Goricki's picks: Brother Rice chases 4th straight title
The grueling nine-week regular season is now history and hundreds of teams throughout the state have high hopes for a state championship as the postseason gets underway this weekend.
Birmingham Brother Rice will be trying to earn its fourth consecutive Division 2 state championship, but the Warriors won't be facing a familiar rival in the title game.
Muskegon, which has lost to Brother Rice in the championship game in 2012 and '13, has dropped to Division 3, along with another power in Lowell, which won the Division 2 title in 2009 and played in the title game in 2010 and '11.
Ithaca has its sights set on a fifth straight Division 6 state championship, which would extend its consecutive win streak to 70 games, two off the state record set by Hudson (late '60s to mid-70s).
Absent from postseason play this year are Detroit Catholic Central and Lake Orion, both finishing 4-5. It is Lake Orion's first losing season since 1996.
Detroit C.C. won the Division 1 title five years ago and lost the state championship game the last three years. Lake Orion won the Division 1 state title in 2010 and lost to Rockford in the '08 championship game.
Six 5-4 teams were lucky enough to qualify for postseason play in Division 1.
Detroit Country Day also has to feel fortunate, set to compete in Division 4 with a 5-4 record, playing at 5-4 Detroit Denby. DCD's four losses came against opponents with a combined record of 36-0 (Zeeland West, Detroit Loyola, Brother Rice and Muskegon Catholic Central).
Let the games begin. We'll see eight champions crowned on the weekend of Nov. 28-29 at Ford Field.
Defending champion — Clarkston
Final prediction: Detroit Cass Tech over Clarkston
Toughest district: Region 2, District 1 — a Clarkston-Lapeer district final is a strong possibility, but first Lapeer (9-0) has to get by a physical Romeo (6-3) and Clarkston (9-0) must get by OAA Division Red rival Oxford (6-3).
Toughest region: Region 4 — Cass Tech (9-0) is on collision course with Dearborn Fordson (9-0) in a District 2 final with the winner moving on to face a MAC power from District 1, which includes Utica Eisenhower (5-4) vs. Macomb Dakota (7-2) and Chippewa Valley (6-3) vs. Sterling Heights Stevenson (7-2). Dimitri Abro's 91-yard interception return was the difference for Dakota in a 21-14 Week No. 5 win over Eisenhower. Stevenson defeated Chippewa Valley, 21-7, in Week No. 3.
Defending champion — Birmingham Brother Rice (3 straight)
Final prediction: Brother Rice over Muskegon Mona Shores
Toughest district: Region 1, District 1 — Caledonia (7-2) has to travel to Muskegon to face Mona Shores (8-1) in a pre-district game with the winner moving on to possibly face unbeaten Midland Dow. Mona Shores ended the regular season with an impressive win over last year's D-2 state runner-up, Muskegon. Caledonia owns wins over Rockford (42-0), Lowell (33-0) and East Grand Rapids (30-7), but suffered a 40-7 setback to Mona Shores way back in Week 4.
Toughest region: Region 2 — Flint Carman-Ainsworth (7-2) should be the District 1 champion, advancing to face any number of teams from District 2 which includes Farmington Hills Harrison (7-2) vs. Fenton (9-0) and South Lyon (8-1) vs. Walled Lake Western (8-1). Carman-Ainsworth played well against Division 1 power Lapeer, falling 34-31 in overtime in Week 8.
Defending champion — Zeeland West
Final prediction: Orchard Lake St. Mary over Muskegon
Toughest district: Region 2, District 2 — Zeeland West has been ranked No. 1 for the majority of the season and proved why by going unbeaten. Now, it has a possible district-title showdown with Stevensville Lakeshore (7-2), which has advanced to the state semifinals the previous two years and has the talent to get back.
Toughest region: Region 3 — sure, Region 2 is more competitive with St. Johns, East Grand Rapids and Lowell joining Zeeland West and Stevensville Lakeshore, but Region 3 has DeWitt (9-0) and Orchard Lake St. Mary's (7-2) in it with St. Mary's lone setbacks coming against Brother Rice, 28-20 and 35-28.
Defending champion — Marine City
Final prediction: Lansing Sexton over Grand Rapids South Christian
Toughest district: Region 3, District 1 — This could well be a state-championship-caliber game with unbeaten Lansing Sexton possibly facing 9-0 Saginaw Swan Valley with 7,000-yard career rusher Alex Grace in the district final. This game was a regional final last year with Sexton pulling out a 26-21 victory despite Grace's 236-yard performance.
Toughest region: Region 3 — It has been mentioned that Sexton and Swan Valley are competing in it, but it also has a very talented Richmond (8-1), along with St. Clair (6-3), which advanced to the Division 3 semifinals last year.
Defending champion — Grand Rapids West Catholic
Final prediction: Marine City over Grand Rapids West Catholic
Toughest district: Region 4, District 2 — Unbeaten Marine City and Almont have a potential district-final showdown. Marine City won the Division 4 state title last year and returns quarterback Alex Merchant and running back Jarret Mathison. Almont has outscored its opponents by an average of 52-5, posting four shutouts.
Toughest region: Region 3 — Lansing Catholic Central (9-0) is the elite team in this region, but several other quality teams such as Frankenmuth (8-1), Flint Powers (6-3), Olivet (7-2) and Birch Run (7-2) could give LCC trouble in the regional-title game.
Defending champion — Ithaca (4 straight)
Final prediction: Jackson Lumen Christi over Ithaca
Toughest district: Region 4, District 2 — unbeaten Clinton, state runner-up a year ago, has a possible district-title showdown with Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (8-1) … if it can get past a tough Manchester in the pre-district.
Toughest region: Region 4 — It's not just Clinton and MSMCC in this regional, but also unbeaten Jackson Lumen Christi, led by Michigan State-bound running back Khari Willis, who has 4.5 speed and has rushed for more than 2,000 yards this season, a single-season school record.
Defending champion — Ishpeming (2 straight)
Final prediction: Detroit Loyola over Ishpeming
Toughest district: Region 1, District 1 — Ishpeming has earned consecutive state titles, defeating Loyola both times, but it could have a district final test against a strong West Iron County.
Toughest region: Region 1 — Ishpeming and West Iron County already have been mentioned, but Region 1 also has a talented Traverse City St. Francis (7-2).
Defending champion — Muskegon Catholic Central
Final prediction: Muskegon Catholic Central over Beal City
Toughest district: Region 3, District 1 — Muskegon Catholic Central has enjoyed a 9-0 ride so far, including an impressive 30-0 win over Detroit Country Day in Week 8. MCC has a possible district showdown against unbeaten Fowler.
Toughest regional: Region 3 — Unbeaten MCC and Fowler have been mentioned, but not Mendon (8-1) and Climax-Scotts (8-1), who could be fighting it out for the District 2 title. Mendon won the title in 2011 and suffered a 28-12 loss to MCC in last year's regional final.