December 19, 2010

Breaking down teams with title hopes

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

Five schools - Aquinas, De La Salle, Northwestern, South Panola and St. Edward - have legitimate claims to the national title after completing undefeated seasons.

And each can have a case made for and against it to win the title.

But how do they compare to each other?

We thought we'd rank them in 11 categories - from individual positions (QB, RB, WR) to units (offensive and defensive lines, linebackers, secondary and special teams) to their competition (regular-season schedule, playoff run, out-of-state games).

It's a way to see how the best of the best stack up.

Best Quarterback
Justin Worley, Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern
A national player of the year candidate, Worley had one of the best seasons of any player at any position. He just happened to be playing the most important position on the field for the Trojans and amassed huge numbers. As a senior Worley threw for over 5,300 yards, 64 touchdowns versus just 11 interceptions, and completed 72-percent of his passes. He also holds nearly every career passing record in South Carolina. Worley is a pure pocket passer in a spread system that throws to get his receivers open and not to a specific route. His mastery of the offense is unrivaled and made the season special for the best in South Carolina
No. 2: Jake Rudock, Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
Best Running back
Qyendarius Griffin, Batesville (Miss.) South Panola
What a season for Griffin - over 2,600 yards and 37 touchdowns, scored playing mostly in just one half of football most weeks. Griffin had over 200 yards in seven games and scored multiple touchdowns in all but four contests this season. Griffin was a backup defensive player last year and slid into the spotlight with a strong spring. He was just as good in the playoffs when he ran for over 600 yards and seven touchdowns in the Tigers last three games. Every team South Panola goes against knows it is going to run the ball; Griffin was effective anyway.
No. 2: Lucas Dunne, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle
Best receiving corps
Rashad Green and Phillip Dorsett, St. Thomas Aquinas
Playing with game-managing quarterback Jake Rudock, the pair for the Raiders was hard to contain. Both players are four-star recruits and are headed to Florida State and Miami respectively. Both have 4.5 speed and good ball skills and both are able to gain major yards after the play with catch-and-run skills. The numbers for the pair may not be what some more pass-happy groups of receivers look like, but that has more to do with the Raiders balance on offense more so than its passing attack. Trying to cover these two with just any secondary will not do.
No.2 group: Nickalos Brassell and Marcus Henry, South Panola
Best offensive line
Brandon Jackson, Geoff Mangus, Trenton Rivera, et al, Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward
Grinding their way to an Ohio Division I state title and consideration for a national title were the Eagles of St. Edward and that was, in large part, due to the offensive line. The group of guys were all over 6-2, 270 pounds and were able to effectively run and pass block in any condition - including the cold, snowy conditions that the state title game was played in. In games when it needed to control the line of scrimmage and wear down its opponent, this group rose to the occasion. No effort was more evident than its second round 42-22 rout of Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville when the team ran the ball 44 times for 235 yards and kept the Tarblooders on the sidelines watching the march down the field.
No. 2 offensive line: South Panola
Best defensive line
Issac Gross, Temario Strong, Taylor Rotenberry, et al, South Panola
The defensive line for South Panola spent as much time in the opposition's backfield as the running back most games. A relentless pass rush and stout rush defense are staples of the Tigers style of play. The junior-led group is going to be even better next year, which is scary. Strong lead the unit with 14.5 sacks, followed by Gross with 10. Both piled up the tackles as well with Strong being second on the entire team from his defensive end position with 75. Gross, the defensive tackle, checked in fourth on the team with 62 tackles on the season. The play of the front four was able to allow the linebackers to be more aggressive and help the secondary snatch 13 interceptions on the season.
No. 2 defensive line: St. Thomas Aquinas
Best linebacker group
Michael Barton, Blake Renaud, Michael Hutchings, et al, De La Salle
As much as people know about the rush attack of the Spartans, many need to pay attention to the linebackers that also cycle through the program. While the Spartans rely on Dylan Wynn to put pressure on the quarterback, it is the group of linebackers who supply the run stuffing, point-of-attack controlling presence on the team. The trio of Renaud, Barton, and Hutchings represent a senior, junior and sophomore who all make an impact for the Spartans. The three are the top three tacklers on the team: Barton with 62, Hutchings with 50, and Renaud with 48. While the team cycles in plenty of players to remain fresh, it is that group that keys the attack.
No. 2 linebacking group: St. Thomas Aquinas
Best secondary
Nickalos Brassell, Kendrick Market, Antonio Connor and Al Hentz, South Panola
This is a secondary comprised of four Division I athletes. That is hard to compete with. Market, a Mississippi State commit, and Al Hentz, undecided, are the primary cornerbacks. Market led the team with six interceptions and Hentz led the team with 25 pass breakups. When teams tried to go over the top, it was the duo of Brassell and Connor patrolling as safeties. Brassell is the No. 1 ranked player in Mississippi for the Class of 2011 and will be headed to Mississippi State, Connor, only a sophomore, is already being talked about as the best defensive back to ever come through the program - for a school that produced All-SEC player Derek Pegues and long time NFL player DeShea Townsend, that is very high praise. Connor led the team with 89 tackles; he was second on the team with four interceptions and also chipped in two sacks.
No. 2 secondary: St. Thomas Aquinas
Best special teams
St. Thomas Aquinas
As important a part of the game as any other unit is the special teams group. While it was a tough case to separate three of the teams, St. Thomas Aquinas pulled ahead. Most of that has to do with the rules in Florida helping with the return game, as teams are allowed to take the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs. The Aquinas return game is one of the best around and that helps set the team up with good field position. For its part on coverage its kicker, Nolan Bieck, can boom kickoffs that even with favorable return rules result in a fair share of touchbacks (52 in 15 games). He is also accurate as a field goal kicker.
No. 2: St. Edward
Best regular season schedule
St. Edward
All five teams in contention for a national title will claim to have a difficult schedule. It has been proven all season long that those teams that play easier regular season schedules tend to fall short come playoff time. St. Edward gains the narrow advantage over the rest with Mentor, Penn Hills (Pa.), Elder, St. Xavier, and Moeller all on the regular season docket. Fans of the team will cite that St. Ignatius, Cardinal Mooney and Inkster (Mich.) were all on the schedule as well, but those teams were shells of what each was last season. It is certainly a debate as to which school had the hardest run but this team gets the edge.
No. 2 (tie): South Panola, St. Thomas Aquinas, Northwestern - four quality wins each.
Best playoff run
St. Edward
There was not a weak win on the schedule for St. Edward. A five week run of games with Mentor, Glenville, Solon, Whitmer and Wayne provided the most stiff competition on a weekly basis of any of the five teams. Each week provided a very different but very real level of competition and threat of defeat. This analysis is not to say that the Eagles were the most impressive in their run - a tough win over Whitmer and a comeback victory over Wayne will tarnish that argument - but none of those five teams are teams that did not belong in a postseason tournament to begin with. The wins over Glenville and Solon were the best examples for the team in the playoffs and the domination over those two left lasting images.
No. 2 (tie): All four other teams played two ranked teams in its playoff run.
Best out-of-state win
De La Salle
This was one of the biggest thuds of the year when compared across the country. The out-of-state game phenomenon is catching like fire with teams on national and regional television each week of the season. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the out-of-state games this year were rendered moot points for rankings purposes because one or both of the teams involved did not hold up its end of the bargain. De La Salle's win over Bishop Gorman trumps the rest as Gorman was able to rebound to win its state title - something that the opponents of St. Edward, St. Thomas Aquinas and South Panola were not able to do.
No. 2: St. Thomas Aquinas, with wins over Dallas Skyline and Camden County

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