The season is just starting - but the pressure may be in postseason form.
Big games will mean big things to a number of teams.
Don Bosco Prep: Sure, its matchup with Gilman is its opener. But when you're the defending national champ, you don't get any time to rebuild. You're expected to be ready to go from the opening kick. Don Bosco, which has had to replace a number of key players, will find out early if it's up to the task this year.
Crenshaw: What's harder than playing your opener? Playing your second game after opening with a loss. Crenshaw, the darling of the City Section in California last season, needs to get back on track in a tough game against Norco if it wants to have any chance of getting back to a CIF bowl.
Jenks: It almost always gets two shots at Union - the two annually are the best teams in Oklahoma. But this matchup means more for Jenks, which was pounded by Union, 52-19, in a state final. Jenks needs a solid effort to prove it's worthy of being part of the best 1-2 punch in the state.
The state of Arkansas: That's right, the game is between Har-Bar and El Dorado, but after Shiloh Christian was demolished on national TV by Euless (Texas) Trinity last weekend, Arkansas needs to show it has a team worthy of national consideration. The winner of this game could get just that.
With that, a deeper look (and picks) at some of the top games this weekend:
WHEN: Friday 9/10, 7 p.m.
LAST MEETING: First-ever meeting
STANDINGS: Gilman (2-0), No. 2 in Maryland
Don Bosco (0-0), No. 2 in New Jersey
WHY IT'S BIG: For Gilman, this is the sandwich game of a tough three-game stretch to open the season (it beat Good Counsel last weekend; faces DeMatha next weekend). If Gilman stumbles this week, it will set back all of the positive momentum being built for the state of Maryland. For Don Bosco, it's the season opener for the defending national champs - a team that figures to look far different than it did a year ago.
BEST MATCHUP: Don Bosco's pass game against the Gilman secondary. Quarterback Gary Nova is the only senior prospect returning for Don Bosco. That, combined with the fact that it is the Iron Men's first game, makes it even more of a challenge throwing against Darius Jennings and Cyrus Jones. If Bosco can establish a run early, it could take the pressure off Nova, but his game management and being able to move the ball through the air will be the key to Bosco's success.
GILMAN WINS IF: It can maintain the momentum from last week against Good Counsel. High school football is such a game of momentum and emotional swings. Gilman was clearly the team flying around against Good Counsel. Being able to duplicate that energy is going to be the key to victory. Gilman coaches have to be having a tough time keeping the Greyhounds focused and level-headed.
DON BOSCO WINS IF: It comes out and makes a few early stops and can slow the game down. The Iron Men will be in the unusual position of being an underdog for the first time in a few years and should relish the chance to play with a chip on their shoulders and play the respect card that often gets played against them. The team should be pretty amped up to hit someone other than themselves in a meaningful situation - and that plays into their favor as well.
PREDICTION: After last season and the first two weeks of this year, the blueprint for Gilman is pretty well known. Don Bosco, with so much turnover, is a question mark entering this game. A practically brand-new team for the perennial power is looking to make its own unique mark on the school's rich history. That element of unknown is good for Don Bosco in this game, as Gilman's game film on Bosco is basically useless with all the fresh faces. If this were Week 8 for both teams, it may be different, but the first game for Bosco versus the third for Gilman will ultimately be the difference. - Gilman 24, Bosco 10
WHEN: Friday 9/10, 7:30 p.m.
LAST MEETING: First-ever meeting
STANDINGS: Har-Ber (1-0), No. 1 in Arkansas
El Dorado (1-0), No. 4 in Arkansas
WHY IT'S BIG: After the embarrassing performance in the Herbstreit Classic by Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian, the Natural State needs a solid performance from its top team to take the sting out of the loss. Har-Ber is a team in a similar mold to Shiloh, but deeper and more physical up front. El Dorado is the No. 1 team in 6A and is playing up in this non-conference game. If it is able to pull the upset, it would throw Arkansas rankings into a state of confusion and likely knock all Arkansas teams out of the RivalsHigh 100.
BEST MATCHUP: The Har-Ber offense against the El Dorado defense. Or is it the El Dorado offense against the Har-Ber defense? Both teams can score in bunches and both return a lot of offense, so whichever team can get a stop may be the winner. El Dorado may want to run the ball more. Har-Ber will throw as much as possible. It makes for an interesting dynamic.
HAR-BER WINS IF: Ryan Luther has a big game. The quarterback for the Wildcats is the leader of the team on offense and needs to find holes in the defense and keep the chains moving. Coach Wood is a spread-offense disciple and has one of the best offenses in the state this year. Look for the aggressor in this game to be Har-Ber, which will hope to keep El Dorado on its heels. El Dorado is usually the team that dictates to its opponents. How it responds will be key.
EL DORADO WINS IF: Its linebackers can control the middle of the field. With Har-Ber looking to spread the field and throw underneath as well as over the top, the El Dorado linebackers will need to be able to cover their men as well as keep tabs on Luther, who will tuck-and-run if needed. Though most of Har-Ber's offense comes through the air, El Dorado will need to have its linebackers step up and stuff the run when needed.
PREDICTION: Har-Ber is still a new kid on the block in Arkansas football. And despite the success it has enjoyed, it is still in a proving ground. This game could go a long way toward that. Look for Har-Ber to be the better (and more athletic) team. El Dorado keeps it close for a little while, but eventually Har-Ber gives the home crowd what it wants. - Har-Ber 44, El Dorado 27
WHEN: Friday 9/10, 7:30 p.m.
LAST MEETING: 9/11/09, St. Xavier (Ohio) won, 24-7
STANDINGS: St. Xavier (2-0), No. 1 in Kentucky
St. Xavier (1-1), No. 13 in Ohio
WHY IT'S BIG: In terms of perception, this game is bigger for Louisville's St. X than it is for Cincinnati's St. X. The state of Kentucky is lumped into the Lakes region because its best teams are from Louisville and are measured against Cincinnati teams. Last year, Ft. Thomas Highlands was able to win its measuring-stick game. This year, for Kentucky to even have a team ranked, the Tigers are in a must-win situation. The Bombers, after all, are not even a Top 10 team in Ohio right now.
BEST MATCHUP: As it is every time Cincinnati St. X takes the field, it will be its defense versus the opponent's offense. The Bombers' 3-3-5 makes it very difficult to move the ball and Louisville St. X has had its fair share of struggles this season. Cincinnati St. X showed on national television that its linebacking corps can make plays at any time. It also showed that its offense is relatively non-existent.
LOUISVILLE ST. X WINS IF: It can find a way to make plays. The Tigers scored 35 and 37 points in each of their first two games but neither was against a defense like they are about to see. La'Mont McMurray is an explosive player, as is running back Jeont'a Hayden. Both will need to come up huge.
CINCINNATI ST. X WINS IF: The offense finds its way to the field. The team has scored only 34 points in two games while allowing 45. The defense will keep the team in the game, that is for sure, but something positive has to come from the offense. Maybe coach Steve Spect should consider throwing Steven Daniels at running back. That guy is nasty and his intensity would certainly spark some players.
PREDICTION: Louisville St. X is a confusing team. It barely escaped in Week 1, beating Ballard, 35-34. The next week it shutout Lexington Catholic, 37-0. Conventional wisdom would indicate that the Cincinnati St. X offense is somewhere in the middle. If the Tigers give up 20 points to the Bombers, it isn't clear that the offense can put up three touchdowns. The game is in Cincinnati, so the pick is the Bombers. - Cincinnati St. X 20, Louisville St. X 14.
WHEN: Friday 9/10, 7:30 p.m.
LAST MEETING: 12/4/09, State Final, Union won 52-19
STANDINGS: Union (1-0), No. 1 in Oklahoma
Jenks (1-0), No. 2 in Oklahoma
WHY IT'S BIG: It's Jenks versus Union. The Backyard Bowl is one of the Top 10 rivalry games across the country and easily the biggest in Oklahoma. The two teams know each other very well. The players grew up together in Tulsa and have played with and against each other for years. The last 14 state titles in Oklahoma have been claimed by these two teams, so this early season matchup may prove to be preview of a state final - as it was last year.
BEST MATCHUP: The Union defensive line against the Jenks offensive front. Between Blake Jones, Brentom Todd and Michael Peterson, the Union defensive line can be a load to handle. Ben Risenhoover and the rest of the Jenks squad will have to work hard to open holes for Zack Langer to move the football. But figure all battles to be tough; this game is usually tight. It just wasn't last year. Jenks will be playing with a mean streak to atone for the last game, which was the most lopsided result in the rivalry.
UNION WINS IF: It gets pressure in the backfield of Jenks. Union slowly has emerged as the No. 1 team in Oklahoma and its lead is growing on Jenks. Recent success for Union has been due to the ability to be stronger in the trenches. If that trend continues, then the game will be a success for the Redskins. No single player has to carry the team on his back; so long as everyone plays disciplined, it will be a win.
JENKS WINS IF: Its big players come up huge. Jenks and Union, on paper, are not separated by much. Union appears to have the line of scrimmage, but Jenks has the edge with skill players. If the Trojans can neutralize the point of attack, then they can pull the mild upset. Steven Carpenter is a player to circle. Wide receivers are the most dependant players in high school football. If he is able to be a difference maker, then the rest of the offensive unit is going to be clicking.
PREDICTION: These teams will be hitting hard and playing very physical, trying to establish which is the early season favorite in Oklahoma. While there still will be a lot of football to be played, if Jenks does not at least make this game competitive, the confidence of the team could go downhill quickly. Ultimately, Union has the better defensive line and marginally more experience coming back, which gives it the edge. - Union 31, Jenks 17
WHEN: Friday 9/10, 8:30 p.m.
LAST MEETING: 9/11/09, Crenshaw won, 47-44
STANDINGS: Crenshaw (0-1), No. 12 in California
Norco (0-0), No. 33 in California
WHY IT'S BIG: Crenshaw is returning from its cross-country trip battered and bruised, but maybe better for it. The Cougars were stifled by the Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett defense as well as the heat that knocked out its star player, De'Anthony Thomas, with cramps. Norco was ever-so-close last year in its game with Crenshaw, losing 47-44. This year, the game is at Norco so figure the long drive from Los Angeles will work against Crenshaw.
BEST MATCHUP: Crenshaw offense versus Norco offense. Yep. While Crenshaw did not look like it could get anything done offensively against North Gwinnett, expect the rust to be kicked off the tires. These two teams will be ready to run up and down the field. It will be a stunner if a track meet doesn't break out, as Norco has a young defense and Crenshaw likes to score quickly when it can.
CRENSHAW WINS IF: It can find its offense. Crenshaw would be in a precarious situation if it starts the season 0-2, which could be a hole too big to dig out of if the hopes are to get a CIF Bowl bid. And if it loses, the talk of last season being a fluke will start to creep up and potentially derail a program in the process of building. It is vitally important for Crenshaw to come to the field with loads of energy. Norco will be rocking and ready for this game.
NORCO WINS IF: Its defense can make a few plays early and get Crenshaw down on itself. A couple stops in the early going would build a lot of confidence. It also would get the already amped-up crowd into a frenzy. Energy and momentum are the biggest things that Norco has to keep on its side to pull the upset.
PREDICTION: There is a sense of urgency for both teams early in the season. Norco looks at last year as a missed opportunity to get a win over Crenshaw. Crenshaw looks at this as a new kickoff to its season. Something, as they say, has got to give. Crenshaw is the better team and it is able to avoid the upset. - Crenshaw 32, Norco 26.