November 1, 2010

Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to and follow him on Twitter.

A national high school football tournament will never come to be for any number of reasons.

But if you're looking for a 32-team field filled with some of the best teams in the nation, there's a place you can go:


With apologies to any of the classifications in Florida, Texas and California, the Ohio Division I state tournament - which gets underway this week - is easily the toughest in the land.

This year, it includes seven teams currently ranked in the RivalsHigh Top 100. And six others that were at some point during the season.

Just making the field (only 32 of the 119 teams in the division get in) is impressive. But once you're there, there are no easy roads. In fact, there's a possibility you'll face five ranked teams no matter which of the four-team regions you're in.

So sit back and read our breakdowns of the field. Trust us, it's easier than playing the games.

Bracket Breakdown
Division I Region 1

(1) Solon vs (8) Brecksville-Broadview Hieghts
(4) Austintown-Fitch vs (5) Willoughby South
(2) Glenville vs (7) Warren G. Harding
(3) St. Edward vs (6) Mentor
Solon RB Kyle Hammonds
Austintown-Fitch DE Steve Zaborsky
Glenville QB Cardale Jones
St. Edward DE Deonte Gibson

The Favorite: The OHSAA computer rankings seeded Solon as the No. 1 seed in the bracket. Solon is No. 58 in the RivalsHigh 100 - which would only be good enough for third in this region. The third-seed, St. Edward, is the highest ranked nationally at No. 21, followed closely by No. 25 Glenville, the second seeded team. We'll go by our rankings and make St. Edward the favorite; the team is battle tested and poised to make a run to the state semifinals.

Don't be surprised: If Glenville makes a run to the final four. The Tarblooders started the season as the No. 4 team nationally and has more top-flight talent than any team in Ohio. The Cleveland-based public school nearly was the first from the city to win a Division I state title last season (it lost a heartbreaker) and would love nothing more than to have a chance finish the deal in 2010.

The Sleeper: The winner of the Austintown-Fitch and Willoughby South matchup could give Solon a run for its money in the second round. Both Finch and South spent time near the Top 10 in the state this year. Solon, meanwhile has struggled in some of its wins, including an overtime finish over Strongsville this past weekend. Those two teams can score and score a lot. If Solon is not ready, it may be an early end to the season.

X-factor: The mindset of Glenville. The Tarblooders enter this tournament without much challenge in the last eight weeks of the regular season playing in one of the easiest districts in the state. However, after a season of being told that it can't win a state title, the dates have been circled to prove what the team can do.

National implications: Most of teams here want more than just a trip to the final four. But whichever team does get out of this bracket could make a major step forward in the rankings. Solon, which has the most to gain, has the weakest strength of schedule. If Glenville advances it would add two marquis wins, while St. Edward would add three.

Prediction: St. Edward did not come into the season with as much hoopla as some others in Ohio, but it has earned its stripes. But this year's Glenville team is hungry, focused and remarkably disciplined and coming out of this bracket would be a testament to that. We like the Tarblooders to move to the final four.

Bracket Breakdown
Division I Region 2

(1) Canton McKinley vs (8) Medina
(4) St. John's Jesuit vs (5) Freemont Ross
(2) Sylvania Southview vs (7) Twinsburg
(3) Whitmer vs (6) Massillon Washington
McKinley DE Steve Miller
St. John's DB Cheatham Norrils
Twinsburg ATH Aaron Macer
Whitmer DE Kenny Hayes

The Favorite: A two-loss McKinley team takes the top spot in the bracket with its strength of schedule getting the nod over a 10-0 Southview and a quartet of 9-1 teams, St. John's, Freemont Ross, Twinsburg and Whitmer. The Bulldogs' losses were a stunner to Uniontown Lake and to Region 1 No. 4-seed Austintown-Fitch. The squad is still a nationally-relevant name but this region is found wanting of a true No. 1.

Don't be surprised: If whichever team does make it to the final four is throttled by its competition and ends the year unranked. This is the weakest of the four brackets despite having some good name teams. It does not have the quality of the other three regions.

The Sleeper: Any team in this bracket not named McKinley could qualify as a sleeper; most are not considered serious threats. Maybe the best bet for a sleeper is Medina, the first-round opponent of McKinley. Medina, for its part, has two quality losses on the season. Its hope is that seeing better teams will have prepared it for the competition it will see as the playoffs go forward.

X-factor: The defense of Toledo Whitmer. The Panthers are led by two of the best defensive ends in the state - senior Kenny Hayes and junior Chris Wormley - both of whom can be very disruptive. Whitmer has downed the No. 4 seed (Toledo St. John's Jesuit) and nearly knocked off the No. 5 seed (Freemont Ross). It would only have to face one of McKinley, Ross or St. John's if it were to advance out of the bracket.

National implications: Not too much. This is a bracket that will be judged solely on how it performs in the semifinal round. Results from this bracket will not push a team into the national ranking unless the winner is able to make it to the state final and add a sparkling win to its resume. This bracket could be won by any number of teams from the other three regions and will have a hard time earning its respect.

Prediction: It seems fairly simple to assume that McKinley is going to win the bracket and advance to the final four. On the season, McKinley has downed Huber Heights Wayne and Massillon Washington but lost to Uniontown Lake and Austintown-Fitch. It has seen the best schedule of the teams in the bracket and has played with some of the better teams in Ohio. The Bulldogs were ranked nationally until its loss to Lake but have not gained enough steam to get back into consideration. A run to the final four and a strong showing there may be enough to garner the accolades.

Bracket Breakdown
Division I Region 3

(1) Pickerington Central vs (8) Troy
(4) Westerville South vs (5) Dublin Coffman
(2) Hilliard Davidson vs (7) Northland
(3) Springfield vs (6) Hilliard Darby
Pickerington Central DB Eilar Hardy
Dublin Coffman QB Cole Stoudt
Hilliard Davidson DE Keith Heitzman
Springfield LB Trey DePriest

The Favorite: This is the only bracket with ranked teams where the top team by the OHSAA matches the highest-ranked team by RivalsHigh. Pickerington Central is the No. 27 ranked team in the RivalsHigh 100 and has laid claim to the top seed in the region. The No. 2 seed, Hilliard Davidson, is also ranked nationally, checking in at No. 48 in the country. Davidson is the defending state champion and its return to the final four would not surprise many around the state.

Don't be surprised: If the only upset in the bracket is in the Hilliard Darby versus Springfield game. Darby has been a solid team all season and sits dangerously at the No. 6 seed. The combination of Blake Clowes and Jacob Neutzling on the lines will make it tough on Springfield to run the ball and to put pressure on the passer. The team's lone losses were a one-point setback to Dublin Coffman and last week's loss to nationally-ranked Davidson.

The Sleeper: If Westerville South can get past Dublin Coffman, it may be able to give Pickerington Central a run for its money. The team has plenty of talented players and has been able to run the ball very effectively with Jayshon Jackson. The opening game is a rematch from the Herbstreit Classic, where Jackson put his name on the national map. A steady dose of the run as well as limiting Cole Stoudt and the Shamrocks through the air will make for a nice win.

X-factor: The health of whichever team comes out of the top side of the bracket to the regional finals. Hilliard Davidson is probable to come out of the bottom portion of the bracket relatively untested and likely very ready to go. Pickerington Central does not have an easy path; it could be beat up if it sees the bruising Westerville South team instead of a pass-happy Dublin Coffman squad.

National implications: If seeds hold relatively true, there could be two Top 50 teams doing battle just to get to the final four - with Davidson getting a chance to jump over Pickerington. For Pickerington, however, it means a lot more. The team has been on the cusp of taking the next step nationally for some time. It has enjoyed plenty of success in the Herbstreit Classic, but it has not shared in the success in the state tournament. Getting to the state finals would be a big deal for this year's squad.

Prediction: While there are plenty of quality teams in this bracket, the probability that two nationally-ranked teams reach the regional final is fairly good. If that is the case, Pickerington will be the more battle tested, but it also may be the more beaten. Hilliard Davidson is the defending champion and it's always hard to take out a champion. It will be a fantastic contrast, but Davidson will top Pickerington to advance.

Bracket Breakdown
Division I Region 4

(1) Middletown vs (8) Huber Heights Wayne
(4) Moeller vs (5) Centerville
(2) Colerain vs (7) Hamilton
(3) La Salle vs (6) St. Xavier
Wayne QB Braxton Miller
Centerville DT Michael Bennett
Colerain LB Jarrett Grace
St. Xavier LB Steven Daniels

The Favorite: The OHSAA rankings have made Middletown the No. 1 seed in this high-quality bracket. Every team except for the No. 7 seed, Hamilton, was at one point ranked or considered for rankings in the RivalsHigh 100. The Middies have wins over just two playoff teams, Hamilton and Troy, but the offense has been held to under 32 points only once all season. It has yet to see some of the defenses that this bracket has to offer.

Don't be surprised: If Huber Heights Wayne knocks off Middletown in the first round. The Middies are a team without much postseason success to fall back on. In fact, the Middies have not had much success of any level in the last five years. Wayne is led by one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, Braxton Miller, and his ability to make plays from nothing could prove to give Middletown fits. The score will likely be high, but that is OK for a one-man wrecking crew.

The Sleeper: Huber Heights Wayne is an explosive team that could win a few games in a row. It has gone toe-to-toe with Moeller already this season and dominated play for the first half. It has beaten playoff teams Centerville and nearly knocked off Springfield as well. If it can get by Middletown in the first round, it could just as easily make an appearance in the regional final.

X-factor: The St. Xavier offense. To say the Bombers offense is below average would still be setting the bar high. St. X has been held to under 20 points in five of its nine games this season - and totals like that do not a championship team make. It has also lost to La Salle, its first round opponent, and Moeller already this season. It also does not have a single win over a playoff team in Ohio. If the Bombers want to make the school proud, a first round win is expected over La Salle, and giving a good game to Colerain or Hamilton would go a long way toward having a respectable season.

National implications: Whichever team comes out of this region will have been tested in each round. Every team in this field is a quality squad, including the 5-4 St. Xavier team. Winning the Cincinnati region alone is usually good for a Top 25 ranking, and the chances for any team to gain three more quality wins before hitting the final four would be ideal.

Prediction: This is a region that is very hard to predict. There are quality teams all over the board and you might as well throw out the seeds. Colerain, after all, only squeaked by its opening-round opponent Hamilton, 17-14, earlier this year. That close call, however, could be an eye-opener. Colerain looks to be a team ready to win.

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