November 5, 2010

Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

On this football Friday in Florida, the only real reason to wait up for the results was to get the final scores. Everyone knew the top teams were going to win and win big.

No. 2 Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas rolled 56-0 ... No. 15 West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer triumphed 49-7 ... No. 16 Seffner (Fla.) Armwood did it again, 49-12 ... No. 23 Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips stayed perfect, 56-13 ... and No. 29 Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee won in a walk, 41-0.

There's a reason there are five Florida teams in the first 30 of the RivalsHigh Top 100 rankings, 13 overall in the list, and a first-place finish for the state in our annual rate-the-states listing: These teams are all solid.

It's the same reason why the Florida playoffs, which get underway next week, figure to be so strong. And, as history shows, so unpredictable. (Quick, who had Manatee handling St. Thomas Aquinas in a Class 5A semi last year - then losing itself in the state final to Plant?)

With that in mind, RivalsHigh thought it would take a look at our ranked teams and give you the low down before they get up to play in the postseason:

Current Florida teams in the RivalsHigh 100
No. 67 Lakeland (Fla.) High Dreadnaughts
Current standings: No. 3 in Class 5A, 9-0
Why it will win states: The Dreadnaughts have the unique combination of athletes and coaching that allows them to often rise up and beat teams that may be better than they are on paper. Having one of the best coaches in the nation, Bill Castle, and one of the richest traditions makes this team a threat to win every year. This group of Naughts has grown up quickly. Once considered an outsider in 2010, this team may have the inside track to a state title.
Why it will fall short: Because Class 5A is too tough this year, even for a well-coached and fundamentally-sound squad such as Lakeland. Making it to the final four would be an amazing acomplishment this season and would leave many fans very satisfied. With any number of 10 teams who could make it to the final in this classification, it is unlikely that the Naughts will see their ship come in this season.
No. 65 Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington Tornadoes
Current standings: No. 3 in Class 3A, 8-1
Why it will win states: This year's Washington squad is not one of the heaviest with recruits we have seen in recent years - and that makes it more dangerous. There is more team play this year than in the past and far fewer selfish and foolish penalties being committed. The team is still chalk full of talented South Florida athletes, and that will give teams in the classification fits. Once the Tornadoes get up on a team, it is a death roll from there.
Why it will fall short: It is not the best team in the class. For the first time in a long while, a team from Miami may go onto a field and not be the more impressive team off the bus. There are enough teams in Class 3A that can equal or surpass the talent level and all of those teams are equally focused. The Tornadoes still are prone to internal lapses, and if the team gets down, it may not respond to the adversity.
No. 64 Miami (Fla.) Northwestern Bulls
Current standings: No. 4 in Class 6A, 7-2
Why it will win states: Northwestern has pointed to this year since 2007 (when it won a national title) figuring this would be its next great team. Teddy Bridgewater needs and wants to win states to etch his name in the annals of a very storied history at Northwestern. He has the team around him to do it. The tough games it has played in the regular season has hardened the team. The turmoil surrounding the ouster of coach Billy Rolle will be a galvanizing point of the season. When healthy, it is hard to stop the Bulls.
Why it will fall short: The team isn't healthy and has a hard time stopping the run. For all of the things this team does right athletically, it has had a hard time staying healthy. If Bridgewater is not able to go full strength as soon as the playoffs start, it could be a quick exit with Columbus and Central both ready and able to knock the team out in the first round. Its inability to stop the run and make a big play defensively is concerning and will cost Northwestern when it counts.
No. 52 Miami (Fla.) Columbus Explorers
Current standings: No. 3 in Class 6A, 9-0
Why it will win states: A single-minded, team-first mentality permiates this group. It has its share of star players, but the Explorers can put stars to the side in the cause of best for the team. The ability to run the ball and stop the run are two major advantages this team will have going through the playoffs. Being able to control the line of scrimmage also is invaluable.
Why it will fall short: This team is too inexperienced to run the table. It is rare that Columbus makes it out of the first round, let alone making a run for six weeks to a state title. Getting out of the first two weeks of the playoffs would be an amazing acomplishment and it may be ripe for a letdown if the team is able to go that far. Also, it simply doesn't have the star power to do it. Who can take over a game if needs be?
No. 45 Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson Dragons
Current standings: No. 2 in Class 3A, 8-0
Why it will win states: Going over the top all day and all night is the way of the Dragon this season. It has the talent and the speed to burn down the field and make big plays. Andre Davis and Chris Moore are a duo that is impossible to shut down on the high school level and that combo will shine in the playoffs. Defensively, the team is able to shut down the opposition's pass game and let the linebackers attack the line of scrimmage. It is a perfect recipe for success this season.
Why it will fall short: A lack of battle testing will cut the legs out from the Dragons. The team likely will coast into the semifinals or the final without much of a test. Once that first team is able to punch the Dragons in the mouth, it will sent a cold chill down the spine of the team. Its ability or potential inability to respond to adversity will cause a setback.
No. 39 Pensacola (Fla.) High Tigers
Current standings: No. 1 in Class 3A, 8-0
Why it will win states: Defense wins championships and this team has defensive talent in spades. In its run to a state final win in 2009, the team only allowed 95 points. It is on pace to match that this season with just 54 points allowed. The attack-at-all-points style of play and free-flowing linebackers make it tough to run or pass. Coach Mike Bennett is a guy who likes to use his best players on defense and that will carry the team to back-to-back titles.
Why it will fall short: It is tough to repeat in any state, let alone Florida. That, and this year it doesn't have the talent that other teams in Class 3A have. A team which relies on defense will need to score points to win states. It has not showed the ability to put many points up on the board. A semifinal appearance may be the best it can hope for unless the offense comes together quickly.
No. 36 Cocoa (Fla.) High Tigers
Current standings: No. 1 in Class 2A, 10-0
Why it will win states: The Tigers have the best player in the class, Chevelle Buie, and one of the best defenses in the state. The 3-3-5 formation makes it very hard to move the ball and that plays to the benefit of Cocoa. This team knows what it takes to win as it is going for its third straight title (3A in 2008, 2A in 2009). It has been battle-tested with games against Olive Branch (Miss.) High, Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson, and Abilene (Texas) High.
Why it will fall short: Despite being the only ranked team from Class 2A, it is hardly a runaway winner for the state title. Between the likes of Tampa Jesuit, Madison County, Glades Central and a few others, there are plenty of teams who can make it tough to three-peat. The offense is also likely to suffer the fall. The opposition needs to key on Buie and take him out of the game. If any of the competent teams in the classification are able to do that, Cocoa will be out.
No. 29 Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee Hurricanes
Current standings: No. 2 in Class 5A, 9-0
Why it will win states: One man. Mike Blakely. The 5-foot-9 battering ram can pound the rock all night in the middle or use a gear that can burn past defenders in the open field. Once teams start to key on him, it will open up a steadily improving passing game. The methodical approach to the game frustrates opponents and keeps the defense fresh - a combination that has worked in football for generations.
Why it will fall short: A team with one key player and a relatively soft schedule could have a tough time getting to the title game in a loaded Class 5A. Quarterback Cord Sandberg has done a solid but not spectacular job navigating the schedule and has grown a lot since the opening weeks. However, without seeing a defense like he will in the last three weeks of the season, a mistake or two could come back to bite Manatee.
No. 26 Miami (Fla.) Central Rockets
Current standings: No. 2 in Class 6A, 8-1
Why it will win states: This is the most talented team in the classification this season. It will be sending nearly a dozen seniors to Division I schools this year and that makes for too much to overcome. The team has speed on the outside and a quarterback that can air it out. Scoring 40 or more is all but a routine for the Rockets, who have shown the mettle it takes to win in beating Miami Northwestern as well as already tasting defeat at the hand of Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County.
Why it will fall short: It isn't tough enough against the run. The Rockets were bulldozed against Camden County and there are too many teams in Class 6A that can run the ball. Matchups against Columbus, Dr. Phillips, or even Apopka if something crazy happens, likely will spell disaster for the Rockets. Talent or not, being able to get off the field is key and this team can not do it when it counts.
No. 23 Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips Panthers
Current standings: No. 1 in Class 6A, 9-0
Why it will win states: The Panthers can not be stopped. This team has yet to be slowed let alone have the worry of being stopped. There is amazing talent on both sides of the ball, including the top running back nationally, Demetrius Hart, and the top defensive back nationally, Hasean Clinton-Dix. The pair is not alone with five other three-star players as well as one of the top kickers in the nation. Going deep in the playoffs and winning states is the only accepted finish for Dr. Phillips.
Why it will fall short: Because it hasn't done it before. For some reason, the top teams in Orlando have had a hard time getting to the final. Dr. Phillips, for all of its talent, inevitably will find a way to get in its own way. Turnovers, sloppy play, or being muscled can cost the Panthers.
No. 16 Seffner (Fla.) Armwood Hawks
Current standings: No. 2 in Class 4A, 9-0
Why it will win states: As has been the case with Armwood the past decade, the defense is outstanding. This season it has yielded just 35 points and doesn't show signs of stopping. The offense, which is typically average at best, has come to the party this year and is proving to be of state-title-winning caliber. Josh Grady and A.J. King lead the way for the Hawks, but the true strength is that the team has a solid two-deep and can rotate in players on the defensive front, keeping pressure on the opposition.
Why it will fall short: Despite the great scoring margin on the season, the team has yet to "need" to score. If it is able to make it to the final and matches up with a team such as Dwyer, it will need to be in the mid-20s - and it will need to keep its opposition off the scoreboard as well. The task will be too tough for the Hawks and the season will end with disappointment.
No. 15 West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer Panthers
Current standings: No. 1 in Class 4A, 8-1
Why it will win states: There is no better team than Dwyer in Class 4A. The team has been circled as the team to beat since last year and has done nothing to disappoint. If not for a controversial ending on Labor Day against Cleveland (Fla.) Glenville, there may be talk that this is the best team in Florida. The big three of Nick O'Leary, Jacoby Brissett and Curt Maggitt have a singular vision of getting to and capturing states.
Why it will fall short: For all the things that Dwyer has been able to do, it has two major flaws that will cost it the title. The linebacker position is still unsettled, even at this point in the season. And the team has not seen much defense against it. If it runs into Armwood, it will be interesting to see how it can respond to the physical and disciplined play.
No. 2 Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders
Current standings: No. 1 in Class 5A, 9-0
Why it will win states: This Raiders team is out to finish the deal that last year's senior class let slip through the cracks. The team is healthy entering the playoffs - something it wasn't last year - and has the mindset to win and take names. The disappointment that it experienced last year will fuel the fire to make it count this year. For all the talk of rebuilding, this team has Division I athletes all over the board and it will not be undone.
Why it will fall short: Similar to last year, the postseason is a different animal. In Class 5A, it is something else altogether. With hungry teams chomping at the bit to take a piece out of Aquinas, there will be a team that gets the better of it. QB Jake Rudock will need to put together a string of good games and the defensive line will need to be ready to stop the run. It showed a weakness giving up over 300 yards rushing to Camden County. More talented teams can exploit that deficiency.

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