Believe it or not, the high school football regular season is over and section playoffs begin Tuesday night across Minnesota. This year's state tournament has more buzz behind it than usual because it's the first year the state semifinals and Prep Bowls will be played inside U.S. Bank Stadium.
The favorites for each class, based on the final football polls, include:
- Class 6A: Totino-Grace
- Class 5A: Elk River
- Class 4A: South St. Paul
- Class 3A: St. Croix Lutheran
- Class 2A: Caledonia
- Class 1A: Minneota
- 9-Man: Grand Meadow
Grand Meadow, Minneota and Caledonia all won championships last year while the defending champs in 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A are Pierz, Becker, St. Michael-Albertville and Osseo.
Check out all the tourney brackets here.
While the first- and- second-round games will undoubtedly be fantastic, here are 10 possible section finals that everyone should be excited about if they come to fruition. FYI – we'll break down the 6A playoffs on Thursday or Friday.
1. Becker (6-2) vs. Zimmerman (7-1)
Becker has won back-to-back Class 4A state titles and they're on a roll with six straight wins after starting 2016 with two straight losses. Becker's scoring offense is ranked second in 4A and Zimmerman is right behind in third. But when they played midway through the season, the defenses showed up in a 19-17 win for Becker.
A rematch would be great, and Zimmerman's first trip to State in school history would mean a new champion is waiting to be crowned in 4A.
2. Chanhassen (8-0) vs. Mankato West (8-0)
If this Section 2, 5A final happens it might be decided by whichever team gets to 50 points first. Chanhassen averages 45 points per game while Mankato West roars to the tune of 41 points per game. Then again, the section also includes strong teams in Waconia and Chaska, both of whom are capable of advancing to State.
Chanhassen and Mankato West, seeded 1 and 2 in the section, have a bye into the semifinals.
3. Elk River (8-0) vs. St. Cloud Tech (8-0)
There's not a section more loaded with good teams than Section 6 in 5A. St. Cloud Tech is ranked sixth in the state and takes an undefeated record (8-0) into the playoffs as the 3-seed. Tech is expected to roll over Sauk Rapids-Rice in the quarterfinals Tuesday night, setting up a date with 2-seed St. Michael-Albertville (7-1) on Saturday. They would then have to win that game to play Elk River in the section final.
Elk River is ranked No. 1 in 5A and for good reason – their average margin of victory is nearly five touchdowns (34.6 points per game). The Elks crushed St. Michael-Albertville 43-6, so the dream date against Tech could be excellent.
4. Fergus Falls (8-0) vs. Detroit Lakes (7-1)
Fergus Falls beat Detroit Lakes 12-6 early in the season, but they're not as healthy now as they were then, according to Fergus Falls Online. Detroit Lakes is getting key players back from injury, Detroit Lakes Online adds. Both teams have byes into the semifinals, with Fergus Falls as the No. 1 seed.
Watch out for Fergus Falls running back Rylie Christensen, who piled up more than 1,300 yards during the regular season, including a 322-yard game against East Grand Forks.
5. Minneota, BOLD, Wabasso, Dawson-Boyd
Class 1A's Section 5 might be the most loaded section in the state. The Minneota Vikings are ranked No. 1, but they're the No. 2 seed in their own section. BOLD is also unbeaten and the Warriors earned the top spot thanks to a higher QRF rating. But don't count out Wabasso (7-1), whose only loss was to Minneota in the season opener, or Dawson-Boyd (6-2), who fell to Minneota 34-28 overtime.
All four of these teams have been ranked in the Class A top 10 at one point or another this season.
6. Verndale (8-0) vs. Wheaton/Herman-Norcross (8-0)
The top 6 teams in this 9-Man section are all .500 or better. But it's hard not to look ahead to a potential unbeaten Section Championship showdown between Verndale and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross. Both squads average more than 40 points a game, neither gives up 20 points a game.
7. Jackson County Central (8-0) vs. Fairmont (6-2)
Jackson County Central earned the top seed in the section, despite playing just one game against a section opponent, while Fairmont's only two losses came to bigger 4A schools. Fairmont probably would have been the top seed if their comeback attempt against Waseca last week hadn't come up short, falling 26-22.
But Jackson has been good down the stretch as well. Over the second half of the season, the Huskies have outscored opponents 181-43. A November 4th matchup could prove to be an interesting one.
8. Hutchinson (8-0) vs. Marshall (8-0)
It's quickly becoming one of the best all-Tiger playoff rivalries in Minnesota. They renewed that playoff rivalry last season for the first time since 2011, and unless Waseca or Mankato East pull an upset in the semifinals, they are the prohibitive favorites to return to the section title game again this year.
The closest game Marshall has been in all season was a 42-12 victory over Mankato East. Hutchinson, also unbeaten, has been a little more battle tested this year. Gophers fans would also be wise to watch this one with the top 2016 in-state recruit, offensive lineman Blaise Andries headed to Minnesota next season. Marshall also has one of 2017's top in-state recruits in quarterback Trey Lance.
9. Morris, New London, Albany, Litchfield
Section 6, 3A is loaded with talent. Morris Area is the top seed while Albany got the 2, New London-Spicer the 3 and Litchfield the 4. Albany handled New London 42-26 during the regular season and despite a 5-3 record, their losses were to power teams Fergus Falls, Zimmerman and Becker – all 4A schools.
Morris played a much softer schedule en route to a 7-1 regular season. New London-Spicer is no joke having beating Becker in overtime in Week 2. And then there's Litchfield: The Dragons started 5-0 before losing three straight to end the season.
10. Class 2A, Section 4
Anything can happen in this section – all bets are off. Norwood-Young America, the No. 1 seed, has been outscored this season and earned one of their victories thanks to a forfeit from Gibbon-Fairfax-Wintrhop. The Raiders finished the regular season with back-to-back victories over Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity and Sibley East to finish the season at 5-3.
Maple Lake, Spectrum and St. Agnes were all 4-4 and could surprise someone here.