - The three guaranteed sports will go to Reynolds (10-1, 8-0), Erwin (9-1, 7-1) and Asheville High (7-4, 6-2). Fourth-place Tuscola (7-4, 5-3) looks secure to get an at-large bid, while fifth-place North Buncombe (6-5, 4-4) looks very shaky on the bubble. Last year, fifth-place West Henderson had the same record as North Buncombe this season and didn't get in.

The teams that finished in sixth through ninth place in 2018 - Roberson (3-8, 3-5), West Henderson (4-7, 2-6), Enka (1-10, 1-7) and North Henderson (0-11, 0-8) - will almost definitely stay at home.

Last year, the league got four bids - Reynolds, Asheville, Erwin and Tuscola.

Mountain Six 2A - Regular-season champion Pisgah (10-1, 5-0) and second-place Smoky Mountain (8-3, 3-2) are locks. Brevard (8-3, 3-2), which tied with Smoky Mountain for second but lost the head-to-head matchup, should be in.

Last year, two 6-5 teams (Brevard and Pisgah) and a 5-6 squad (Smoky Mountain) got in, which bodes well for the two squads that tied for fourth this season at 6-5, 2-3, Franklin and Hendersonville.

Even last place East Henderson (5-6, 0-5) may sneak in, but it's doubtful.

Last year, the league got five bids - Franklin, Hendersonville, Brevard, Pisgah and Smoky Mountain.

Western Highlands 2A/1A - Conference champion Mountain Heritage (9-1, 5-0) is in as a 2A school, and second-place Mitchell (9-2, 4-1) has locked up a spot in the 1A division. 2A Owen (4-6, 3-2) and 1A Polk County (3-8, 2-3) have slight hopes of sneaking in. If Polk County fails to snare an invite, it would break a string of 18 straight seasons of playing in the postseason.

Last year, the league got three bids - Mountain Heritage, Mitchell and Polk County.

Smoky Mountain 1A - Perhaps in deference to the fact that the state's strongest conference has produced more than 30 state champions over the decades, this league almost always sends a bunch of teams. The guarantees go to champion Murphy (9-1, 6-0) and second-place Robbinsville (9-2, 5-1), while Swain County (6-5, 5-2) and Cherokee (6-5, 3-3) are very likely in the field.

In 2017, 3-8 Hayesville and 2-9 Rosman got in from the SMC, which would make one assume Rosman (3-8, 2-4) and Andrews (3-8, 1-5) would get serious looks.

Last year, the league got six bids - Murphy, Swain, Cherokee, Robbinsville, Hayesville and Rosman.

Other WNC schools - 4A McDowell, a 4-7 team that finished tied for sixth (2-5) in the eight-team Northwestern 4A/3A Conference, gets a bid because it beat South Caldwell, the other 4A team in the league.

1A Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy (11-0, 7-0), WNC's only unbeaten team, could get a one or two seed and a first-round bye. The Gryphons were a No. 3 seed last year when they finished 10-1 in the regular season.

2A East Rutherford (9-2, 4-2) finished third in the Southwestern 2A Conference behind perennial powers Shelby and South Point and will almost definitely get an invite.

Care to comment? Contact keithjarrettasheville@gmail.com

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