It happens every year: As soon as the preseason RivalsHigh 100 is released, fans around the country spend the next few weeks debating the rankings.
This year, they won't have to.
Due to a number of top-quality early season matchups, the schools will settle the disputes where they should be settled: On the field. And in many cases, it will happen before Labor Day weekend.
Almost every member of the Top 10 seemingly has a big game early. Many have more than one. Two of the preseason Top 10 teams are guaranteed to open the season with a loss as they will open against another Top 10 team.
It starts at the top.
No. 1 Prattville opens its season on Aug. 27 against No. 10 Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas.
Both coaches know how important a fast start could be to the season.
"We have to be ready for that first game," Rocco Casullo, St. Thomas Aquinas head coach, said. "Prattville is absolutely loaded."
For the No. 1 team, it may be even more important.
"If we want to accomplish our ultimate goals, we have to take that first step," Jaime DuBose, Prattville head coach, said. "Those guys will be a challenge for sure but we will have plenty of challenges in front of us. That is just the first one."
But that's not even the first big game of the season.
No. 7 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman opens on Aug. 20 against No. 30 Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral at University of Phoenix Stadium in the annual Nevada-Arizona matchup. Six days later, Gorman will host No. 5 Seffner (Fla.) Armwood in an ESPN nationally-televised game.
"We think we have a talented team and we are going for it this year," Tony Sanchez, head coach at Bishop Gorman, said. "We have been trying to improve our schedule and this year I think we can accomplish something special."
Last year's national champion, No. 8 Batesville (Miss.) South Panola, is starting quickly, too. A week after opening on Aug. 20, it will travel to No. 70 Hoover (Ala.) High in a much-anticipated matchup of the longtime Alabama and Mississippi powers. It's the first game of a home-and-home between the schools.
"We are excited for the South Panola game," Hoover athletic director Myra Miles said. "Our fans have wanted to play them for some time and we will be ready to go after them."
As good as August appears, September may be even better.
On Sept. 10, South Panola will play at No. 28 Gulfport (Miss.) High in what could be a preview of a state final. It's just one of three big games that weekend.
No. 6 Allen (Texas) High will travel to No. 32 Longview (Texas) High while No. 2 Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco will host No. 91 Mission Viejo (Calif.) High. For Don Bosco, it's the first of consecutive big games. It will travel to Florida to play No. 36 Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee the following week.
The same weekend that Don Bosco will play Manatee, a Lakes region showdown will be happening as No. 9 Louisville (Ky.) Trinity will go on the road to face No. 20 Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier.
As good as all these games may be, they all are just leading up to what is expected to be the headliner of the early season.
On Sept. 23, No. 4 Concord (Calif.) De La Salle will go on the road to face No. 10 St. Thomas Aquinas in the first-ever meeting between the longtime national powers. If both teams enter the game undefeated, the winner seemingly will put itself near the top of the national championship race.
"This game will feature high-end talent at numerous positions," Doug Benton, a reporter for NorCalPreps.com, said. "And with two teams that won't shrink away from the big stage."
By the time October rolls around, the national landscape will be completely different and shaped by out-of-state games.
While the transitive property of high school football is a slippery slope, the fact that the top teams are willing to play these games is great for the game - and now seemingly a necessity for the programs.
"I think that for 2011 and beyond, teams will have to schedule a minimum of one out-of-state game to be considered a national contender," Brian Hercules, owner of Hercules Sports Management LLC, said. "Currently, there are several teams that are scheduling multiple out-of-state games and it will likely be those teams that will be the front-runners for the national title because of strength of schedule and national perception."
Of course, just scheduling the games won't do it. Winning them will.