If you had taken a poll "which Triangle conference is the weakest?" back in September, the far-and-away winner (or loser, if you prefer) would've been the Tri-Eight.
Not a single team made it through the nonconference schedule without at least one loss. Fuquay-Varina was 3-1, Apex was 2-2 while Middle Creek and Lee County were 1-3. That meant half the conference was 0-4. Yikes.
But here we are. It's the third round of the playoffs and there are just as many Tri-Eight teams as there are teams from the PAC 6, Cap 7 and Greater Neuse. Didn't see that coming did you?
The Cap 7 got all seven teams in, but despite all the hype, teams like Leesville Road and Millbrook couldn't get it done in the postseason.
Now, I'm not saying the Tri-Eight is on the level of the Cap 7. Not a bit. Sanderson, the last place team in the Cap 7, is not the equivalent of Green Hope or Lee County, the two worst teams in Tri-Eight.
But those two were no worse than say, East Chapel Hill, Riverside or Person, all from the PAC 6. Or even Holly Springs and East Wake from the Greater Neuse.
Much like the ACC, the Tri-Eight's fumbling and bumbling out of the gate caused a lot of media outlets to simply dismiss the entire conference.
"Your season will be over fast," reporters told me when I covering the conference and not just the Cary-area teams. "About a week after the regular season you'll have a lot of time on your hands."
I saw all sorts of projections. Not one had a Tri-Eight team in the third round. Few had a Tri-Eight team in the second round. Almost all had multiple Cap 7 teams advancing this far, some causing rematches from the regular season.
Instead, most of the Cap 7 teams lost in embarrassing fashion, the exception being Wake Forest-Rolesville, which will play Apex, and Millbrook, which lost in overtime to Garner.
Only Cary and Middle Creek came anywhere close to embarrassment in the playoffs after each team ran into Southeast Raleigh. It took a last-second field goal to beat Fuquay and a two-point conversion to beat Athens Drive.
I can hear it now, "well if the Tri-Eight teams were playing the teams the Cap 7 had to play then.." and I'll have to cut you off there.
First of all, only one Tri-Eight team has the population to be in the 4-AA class, and that'd be Apex. The entire Cap 7 is/was in the 4-AA playoffs. What that means is now, more than ever, teams are on level playing fields.
The Tri-Eight played predominantly the Cap 7 out of conference, and revisionist history allows us to look back and think maybe it wasn't so much about being outclassed as it was outmanned. It's a gun fight in the Cap 7, and most Tri-Eight teams could only bring a knife, which is why outside of Apex's win over Broughton, the league was dominated.
Middle Creek was young, Athens was hurt and Cary was rail-thin on the depth chart. All three improved as the year went on despite their setbacks, and all three proved to be a tough out for Cap 7 teams in the early going, but all the experts could see - no matter what happened the rest of the year - was their combined OOC record (1-11).
What can I say? Some people have trouble letting go to their presumptions. It's hard for them to realize that was then.. this is now.
And it'll take awhile to come to grips that no team in Wake County had a better win than Apex. I was laughed at for suggesting the Cougars would win their game with Wilmington Hoggard, yet that's exactly what they did. Apex handed last year's 4-A champ their first home loss in three years. Impressed?
And if you're not, that's OK. Keep proving my point that most people's opinions were decided months ago and that nothing will change them now.
As for the Tri-Eight, don't worry. With all the youth in this conference coming back as seasoned veterans next year, I'm sure they'll start 2009 by returning the lumps they took from out-of-conference teams, and more importantly, the experts.