Favorite: No. 1 Neville. The defending champion Tigers (9-0) return some key pieces -- most notably quarterback John Diarse and defensive back Laurence "Hootie" Jones -- and have arguably outplayed their 2011 team.
Neville, allowing 6.6 points per game, has beaten six playoff teams (three 4A and three 5A) by a combined 193-50 margin. The Tigers' 14-0 record in 2011 marked the best in program history and a 9-0 regular season provides Coach Mickey McCarty a shot at a repeat and third title in four years.
Sleeper: No. 13 Bastrop. The Rams (7-3) should return to the postseason as hungry as ever after a 2011 ban for a game-ending fight against Carroll ... and then ending this regular season on a sour note with a 23-20 loss to underrated Franklin Parish (8-2), the bracket's No. 9 seed.
As always,Bastropbrings plenty of tradition and a high-powered offense to the table. Quarterback Jaetarius Davis (99/167 for 1,706 yards, 23 touchdowns, five interceptions) and wide receiver Jatavious Wilson (55 catches, 784 yards, 11 touchdowns) have an offense averaging 35.4 points per game, despite trips to defending 5A champion West Monroe and defending 4A champion Neville.
Best first-round game: No. 19 Franklinton at No. 14 LaGrange. Franklinton (6-3) could give host LaGrange (7-3) a run for its money, although a long road trip won't make the upset particularly easy.
LaGrange has reached the playoffs three times in the past four seasons and closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak, but the Gators boast little postseason success with just five berths since 2000 with no wins. Franklinton is making its seventh straight appearance and suffered its only losses this season to No. 5 Salmen (8-1), 5A No. 11 Jesuit (7-2) and 5A No. 20 Covington (6-3).
First-round upset: No. 21 McDonogh 35 at No. 12 East Jefferson. The former district rivals meet for the first time since the 2010 playoffs.
East Jefferson(7-2) enters as the higher seed and with its two losses by a combined seven points, but with plenty of factors working against it, including three straight first-round home losses.
McDonogh #35 (5-5) won the two recent matchups by large margins, 35-14 in 2010 and 47-7 in 2006, and faces a short road and familiar surroundings.
Best player: Karr junior athlete Devante "Speedy" Noil. Another year of experience benefits the Cougars' young star in a debate that again comes down primarily to Karr and Neville -- and Noil and Diarse.
Noil edged Diarse for an all-state selection in 2011, but Diarse and Neville claimed the state championship victory.
Best coach: St. Thomas More Coach Jim Hightower. The Class 4A bracket boasts several of the state's top coaches, including Lutcher Coach Tim Detillier, a three-time state champion, and Neville’s McCarty. But Hightower has won more games than any coach in Louisiana history save for Curtis' J.T. Curtis Jr. and former Haynesville Coach Alton "Red"Franklin.
The Cougars (7-3) have rebounded from a 1-3 start to win six straight games (five against playoff teams) behind a coach who has averaged more than nine wins during his 39 seasons.
?Semifinalists: No. 5 Salmen and No. 6 Holy Cross (7-2) have been as steady as anyone outside No. 1 Neville and No. 2 Karr. The Spartans' lone loss came, 20-0, at Karr. The Tigers fell at Jesuit, 21-7, and at Rummel, 42-7.
In the Dome: All signs point to a 2011 state championship rematch between Karr and No. 1 Neville. Both teams return several key weapons and benefit from the experience of last year's run, and the defenses have been among the state's best.
Champion: No. 1 Neville. The Tigers ended a lot of debate with a lopsided 27-6 defeat of Karr in last season's state championship and have put together another impressive, undefeated season. The Cougars likely learned plenty from their 2011 experience, but may have to wait another year because of a determined Neville team.