Today, in the final part of our eight-part tour, we look at the "best of the rest" games West of the Mississippi River, before the games really start firing up this weekend.
West of the Mississippi River: Top 10 games for the 2010 football season
10. Kahuku (Hawaii) High vs. Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis
Aug. 27 at Kahuku
This is the biggest regular season game in Hawaii as the two top teams this (and most) years are set to square off in week 3. The two teams are filled with prospects and have a general dislike for the other. St. Louis will feature a Division I quarterback-to-receiver combination in Oregon commit Marcus Mariota and Duke Bukoski. Not unusually, on the other side of the field will be a stout defense for Kahuku. Tigi Hill is the No. 2-rated player from the Hawaiian Islands and leads the defense from his linebacker position. Joining him at linebacker will be Ben Mamea. Both Hill and Mamea are over 6-feet tall and 200 pounds. Their ability to pressure the quarterback and stop the run should key the season for the Red Raiders. The winner of this game has the inside edge at becoming the favorite to win states and a spot in the RivalsHigh 100.
9. Tulsa (Okla.) Union vs. Jenks (Okla.) High
Sept. 10 at Union
Like many of the big-time national rivalries (The Muck Bowl, The Holy War, etc.), the game between Jenks and Union (The Backyard Bowl) is a little down this year in terms of national importance. The two teams appear to be a little on the downturn, but still among the best in Oklahoma. The hatred between the two schools will still be there, but the winner will not be primed for a national Top 25 ranking like in years past. Neither team has a big-name prospect this season, nor returns a team as strong as last year. Both are ranked in the RivalsHigh 100, but the loser may quickly lose that foothold in a down year in Oklahoma.
8. Sandy (Utah) Alta vs. South Jordan (Utah) Bingham
Aug. 28 at Alta
The state of Utah is quickly rising in reputation of high school football. Stocking the shelves of very good college teams such as BYU and Utah have added to the reputation of the overall talent the state produces. Two of the traditionally best teams are the Alta Hawks and the Bingham Miners. Despite the state having fewer than 100 high school football teams that participate in 11-man football, there have been four separate teams ranked in the RivalsHigh 100. While this year only Bingham represents the state, there is potential for one of Alta, Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood, Provo (Utah) Timpview or a couple of the other traditional powers to sneak in. Bingham, which checks in at No. 15 nationally, is expected to win this game and repeat as state champs. Four-star athlete Harvey Langi is projected as a very good halfback at the next level and can run over, juke and catch the ball out of the backfield.
7. Chandler (Ariz.) High vs. Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton
Oct. 1 at Chandler
Arizona, like Utah, is gaining in national perception with many more prospects coming out of the state and quality coaches heading into the state. Hamilton has been a team that has traveled to compete in Ohio and Florida in recent years and looks to be a dominant team in-state. Both teams enter the season in the national rankings, with Hamilton inside the top 10 at No. 9 and Chandler at No. 97. For Hamilton, its strength is one of the best offensive lines in the nation with highly-touted Texas commit Christian Westerman and Oregon commit Tyler Johnstone as bookend tackles. Chandler quarterback Brett Hundley is one of the highest-ranked dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and will look to keep the Wolves in the contest.
6. New Orleans (La.) McDonogh 35 vs. New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine
Sept. 11 at Tad Gormley Stadium
This game was potentially on the chopping block when the discussion was still ongoing to bring three teams from California into New Orleans to take on this pair and River Ridge (La.) John Curtis. But that series of games fell through, and so this game is back on. Both teams have very high hopes for the season and enter the year with bad tastes in their mouths from the end of 2009. McDonogh 35 nearly knocked Monroe (La.) Neville out of the 4A playoffs, but lost 39-36. Likewise, St. Augustine also had a near playoff miss against West Monroe (La.) High, falling 27-26 in the second round of Class 5A. The pair of New Orleans teams will do battle for the early lead in the battle for the city, and this should be a great measuring stick for the expectations that both teams enter with.
5. Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian vs. Pine Bluff (Ark.) Watson Chapel
Aug. 30 at University of Arkansas Pine Bluff
For all the attention that people want to pay to the game between Euless (Texas) Trinity and Shiloh Christian the next weekend at Cowboys Stadium, this game has potential to really knock the luster off of that competition. Watson Chapel is one of the strongest teams in Arkansas Class 5A and is a division larger than Shiloh. This team is at least on par with the Greenwood (Ark.) High team - the team that handed the Saints its only loss in 2009. Many people in Springdale have been circling this year's senior class as a banner team since the sixth grade, and with so many out-of-conference games, it will have the chance to either prove them right or fall short. The Saints do have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Kiehl Frazier, and his ability to create with his legs as well as air it out with his arm makes the Saints a team that is always a threat to score.
4. Bellevue (Wash.) High vs. Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline
Sept. 3 at TBD
Two of the Top 5 teams in Washington will do battle early in the year. Though neither is ranked nationally, both have potential to see time in the RivalsHigh 100. The triple-option shell game at Bellevue will keep the Spartans honest on defense. For Skyline, it's the first year without Jake Heaps but the team figures to pass more with a sophomore quarterback and an inexperienced line. The good news for Skyline is the return of four-star wide receiver Kasen Williams. With only a hundred or so students separating the school's population, the difference between Skyline in 4A and Bellevue in 3A is washed away and the teams are as evenly matched as it gets.
3. Monroe (La.) Neville vs. West Monroe (La.) High
Sept. 10 at Neville
Like McDonogh 35 and St. Augustine in the south, Neville and West Monroe will square off in the northern portion of the state. West Monroe enters the season as one of the top teams in the nation, ranking at No. 7 in the RivalsHigh 100. Neville is not ranked early but could use this game as a springboard if it could pull the upset. The Rebels return what could be its best defense since its national championship teams in 2000 and 2002, but will be keyed on both sides of the ball by Paul Turner. Turner, an LSU commit, will line up as quarterback as well as defensive back and can make the big play on both sides of the ball. As far as the distinction between Neville in 4A and West Monroe in 5A, it is like the Bellevue/Skyline game, where there isn't a nickel's difference between the levels of football the teams will play.
2. Bothell (Wash.) High vs. Mission Viejo (Calif.) High
Sept. 4 at TBD
For two teams entering the season unranked, this is a huge game for both ranking purposes and perception of the states. Last year, California teams who went to Washington were quite successful, so Viejo is expected to get this victory. On paper, both teams seem to be equally matched with Viejo having the higher prospect in four-star Tre Madden at linebacker. Bothell was able to knock off a very talented Skyline team in the regular season last year and nearly duplicated that effort in the playoffs, so this team is ready to win. The travel from south of Los Angeles to north of Seattle will be a test in itself but one the Diablos think they can handle.
1. Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton vs. Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman
Aug. 21 at Northern Arizona University
This is the first test of a few for both teams and a really good measuring stick for the pair as well. Hamilton is the No. 1 team in Arizona and the No. 9 team in the RivalsHigh 100. Bishop Gorman enters the year in a bit of a reload as the Gaels were the highest scoring team in the nation in 2009. They are still the No. 1 team in Nevada but that may not mean as much in 2010. Hamilton running back Jai Johnson recently earned his two-star ranking and will have a wall of blockers to run behind. Gorman will counter with a fantastic defensive line that is anchored by the No. 1 player in the state, USC commit Jalen Grimble. Seeing Grimble match up with Christian Westerman, the No. 1 player in Arizona and a Texas commit, will be an amazing sight to see.