December 9, 2011

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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.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to win a state championship. But it's harder in some states than an others.

We're not talking about the level of play. Winning a title game in any sport in any level is a worthy accomplishment.

In this case, we're talking about how many games you have to win to triumph - how many weeks you have to give your top effort to triumph.

Some states have been on to winter sports for a few weeks. Others decide their champions this week. But in a select few, the battle for just a spot in a title game goes on.

Here's a look at a few:

Weekend Watch
No. 3 Dallas Skyline vs.
No. 31 Southlake Carroll
When: Saturday, Dec. 10, 4 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting this decade
Rankings: Skyline (14-0), No. 1 in Texas
Southlake Carroll (14-0), No. 4 in Texas


Why it's big: This is the Texas Class 5A DI semifinal. The winner figures to be the favorite to take home a state title. For Skyline, it's an opportunity to put its hat in the ring to potentially move up to the No. 1 or No. 2 spot nationally. Skyline has been a perennial underachiever in the past, but this year it seems to have a focus and discipline that previous teams did not have. Southlake Carroll was a preseason favorite to make a run through the 5A DII bracket, but the way its district played out, the team was moved to the Division I bracket and could win it all.


Skyline wins if: Its linebackers can make plays in the run game and the quick passing attack of Southlake Carroll. The Raiders have been very stingy against the run much of the season and will need to be equally prepared for a quick-strike attack through the air - in which missed tackles will result in big plays. They also need to be ready for the running game, which the Dragons use more now than they did when Todd Dodge was the head coach. If the team has double-digit missed tackles, it will lose because Southlake Carroll actually ran the ball more than it passed this year and it would like nothing more than to control possession. If Skyline can limit the big plays against it, advancing is a real possibility.


Southlake Carroll wins if: Kenny Hill has a huge game. The junior quarterback threw for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000. He had double-digit completions in all but one game and he had double-digit rushing attempts in all games but one. His ability to make plays and test the fundamentals of the defense will be huge. If he is approaching 350 total yards or better, that will be a major win for the Dragons. Of course, this plan also will require Hill to be patient as he waits to see if Skyline makes the mistakes in coverage that will allow open passes or open running lanes.


Prediction: This game could become a classic. It could also break the scoreboard. Both teams have given up some big point totals this year and each can score in bunches so it figures to be a fun game to watch. Neither would have been predicted to be in this spot this late in the season, so it is a treat and a testament to Texas football. Skyline has been playing with a bit of a nasty streak and Southlake Carroll has played the escape artist a few times. This could come down to which team has the ball last and that would be just fine by us.
- Skyline 38, Southlake Carroll 35

-- For more on Texas football, visit TheOldCoach.com

Weekend Watch
No. 12 Westlake vs.
No. 50 Oaks Christian
When: Friday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
Last meeting: Oct. 6, 2011 - Westlake won, 43-21.
Rankings: Westlake (13-0), No. 1 in California
Oaks Christian (11-2), No. 5 in California


Why it's big: For Westlake, it is a chance to make its final case for the CIF Open Division Bowl Game. For Oaks Christian, it is a chance to exact a bit of revenge for an early-season loss, put an end to the Westlake bid and make a push for its own game selection as it would have avenged its only in-state loss. Those reasons - and the fact that these two teams share the same city borders and certainly do not like one another - is a big part of the intrigue for the section final.


Oaks Christian wins if: It can remain balanced. The team has thrown for just over 2,800 yards this year and rushed for just over 2,500. In the early season meeting between the two teams, Oaks was able to keep the ball on the ground for a good portion of the game. When Oaks went to the air, it turned it over twice - which resulted in more pass attempts. The team will need to be successful on both sides offensively to win as Westlake has become quite good at making teams abandon one portion of its game and then force mistakes. Balance will be the key to success.


Westlake wins if: The offense, and specifically Justin Moore, shines. Westlake has been one of the better offensive teams nationally this season and much of that has been because of Moore. The quarterback has completed more than 65 percent of his passes and has thrown for over 2,000 yards with 27 touchdowns. He has also run for nearly 1,000 yards and 11 scores, ranking second on the team carrying the ball. The offense has been explosive, scoring nearly 48 points per game on the season. If it can push into the mid-30s, it will have a good chance to move to the Open Division bowl game.


Prediction: These two teams are familiar foes and certainly do not like one another. There have been some solid battles in recent games and this figures to be another such game. It could become another high-scoring affair as each can move the ball with relative ease. Both defenses will be tested. Whichever defense can make a couple consecutive stops - if either can make consecutive stops - will put its team in the best chance to win. Westlake has looked like the most complete team in the state thus far, but this is anything but a walk-through game.
- Westlake 39, Oaks Christian 28

-- For more on Southern California football, visit CaliforniaPreps.com

Weekend Watch
No. 25 Cibolo Steele vs.
No. 72 Port Arthur Memorial
When: Friday, Dec. 9, 7 p.m.
Last meeting: First-ever meeting
Rankings: Steele (14-0), No. 3 in Texas
Memorial (13-1), No. 11 in Texas


Why it's big: It is a major accomplishment for both of these teams to be in this spot. Cibolo Steele, which opened in 2006, had major success in the Class 4A ranks and then won a Class 5A DII title last year - its first in the classification. Memorial advanced to this point by avenging a loss to La Porte, which took out Katy for all other teams. Being one step from a state title is huge for a team that only had one previous playoff appearance in the last seven years and has more wins this season that the last two combined. With a state title win, Port Arthur would have the same number of wins this year as the last three years combined.


Port Arthur Memorial wins if: It gets a little lucky. The team has had a great run, but this could be a case where it is just overmatched. This will be by far the best team that Titans have played this year and it has been in some battles with lesser opponents. This is a type of game that it will need to play perfectly and get a few bounces to win. Downing La Porte the way it did last week may have been just enough of an emotional drain; a happy-to-be-here mentality may be setting in. Turnovers and a few trick plays may be enough to steal some thunder, but Memorial is a decided underdog.


Steele wins if: Tommy Armstrong keeps pacing the team. Many felt this would be just another program when Malcolm Brown graduated last year. But the way Armstrong has moved the ball with his arm and legs has kept Steele in contention for another title and another national ranking. The quarterback has over 1,600 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing and has accounted for 37 touchdowns. His ability to scramble and make plays is what will lead Steele to the title game. This team also is pretty solid on defense and should put the clamps onto the Memorial offense.


Prediction: From the breakdown of the game, the prediction is fairly clear. We think Steele is going to win this game and likely another state title this season. Once Katy was moved out of the way, it looked like a much more clear path to the title. The Knights are a solid team and while they are not as high-end explosive as they were last year with Brown, they could be more complete with an ability to stretch the field vertically. Look for Steele to come out early in this one and establish the tone of the game. Memorial will not quit on the game and a late score will make this game closer than it really was.
- Steele 27, Memorial 13

-- For more on Texas football, visit TheOldCoach.com

Weekend Watch
No. 34 Manatee vs No. 60 Dwyer
When: Friday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting this decade
Rankings: Manatee (11-2), No. 5 in Florida
Dwyer (12-1), No. 7 in Florida


Why it's big: It is a state semifinal game in Florida between two teams that were preseason Top 50 teams. The teams have flipped slots within the state rankings since. It is a chance to see Dwyer quarterback Faton Bauta take on Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg. For each team, it could be like looking in the mirror offensively. And while neither team is as good as it was last season, each is in the thick of the national rankings again. A win here pushes one to a state final appearance.


Manatee wins if: It is the better team. At 13 weeks into the season, it still is hard to know what to make of Manatee. The 2009 and 2010 teams are both likely better than the 2011 version. In its four toughest games this season, it lost two tough games to Good Counsel and Don Bosco by one score and it won its two best in-state games by three points each. Dwyer will be by far its best in-state competition this season as it has improved as the season has gone on. If Manatee wins this game, it will answer some of the questions that still linger.


Dwyer wins if: It is the better team. The Panthers seemed to have improved since the opening loss to Glades Central with Bauta finding his groove in the offense. Much of that could be attributed to the schedule being softer and the team not being challenged as much. Last week, it won a defensive struggle against St. Thomas Aquinas - a team that is also offensively limited but better defensively than Manatee.


Prediction: This has all the earmarks of another low-scoring game with both teams having limitations on offense. Whichever quarterback has the better game will be the difference in the contest. Bauta has committed to Georgia and Sandberg will be one of the heavier recruited players in Florida next season. Much of the hype of this game is based on the school names. A prediction of more three-and-outs than scoring drives may be on the menu for this game.
- Manatee 9, Dwyer 7

-- For more on Florida football, visit FlaVarsity.com

Weekend Watch
No. 65 Corona Centennial vs.
No. 85 Vista Murrieta
When: Friday, Dec. 9, 8 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting this decade
Rankings: Centennial (12-1), No. 6 in California
Vista Murrieta (9-4*), No. 7 in California


Why it's big: The winner of this Section final could give the selection committee something interesting to think about - depending on how the PAC5 final ends. Centennial's only loss was a season-opener to St. Bonaventure and a run to a Section title could have it pushing for a Division I Bowl game with the PAC5 winner or even an undefeated Bakersfield team. Vista Murrieta's four losses are all from forfeits early in the season and would otherwise be undefeated. If it wins the Section title, would the committee go for the team with the asterisks on its resume or the clean sheets in other sections? California is a bit down this season; this game could go either way.


Vista Murrieta wins if: Its quarterback pushes it over the top. This is another team that will be led by its do-everything quarterback as it seems most every game this weekend has a dual-threat leader. Nick Stevens, just a junior, has thrown for more than 1,500 yards and rushed for 800. What he may lack in explosiveness, he makes up for in smarts. With only five turnovers all season, protecting the ball and moving the chains is a big part of both his game and the team's success.


Corona Centennial wins if: It can get into the 30s. This is not a typical Husky team that has been on the field the last few seasons. The team still operates out of the spread formation, but its quarterback play is not quite the same as it was with Taylor Martinez or Michael Eubanks. There has been more of a reliance on the running back in this system with Romello Goodman receiving nearly 300 carries and going for almost 2,600 yards on the season. While Hayden Gavett has still thrown for 2,000 and rushed for 1,000, he is not the focal point of the offense. If the two get on a roll and get into the 30s it will be a near certainty to win.


Prediction: This is a solid competition for a Section title and may be one of the better games in the California playoffs this season. Centennial has elevated its standing into a national program. This week, it can continue that march toward a third-straight CIF Bowl invitation with a win. Murrieta was able to put its forfeits behind it, but the firepower to keep up with Centennial just may not be there.
- Centennial 31, Vista Murrieta 26

-- For more on Southern California football, visit CaliforniaPreps.com

Weekend Watch
Total Predictions (2011: 113-55)
No. 3 Skyline def. No. 31 Southlake Carroll, 38-35.
No. 9 Grayson def. No. 22 Walton, 16-10.
No. 12 Westlake def. No. 50 Oaks Christian, 39-28.
No. 21 Sheldon def. No. 41 Lake Oswego, 34-30..
No. 25 Cibolo Steele def. No. 72 Port Arthur Memorial, 27-13.
No. 34 Manatee def. No. 60 Dwyer, 9-7.
No. 65 Corona Centennial def. No. 85 Vista Murrieta, 31-26.
No. 74 Neville def. Karr, 20-12.
No. 84 Carencro def. No. 92 West Monroe, 24-16.
No. 86 Booker T. Washington def. Bolles, 18-7.
No. 88 Madison County def American Heritage, 10-0.
No. 90 First Coast def. Lakeland, 24-14.
No. 96 Santa Margarita def. San Clemente, 40-30.
Oscar Smith def. Centreville, 27-17.
Submit your picks: Play the Pick'Em contest
Game of the Week record: 9-5
2011 Record for other games picked: 104-50



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