November 8, 2011

Ranking the States: Where is the best football played?

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

Yes, it's that time again. When RivalsHigh gets ready for the playoffs by rankings all 50 states by overall quality and depth. And fans cheer or complain, depending on their respective ranking.

Remember, like 2009 and 2010, this is based on the quality of team play (not individual talent) in the state.

The success of the top teams in the state is a key factor, but it is just one measure. The depth of talent - and the talent level in all divisions - also is considered. It's why this year's winner earns the coveted title of best state in the country this season despite not having a single school ranked in the top five nationally all season.

Come get your recognition ... Georgia.

That's right, for the first time in our four years of doing this, the top spot does not go to one of the big three states of Florida, Texas or California.

Not that Georgia is a second-level school. In fact, it's always a Top Ten state. This season, thanks to a depth that helps it place 13 schools in the RivalsHigh100, it pushes past all of them.

Georgia is the No. 1 state
for high school football in 2011.
Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County is the state's top team at No. 7, but it has plenty of competition. Buford (Ga.) High checks in at No. 16 and Loganville (Ga.) Grayson is at No. 25. Tucker (Ga.) High at No. 32 and Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek at No. 44 give the state five teams in the Top 50.

Georgia's depth, however, is just getting started. The state places eight more schools in the Top 100 (No. 62 Marietta Walton, No. 67 Lithonia Martin Luther King, No. 68 Warner Robins Northside, No. 69 Valdosta, No. 71 Moultrie Colquitt County, No. 72 Stone Mountain Stephenson, No. 93 Powder Springs Hillgrove and No. 94 Powder Springs McEachern).

Its 13 ranked teams ties it with Texas (No. 2 on our list) for most schools in the rankings. But considering the number of teams in Georgia compared to Texas, it's easy to see why the Peach State got the nod.

Camden County coach Jeff Herron certainly didn't need to be convinced.

"The best football is in this part of the country," he said.

Rush Propst, who came to Colquitt County after many years in Alabama, agreed. He's been stunned by the depth of talent in the state.

"There are probably 10 or 15 teams that could win this title at our level," he said.

Combined, they've won one title already: Top state in the country by RivalsHigh.

TIER ONE: The best of the best for high school football around the country.
1. Georgia: This is always a Top 10 state for high school football ,but the overall quality this year pushed it to the top spot. The Top 25 teams in Georgia could compete and represent well across every state and it is not concentrated to its highest level. The Georgia Class AAAAA playoffs may be as tough to win as any in the nation this year and its next two classifications will have some major wars. This is still a defense-first state, but it has some offensive explosiveness to compliment its growing list of athletes. (Last Year: 8)
2. Texas: Some may say that this year's crop of teams is not as talented as last year, when the state was No. 4. We feel this year is not only as talented, but it also is deeper. There are more teams that are battling for the No. 11-50 spots than any year in recent history and that helps with this placement. There are a number of teams that can win the Class 5A state titles and the Class 4A Division I title. In addition, there are even plenty of quality 3A programs that get overlooked nationally but could compete for similar sized state titles in every state across the nation. (LY: 4)
3. Florida: An elite season in the Sunshine state this is not. The teams faired fairly well out-of-state and have had some major in-state battles, but the elite programs are not quite as elite as last year (when it finished No.1 ). Like Texas, however, it is building major quality within its quantity. The expansion of classifications has made some of the classes a little less glamorous for playoff times, but others will be amazing to see play out. Florida is likely to never lose its place inside the first tier of high school football. (LY: 1)
TIER TWO: A solid group of states - long in tradition with quality depth as well as high level teams and players.
4: Louisiana: This is a fantastic season for high school football in Louisiana. From top to bottom and east to west there is quality football being played. This is no shock as the entire state seemingly has finally put Hurricane Katrina behind it. The Top 15 in Louisiana are as good as any of the states ahead of it. There may not be that one single elite team to hang a banner, but the strength in numbers at the top is right there. The next 15 is where the separation begins as those teams do not measure up to the states ahead of it. Lousiana always will have athletes to stock the shelves and a Top 10 state placement should be expected every year. (LY: 6)
5: California: We had California circled in the preseason as a typical power that was on the decline. Its performances in out-of-state games and round-robin play (when it beat up on one another), has shown that to be a correct evaluation. The state has the advantage of raw numbers, so there will always be teams worthy of discussion for the Top 100 across the country. But from the early points in the season there wasn't any school worthy of a national title discussion. There is a major gap between its top few teams and the large pool of quality teams. (LY: 2).
6: Ohio: The Buckeye State had elbowed its way into a discussion of The Big Four - which used to just be three. This season, however, has put a dent into it argument. The top teams all seem to be the usual suspects but all are having worse years than normal. Out-of-state games have been a bit of a soggy spot this year, too. Defense is still the name of the game in Ohio, but at some point there will need to be an uptick of offense or states such as Georgia will continue to push past the best from the Lakes Region. (LY: 3)
7: Alabama: Alabama gets lumped into the second tier on a generous spot. It could have easily been a third-tier team as it is quite top heavy this year, but its Top 5 teams are not much different than that of Ohio. And its next five teams have beaten each other up, showing a pool of depth that is good enough for Top 10 nationally. The overall level of football has been on a steady rise from No. 23 to No. 13 and now into the Top 10. (LY: 13)
TIER THREE: These states have a good top group of teams, but it has primarily been a countdown to four or five teams settling the argument. Some depth in classes but not as much as the states above it.
8: Indiana: Like Alabama, Indiana has made a steady climb up the state rankings from No. 23 to No. 15 and now No. 8. Most of the headlines have been made by Indianapolis Cathedral, Carmel, Warren Central and Ben Davis - and for good reason. But there are more teams that just that in the state. It would have been great if the latter three could have been somehow part of a Final Four in the state but the playoff process to win Sectionals and Regionals do not allow for that. Still a banner year in Indiana, no doubt. (LY: 15)
9: Oklahoma: This is finally not just a Jenks and Union state as there are quality opponents throughout the playoffs. The improvement of Broken Arrow and the continued rise of Midwest City can make for a very competitive Final Four and state final. The lower classifications are more top heavy, but there are quality teams to be found there as well. The Red Dirt state had lost ground on Arkansas, but this year pushed it back ahead of its boarder state. (LY: 20)
10: New Jersey: While many could argue that this is still a Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic state - and thus belonging on the fourth tier - the 2011 season has proven that there is a lot of good football being played in New Jersey. The Top 20 in the state has top to bottom quality teams and for a state with less than 350 football playing schools and many of them being pretty small, it is an impressive year. (LY: 16)
11: Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania and New Jersey could be flip flopped and many would not argue, but where New Jersey gets the nod is the top line with Don Bosco. The WPIAL looks like it is finally starting to get back to the football that had originally built the reputation of the state, but the Keystone State is not getting its usual boost from Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Because of it, it losing the battle to neighboring New Jersey. A solid year to move the state up though cannot be ignored. (LY: 17)
12: South Carolina: As high as we were all year on South Carolina in 2010 (when it finished 5th overall), the reality of this season has backed the state to the low point of the three-year exercise of rankings the states. Gaffney is a team that could play with anyone. If it were in contention last year, it would have been a great battle for a state title and potential national title with the playoff path it could have went through. This year it is all alone at the top. Greenwood, Byrnes, Lexington, and even small school Dillon are getting headlines, but there is not nearly as much top talent in the state as there was last year. (LY: 5)
13: Mississippi: Much like South Carolina, Mississippi is on a down turn from last season that saw a spectacular season in-state propel South Panola to a national title. There are still a handful of quality teams - Lafayette, Meridian, Olive Branch, Madison Central headline the list - but beyond that, it is a stretch for national relevance. (LY: 7)
14: Tennessee: A yo-yo of three seasons is hitting the Volunteer state as it has moved from No. 13 to No. 25 and now back to No. 14. The level of play in West and Central Tennessee continues to be on the rise. When those areas are solid - and matching up well with that of Knoxville-area schools and Chattanooga private schools - it is a solid year. There is a real battle for the Class 6A title with Whitehaven, Riverdale, and Maryville from Memphis to Nashville to Knoxville. (LY: 25)
15: Arizona: Another season in the top half of states is a constant for Arizona. It has been a state on the rise for the last decade and the players, coaches, and now teams are steadily improving. Our wish is that the state association stops with splitting the classes into divisions and giving everyone the finals matchups that the public wants to see. (LY: 14)
TIER FOUR: The bulk of the country. A couple pockets of good teams and players but mostly a one or two horse show.
16: Oregon: Oregon was thought to be ready to take the step into the next tier this year with several highly evaluated teams and players. While the shine did not quite keep, the level of play is still on the rise. The power of football is still in pockets mostly in Portland, but teams down the coast have bulked up. The eastern portion of the state hurts a lot. (LY: 28)
17: Maryland/D.C.: While much of this ranking is based on the private schools in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, there are some quality public schools that can be counted on this year. Good Counsel and Gilman showing well in out-of-state games this year was a major victory as each of the pair fell flat in previous attempts. (LY: 22)
18: Illinois: Illinois is a state that always struggles for respect despite a lot of quality football teams because it usually does not produce the elite team that gets it noticed. If the state is going to improve its image some trips (by its better, more high-profile teams) will have to be made. Two-year deals to host teams from Ohio, Pennsylvania, even Indiana can make a positive impact as the perception is that those states have passed Illinois. (LY: 11)
19: Virginia: Parity was the word entering the season and it was proven true. This state, like Illinois, has plenty of quality teams that on the right week can beat anyone and on the wrong week could look like they didn't belong on the field. After such a high in 2010 (when it finished No. 9) this is a hard year to rank a team from the state. Sometimes parity can be good but not when it is combined with a down year. (LY: 9)
20: Michigan: For consecutive years there were high hopes on Michigan football and again it fell flat. There is not much separating Michigan and Illinois most years; this one is no different. The two could have been flipped and not much would have been made of it. The state is still producing talented players and teams, but they are beginning to become further apart. (LY: 21)
21: North Carolina: Watch that first step, it's a doozey. North Carolina was a feel good story in 2010, but it has fallen out on tougher times in 2010. It seems as if the top levels are going to be Butler and Mallard Creek while Scotland County has powered into the national levels as well. There are still massive voids in the state that hurts the overall rankings. (LY: 10)
22: Washington: This is a state headlined by Bellevue and Lakes on the Class 3A level and then a melting pot of Class 4A that could be anyone's guess as to which team will win. Bellevue started the season with a good win over Oaks Christian. Since then, it and Lakes have just been crushing teams until they meet in the finals. (LY: 23)
23: Kentucky: Louisville Trinity is making everyone in the state look pretty bad, but this is an elite team that may be talked about for a lot of years in Louisville. The rest of the city is not that far off of its last few years and some other teams have continued with their usual level of play. Between No. 23 and No. 30 there is not much difference. Trinity gives the Bluegrass State a tiebreaker win. (LY: 31)
24: Arkansas: Arkansas had been talked to have caught up to the level of play in Oklahoma in recent years but this season, especially in Class 7A, that play has come back down to earth a bit. Bentonville is making it look a lot easier than it usually it. That is partially because Bentonville could be the second-best team ever from Arkansas and part could be that the rest of Northwest Arkansas is a little down. (LY: 12)
25: Minnesota: Teams such as Wayzata, Lakeville North, and Eden Prairie have been the trio to look out for all season. As the playoffs start, that has not changed. The group of the Top 5 teams is probably equal or greater than it was last year but it is not by much. The state has, however, pulled closer to Illinois and Michigan and left Wisconsin behind. (LY: 32)
26: New York: A lot of quality football is being played this season in New York and it has not gone unnoticed. There are more athletes crossing over to football and teams are venturing into more out-of-state contests and having more success. This could be a building block year for the state. (LY: 37)
27: Missouri: This is usually a state that is going to make its name with one or two elite-level teams. That doesn't seem to be the case this year. With Christian Brothers, Staley, Rockhurst, Jefferson City, all being good but not great, it is a tough judgment as to where this state belongs. (LY: 19)
28: Kansas: While there was some debate early in the year, this has turned into a Wichita Heights march to the finish. The team is leading the pack by a lot and could be better than last year. It has three running back all over 1,000 yards and should be cleaning out a spot for another state trophy. (LY: 26)
29: Nevada: Like many states in the 25-35 range, there are very good pockets of football and vast expanses of poor football. Get too far outside of Las Vegas and good football is hard to find. Really, any 11-man football could be hard to find. Bishop Gorman is a team that can, and has, played with any teams in the country. Look for the trend of the Gaels making a name for themselves to continue. (LY: 29)
30: Colorado: A battle of power in the Class 5A has let the spotlight shine bright on Valor Christian in Class 4A. The team has destroyed most every team it has faced and has taken the role of flag bearer for Mullen. But when the best teams don't go outside the state boarders, it is hard to battle the perception that this is a mid-20s to early-30s state nationally. (LY: 24)
31: Nebraska: Omaha Burke has been a steady force in the state and there are solid teams in each class Top 10, but it is hard to shake that the state - and this region of the country - has a hard time with perception. Some of its teams could compete nationally, but the list that could is usually short. (LY: 35)
32: Massachusetts: This was expected to be a standout year for Massachusetts, but it had a feel of a "sad trombone" sound as the better squads failed in out-of-state battles. Everett has been the pace car all season and is a legit national-level team and that boosts the stock of the state. (LY: 30)
33: West Virginia: A perception boosting season belongs in large part to Martinsburg and the special group that it has this season. While Maryland and Ohio may be a little down, both Pennsylvania and West Virginia are a little up keeping the balance on the Coal Belt. (LY: 38)
34: Idaho: Boise State is likely a reason why the overall level of football has begun to improve in the state. Couer d'Alene was nationally ranked and has showed the team speed to play with the best teams in Northern California and most any team in Washington. The state is probably not going to be a regular competitor for top-half placement, but it could keep fighting its way out of the 40s. (LY: 42)
TIER FIVE: States that have either taken a step back or are usually on the lower levels. Could possibly be two tiers within this one.
35: Utah: The is a tough placement as the state has been on the rise the last five years, but it has taken a big step back this year. Most all power teams were down, and with only 99 teams in the entire state to pick from, if the best five are not up to snuff it is a down year. (LY: 18)
36: Iowa: The state does not have a nationally relevant team this year. Any perception boost it could gain is automatically squashed by state rules that do not allow for games outside of its borders. For a state that is solely judged on interplay game, it was a tough year in Iowa. (LY: 33)
37: Wisconsin: When the state hit No. 34 last year it was thought to have found its floor. The 2011 season was worse than 2010 when no teams were even given consideration for national placement. The football level has dropped and the love affair that began with Brett Favre is starting to evaporate. Kids are not participating at the same levels and it shows. (LY: 34)
38: New Mexico: The best football is generally played in a rather close circle and teams from outside a circle in the state are often not on the same level. If New Mexico has designs on catching up to Arizona, it will need more teams such as Rio Ranch Cleveland to start developing. Las Cruces and Mayfield cannot be the best teams every year. This year that could start to change. (LY: 36)
39: Hawaii: It was a tough year in Hawaii. The best teams did not evaluate as high as usual and the rankings slid because of it. Usually good for a few teams in the national discussion, the Islands did not produce a single team that received consideration this season. (LY: 27)
40: Delaware: Having such a small number of teams hurts, but the level of play in Delaware is respectable for its size. Red Lion Christian is making a move to become a national player.
41: Connecticut: The bottom 10 teams could all be interchanged without much argument. Connecticut has the better overall depth with more teams and higher quality teams than the rest and that is the separator. (LY: 39)
42: Maine: When hockey is the clear-cut No.1 sport, it is hard to make a move up the charts. Occasionally there will be a quality team from Maine that could compete up and down in New England; this year it didn't appear to have that team. (LY: 43)
43: Alaska: There are simply not enough teams to really register but usually an undefeated Alaskan team could compete for a small class title in Washington. There are a couple of really large schools in the state, but if they were forced to compete with similar size schools from the contiguous 48 it would likely not fare well. (LY: 40)
44: Montana: Teams inside the Helena-area have been pretty good in years past, but there is a lot of open areas without many 11-man football teams. (LY: 41)
45: Wyoming: Wyoming could have a competitive final four in each level of its state playoffs but not of the same level as its neighbors this or most years. (LY: 45)
46: Rhode Island: Like Delaware, there is actually some quality football being played in Rhode Island. There just isn't enough of it. It also isn't as concentrated as its New England brethren. (LY: 46)
47: New Hampshire: A state as small as New Hampshire having six classes of teams is just silliness. This is a state that could easily have just three classes and make for the top division to mean something relevant regionally. (LY: 47)
48: North Dakota: In a song that sounds very similar to that of Montana, there are a few quality teams inside Bismarck, but there are too many huge voids to overlook. (LY: 46)
49: South Dakota: After back-to-back seasons at No. 50, South Dakota gets out of the bottom spot. The state does not play very good football but it does not fancy itself a power, either. (LY: 50)
50: Vermont: With the fewest 11-man teams in the country and most of them not playing very good football it was a slide to the bottom spot for Vermont. Even its best teams against those of New Hampshire, Delaware, and Maine would likely not fare well. Of course, they may have the prettiest fall days.(LY: 48)

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