August 4, 2011

RivalsHigh 100 Countdown: Nos. 25-21

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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.

Last Monday, RivalsHigh.com began its 2011 countdown, ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 100.

We started at No. 100 and will release two groups of five teams per day. Then, we'll do a daily countdown from No. 10 to No. 1. Our top team will be unveiled on Wednesday, Aug. 10 - just 10 days from the start of the season.

After that, we will wait until Sept. 5 for the next rankings, then have them every Monday during the season.

The team rankings were compiled by high school sports senior analyst Dallas Jackson, the Rivals AMP team, football recruiting analysts and the entire RivalsHigh network of publishers.

Preseason 2011 RivalsHigh 100 Rankings | Post your thoughts about the teams

Top 100 countdown
No. 25 Byrnes, South Carolina

COACH: Chris Miller
LAST SEASON: 12-3, won Class 4A Division I state championship
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 40 in RivalsHigh 100

KEEP AN EYE ON: How the team breaks in a new quarterback. Byrnes could go with senior Colton Korn (the younger brother of former starter and college player Wily Korn), but it appears more likely it will use Korn as a slot receiver and push sophomore Shuler Bentley into the starting quarterback role. The 16-year old is the son of former head coach and current offensive coordinator Bobby Bentley. And he'll have the same expectations as any quarterback before him: win a state championship.

STRENGTH: Despite a history of plenty of Division I athletes on offense - Marcus Lattimore and Chas Dodd among dozens of other signees - the defensive side of the ball always has been the calling card for this program. This year should be no different. The defensive line - Doc Dilliard, Von Ownes and Jamaa Johnson - is very good and the linebacker group - Melvin Armstrong, Marcus Mohrman and Travis Thomas - may be the most physical collection in a decade. This year's team may not have as many Division I athletes, but definitely has a high number of very good high school football players.

STAR OF THE SHOW: The spotlight will be shared by a number of players but running back Shakeem Wharton, receivers Akia Booker and Korn as well as kicker Kaleb Patterson should be the leaders of the team.

NEW OFFENSE? There has been talk that coach Bentley has gone back to school and added a few wrinkles to the offense. With a dynamic group of young receivers coming through the system, he could expand the passing playbook and take the competition by storm.

QUOTABLE: "We are working to get better," head coach Chris Miller said. "I think we have a lot of talented football player here this year. We may not get as many recruiters coming through, but this a group of really good players. I am excited."

Top 100 countdown
No. 24 St. Edwards, Ohio

COACH: Rick Finotti
LAST SEASON: 15-0, won Division I state championship
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 3 in RivalsHigh 100

KEEP AN EYE ON: How St. Edward replaces running back Terrell Bates and quarterback Kevin Burke. Bates is now at Kent State and while Burke was not a Division I prospect, he made the offense go. The line will be back and strong, but without a quarterback like Burke who can make things happen, another perfect season will be tough - especially considering the incredible schedule this team will have to play.

STRENGTH: The offensive line. The guys in the trenches for St. Edward are a difference maker for the team - despite losing Goeff Mangus and Brandon Jackson to Northwestern and West Virginia, respectively. The group returns linemen Kyle Kalis (a Michigan commit), Tyler Orlosky (a West Virginia commit) and tight end Sam Grant (a Boston College commit).

STAR OF THE SHOW: This is the major question mark entering the season. Who is going to step up and take the spotlight? The best players on the team are on the offensive and defensive lines - but that alone doesn't figure to get the team moving upward off the No. 24 spot. Someone will need to step up and take control of the offense.

THE NAME GAME: St. Edward has scheduled very aggressively, but the teams could all be a year late to the party. Glenville, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Penn Hills, Cardinal Mooney, Elder, Jefferson and Ursuline are all expected to be down compared to last year - but all are quality programs. The telling games of the season will be with Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco, Cincinnati St. Xavier and Moeller before the playoffs start. This schedule is demanding, no doubt, but it is not as difficult as it could have been if it were played last year.

Top 100 countdown
No. 23 Pleasant Grove, California
COACH: Joe Cattolico
LAST SEASON: 13-1, won Sac-Joaquin Division I championship
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 23 in California

KEEP AN EYE ON: How a soft schedule could impact the ranking of this team. Many teams in the RivalsHigh 100 this season will be playing at least one team that is either in the rankings already or in the discussion for rankings. Pleasant Grove's best game is likely to be late in the season against a re-tooling Folsom team. Undefeated may bring a collective "so what" when comparing schedules with most any other team that will be ranked come year end.

STRENGTH: The team returns seven starters on offense and seven experienced players on defense (six starters) so there are certainly expectations for the team to be able to duplicate, if not improve, on its season of a year ago when it won its section. A bid for a CIF bowl game is on the plate for this year.

STAR OF THE SHOW: The reason many people are falling in love with this team is one-man wrecking crew Arik Armstead. The 6-foot-8, 280-pound lineman can disrupt plays in so many ways and is nearly impossible to account for, let alone take out of a play. The No. 23 overall player in the country is committed to USC and has shown a high motor at many events this summer.

QUOTABLE: "I love tackling people, getting sacks, it's just more fun," Armstead said. "It's not like I dislike offense. I think I can be a pretty good offensive lineman, too, but I'm more passionate about playing defense."

Top 100 countdown
No. 22 Aledo, Texas

COACH: Tim Buchanan
LAST SEASON: 16-0, won Class 4A Division II state championship
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 68 in RivalsHigh 100

KEEP AN EYE ON: September 9. It is the only game of the season that means anything for Aledo. It will be taking on ranked Lake Travis. The rest of the Aledo regular season schedule is a cakewalk - likely one of the worst five of any ranked team. Lake Travis will be gunning up for Aledo after Aledo won last year, 14-10, in a game Travis was missing four starters on offense. It could be a different game this time around - and certainly telling if Aledo is a good Class 4A team or a great national-caliber team.

STRENGTH: The rushing attack for Aledo has pushed the team into the national picture. With eight starters returning on offense - an offense that scored 780 points last year - the scoreboard operator will be working hard. Linemen Michael Wilson, Hayden Lambert and Anthony Ray (average size 6-5, 260) will be opening holes up front for star running back Johnathan Gray.

STAR OF THE SHOW: Aledo won the Class 4A title last year behind Gray, the No. 14 overall player in the country who is headed to Texas. Gray, who set a Texas state record with 59 rushing touchdowns as a junior, made headlines with offseason shoulder surgery to clean a joint and tighten some ligaments. He's expected to be healthy this fall.

QUOTABLE: "It was tough paying for this shirt," James Gray, father of Johnathan Gray said of a Texas polo he wore during his son's commitment. "But it's not tough wearing it."

Top 100 countdown
No. 21 Katy, Texas

COACH: Gary Joseph
LAST SEASON: 13-1
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 24 in RivalsHigh 100

KEEP AN EYE ON: The rest of Katy's district. Katy is most certainly going to win the district and make the playoffs - that is all but a foregone conclusion - but the playoffs will be a better test for the merits of the Tigers. Last season, Katy was pushed up into the Division I playoffs after winning the Division II state title in 2008 and 2007. The hope is that Katy will be in Division I again - but it doesn't have the choice as Texas divides its playoff teams based on size.

STRENGTH: Defense and more defense for Katy. Texas teams have been knocked in recent years for not playing a high level on defense, often allowing a lot of points and hoping to win a shootout. That is not the case for Katy. While the Tigers may be accused of playing down to the level of their competition, the defense is known to rise to the occasion in the big games.

STAR OF THE SHOW: Quarterback Brooks Haack has the most to gain with a solid season. The 6-foot-2, pro-style quarterback has been going to summer camps and combines and showing well, but he has only landed one offer - from North Texas - and with a strong senior campaign, that is likely to change.

THE EDGE: Aledo has become a sexy pick for a top team in the state of Texas, even ahead of Katy in some polls. But the difference between Aledo, the top preseason 4A team, and the top three 5A teams (Katy, Allen and Trinity), is run defense. Katy, which is only narrowly graded out ahead of Aledo, gets the edge because it is geared to stop the run attack - an asset that can help land it in the Top 20.

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