The rise in out-of-state high school football games has given many top programs the chance to test themselves against other top teams.
Some schools don't need to go out of state to do just that.
In some areas, just winning the local title requires a run through a tough test of opponents. And it's not always in the areas you might think.
Take Arkansas, where teams in the 7A West Conference (featuring Bentonville High, Springdale Har-Ber, Fayetteville High, Fort Smith Southside, Springdale High, Rogers High, Rogers Heritage, and Fort Smith Northside) seemingly are battling for a postseason spot from the opening kickoff.
"The 7A West conference without a doubt has the top teams in the state," Luke Matheson, high school football expert with ArkansasVarsity.com, said. "They battle each week knowing that each game is a must-win game. With only 16 teams in Arkansas' top conference, each team has to begin to position themselves for playoff seeding as soon as the season kicks off.
"The top team in this district has played for (the 7A state) championships constantly since 2005."
It's the same way in Western Pennsylvania, where winning the WPIAL seemingly makes you a favorite for a state title.
"There are AAA teams throughout the state that produce Division I prospects on a regular basis, consistently contend for district titles, and are a constant presence in the state finals. But nowhere is it as concentrated as it is in the Parkway in the WPIAL," Andrew Chiappazzi, a sports reporter for PaPreps.com, said. "Every single one of the teams in the section has a tradition of winning and producing top-flight football players."
The section, which includes Montour, West Allegheny, Hopewell, Blackhawk, New Castle, Moon and Ambridge, was made much tougher last year with the introduction of Central Valley which formed when two school districts in close proximity merged.
These leagues are just two of the fifteen RivalsHigh has selected as we move closer to our preseason Top 100 team rankings, which begin July 25.
In these groups, going undefeated - and placing high in the RivalsHigh Top 100 - is tough to do.
These schools, however, don't need national recognition. If they prove they can beat the best in their area, they're confident that means that can take on anyone in the country.
With that, a look at our toughest leagues: (in alphabetical order)
RivalsHigh.com Preseason Top Districts
Arkansas 7A/6A West
Teams: Bentonville, Springdale Har-Ber, Fayetteville, Fort Smith Southside, Springdale, Rogers, Rogers Heritage, Fort Smith Northside Buzz: Bentonville, Springdale Har-Ber, and Fayetteville has all been ranked inside the RivalsHigh 100 over the past three seasons and each has represented the state of Arkansas very well. With just 16 teams in the highest classification, it is clear where the power lies in the state. These teams are the biggest schools with the deepest rosters, and while that doesn't always mean the best teams on the field, here it certainly does.
California Trinity League
Teams: Servite, Mater Dei, Orange Lutheran, JSerra Catholic, St. John Bosco, Santa Margarita Buzz: There are a lot of quality leagues in California but for consistent namebrand high school action, the Trinity League packs a mean punch. Servite, Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran are always tough outs come playoff time and each have been consistent members of the RivalsHigh 100. That isn't to say that JSerra, St. John Bosco and Santa Margarita are also-rans; those are teams that are consistent winners as well and are not guaranteed victories.
Florida District 16-6A
Teams: Miami Northwestern, Miami Central, Belen Jesuit, Homestead, Carol City Buzz: Two of the most talented teams on an annual basis get together once - but usually twice - a year with the Miami Northwestern Bulls and Miami Central Rockets being the household names of this group. The Bulls won a RivalsHigh 100 national championship in 2007 and Central was a Top 15 finisher in 2010. Adding in a consistent winner like Belen Jesuit and a streaky but rising Carol City team, this is one of the toughest districts nationally let alone in the state.
Georgia Region 1-AAAAA
Teams: Valdosta, Lowndes, Colquitt County, Tift County, Coffee Buzz: Having the all-time high school wins leader in this district certainly brings some cache to the area. However Valdosta isn't just home to its namesake, as Lowndes has been a multiple state winner and headline stealer in recent years. The arrival of Rush Propst to Colquitt County has made a recent doormat into a nationally-ranked power. That is to say nothing of Tift and Coffee, who each have the talent and ability to win state titles on their own. South Georgia is a power in the state and this region is the main force behind that.
Illinois Chicago Catholic League - Blue
Teams: Loyola, St. Rita, Mt. Carmel, Fenwick, Brother Rice, Providence Catholic Buzz: Even with the DuPage Valley nipping closely for the best district in the state, the Catholic League Blue still is the frontrunner in Illinois. With long standing rivalries and a multitude of state championships, getting out of this grinder of a league is as difficult as any in the country. The brand of football is still true to the personality of Chicago where fighting and clawing for respect is part of the cold, snowy season.
Kentucky District 4-6A
Teams: Trinity, St. Xavier, Male, DuPont Manual Buzz: This four-team district is new to Kentucky this season, but in most seasons, these four programs will represent four of the Top 10 in the state. Last season in its state title run, Trinity played both St. X and Male in the playoffs with Male battling for the title - a rematch usually reserved for St. X. The Louisville area powers battle for players and state titles on a regular basis and when Trinity and St. X get together, there is a good chance 35,000 people or more will be in attendance to see it.
Louisiana District 9-4A
Teams: Edna Karr, McDonough 35, O. Perry Walker, Archbishop Shaw, Belle Chasse, Cox Buzz: For many outside of Louisiana, these are teams that few know about and it has nothing to do with the brand of football being played. Between members of this group will be guaranteed losses and few high seeds in the playoffs because of those defeats. Consistently producing some of the best talent in New Orleans, recruiting fans from most every SEC teams have had players come out of these schools and know them very well. This is a district reformed and on the rise in the country.
Michigan Detroit Catholic League
Teams: Novi Catholic Central, St. Mary Prep, De La Salle, Brother Rice, Detroit Jesuit Buzz: With four of the five teams in this league being ranked nationally over the last five years, it is no wonder this league makes the list. Between these five teams, some of the best football and top recruits are coming onto the national scene. With so much interplay between the five teams, undefeated seasons are few and far between, but when they happen it is clear indication that it is a special team coming from Detroit.
Mississippi Region 1-6A
Teams: South Panola, Olive Branch, Tupelo, Southaven, Columbus, Horn Lake, DeSoto Central, Grenada Buzz: South Panola is the most recognizable name in the group as it has dominated Mississippi football for the better part of two decades, but it is not alone. In most seasons, Olive Branch, Tupelo and Southaven will be competing for a state title and national rankings as all are solid programs playing in the long cast shadow of South Panola. This is a region that does not get the respect it deserves but some of the best football in the state is played in this pocket.
New Jersey Big North - United
Teams: Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, St. Joseph Regional, DePaul, Paramus Catholic Buzz: Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic are the most nationally known names in this group but they are not the only ones playing good football. There are few public or other private schools in New Jersey that want to play any of these teams, forcing legislature to allow them to play an additional out-of-state game to fill the teams schedules. Don Bosco's success in out-of-state games has brought a lot of positive attention to New Jersey football and has pushed the other four teams to up their games.
Ohio Greater Catholic League - South
Teams: LaSalle, Moeller, St. Xavier, Elder Buzz: Battling weekly in the GCL-South is a gauntlet that many teams in the nation just can not understand. A physical, well-coached game week in and week out is what is preached and seen on the fields of Cincinnati. It is a special season when one of these teams can manage to go undefeated in the conference, let alone the state. And when it happens, those teams are usually rewarded with Top 5 national consideration - if not higher - with the rest of the schedule being filled with quality opponents. In 2010, St. Xavier was 1-2 in the league but advanced to the state semifinals before falling.
Pennsylvania WPIAL AAA Parkway
Teams: Montour, West Allegheny, Central Valley, Hopewell, Blackhawk, New Castle, Moon, Ambridge Buzz: Pittsburgh suburbs are a hotbed for football on all levels as the WPIAL has played for a state title more times that it hasn't. No place is it tougher to escape than the Class AAA Parkway; with so much talent and great coaching, it is not unusual to pile up multiple losses and still make a deep run into the playoffs. The addition of Central Valley - which didn't win this conference title in 2010 but surprisingly won the WPIAL title in its first-ever season - last year only makes this more difficult in the regular season.
Texas Region I District 3-5A
Teams: Abilene Cooper, Midland, Abilene, Odessa, Permian, Lee Buzz: Nicknamed the Little Southwest Conference, the district was disbanded and recently put back together. Playing in this district is one of the most challenging and talented every year. The passion of the fans have inspired, most notably, the book "Friday Night Lights," based on the rivalry between Permian and Lee, but each team in the district has a storied history and plenty of pride.
Texas Region I District 7-5A
Teams: Coppell, Denton Guyer, Southlake Carroll, Keller Central, Northwest, Keller, Fossil Ridge, Saginaw Buzz: To the northwest of Dallas lies this pocket of solid teams. With the recent success of Coppell and Denton Guyer taking away some of the thunder from Southlake Carroll's run of national recognition, this district has been solidly stamped on the map as one of the most competitive. With the city expanding outward, the growth of these schools is still on the rise - and the more players it can choose from, the better the teams will develop.
Texas Region I District 8-5A
Teams: Allen, Flower Mound Marcus, Flower Mound, Plano, Plano East, Plano West, Hebron, Lewisville Buzz: North of Dallas is where you can find some of the best football nationally and this district is one of the best anywhere. The district is home to some of the largest schools in the state and football is incredibly competitive. Allen, Flower Mound Marcus and the Plano teams have been ranked or considered for national rankings over the last five years, and an expected good year could quickly be turned into an average season when the teeth of the schedule bite down.
Other Districts Receiving Consideration
Alabama Region 2-6A
Teams: Foley, Daphne, McGill-Toolen, Baldwin County, Satsuma, Fairhope, Williamson, Robertsdale
Illinois DuPage Valley
Teams: Wheaton-Warrenville South, Glenbard North, Wheaton North, Naperville North, Central, Aurora West, Glenbard East, West Chicago
Missouri Suburban - Gold
Teams: Blue Springs, Blue Springs South, Liberty, Lee's Summit, Lee's Summit North, Raymore-Peculiar
New Mexico District 3-5A
Teams: Las Cruces, Mayfield, Onate, Gadsden, Alamogordo
Oklahoma District 3-6A
Teams: Jenks, Broken Arrow, Southmoore, Muskogee, Norman, Sapulpa, Putnam City West, US Grant
South Carolina Region III-AAAA
Teams: Northwestern, Gaffney, Clover, Spartanburg, Lancaster, Rock Hill