Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas was one tough loss away from back-to-back national championships last season.
On the heels of its 42-28 demolition of No. 5-ranked Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County Friday night, the Raiders may have thrust themselves back into the discussion for the national title again this season.
Aquinas was the No. 6 team in the RivalsHigh 100 entering this weekend, but after dictating play against the two-time defending Georgia state champions, that number is certainly set to improve.
How much is the main question.
St. Thomas Aquinas, behind the play of quarterback Jacob Rudock (who threw for a school-record 333 yards and four TDs) was impressive. It ran off to a 24-7 halftime lead. Then, after Camden County opened the second half with a touchdown, a successful surprise onside kick and a second TD to pull to 24-21, St. Thomas Aquinas responded. The Raiders ran off the next 18 points to put the game away.
The teams in front of the Raiders all did their part in winning Friday night, but followers of the RivalsHigh 100 know that just winning is not everything. Especially when the team giving chase just gained one of the biggest strength-of-schedule wins of the season.
No. 1 Batesville (Miss.) South Panola bettered its rival Olive Branch, 42-7, on Friday night. The win was expected for the Tigers and does not lead to doubt as to which team should be on the top line of the national rankings.
From there down, however, things could stand to change.
No. 2 Euless (Texas) Trinity, perhaps still living on the 80 points it hung on Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian on Labor Day, defeated Hurst (Texas) L.D. Bell, 45-22, Thursday night.
Our expanded rankings of the Texas Top 50 this week called Trinity's schedule into question, noting that the Trojans would not be playing any team in the rankings at least until playoffs. And depending on matchups and how the Division I and II break down, they may not see a ranked team until the third round.
More questions were raised this week, even in a rout of Bell, as Trinity allowed 22 points - even though the last touchdown was scored late in the game. Trinity's grip on the No. 2 spot in the RivalsHigh Top 100, not to mention the No. 1 spot in Texas may be slipping. Both Katy (Texas) High and Allen (Texas) High are knocking on the door in the Lone Star State.
The No. 3 team entering the weekend, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant, is in the same predicament. Grant, like Trinity, already has its best win before the playoffs starts. It rolled over Merced (Calif.) High Friday night, 55-7.
The toughness of Grant is not in question; its lack of legitimate opponents is.
No. 4 Hoover (Ala.) High also may see its stock drop. After dispatching of Gadsden City (Ala.) High rather easily last week, it struggled to put away rival Pelham (Ala.) High, narrowly winning, 29-17. Hoover appears to be the clear-cut best team in Alabama, but its spot in the national Top 5 is in doubt.
We're six weeks into the season and all of the Top 10 teams have been seen. The rankings are starting to come into focus. Look for a potential new Top 5 in the nation to look something like this come Monday:
No. 1 South Panola: The Tigers have been the most dominant team in the 2010 season. So long as South Panola continues to crush opponents into the grass like it has done so far, it will hoist its first ever national title.
No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas: Yes, the Raiders looked that good. The win over previous No. 5 Camden County was dominating. It was more impressive than the Trinity win over Shiloh Christian. It was more impressive than the Grant win over Folsom. All things being equal, the Raiders also have the harder road to tow to get to a state title in Class 5A Florida.
No. 3 Trinity: And sliding. Grant has impressed each week and Trinity has left question marks each week. It may not be enough of a reason to make the swap yet, but as Trinity slides in its own state rankings, it only makes sense that it will trickle down the national scale as well.
No. 4 Grant: The Pacers are one of the most physically imposing teams in the nation - which is why they are ranked in the Top 5. Truth be told, this is a team that could make a run at a national championship as well, depending on its path to a CIF Bowl.
No. 5 Hoover: There is a pretty big gap right now between the top four and the rest of the Top 10. Hoover is a very good football team, but right now it is shaping up to be a four-horse race for a national title. The Bucs would need a lot of things to happen for them to climb to a higher ranking.