July 18, 2012

In-state games no letup in Texas

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Dallas Jackson is the High School Football analyst for Rivals.com. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

In the world of high school football, there is Texas, and there is everyone else.

That is the mantra that fans, coaches, and players use when talking about why the state does not play marquee out-of-state games. (And as we covered last year, we agree, Texas doesn't need OOS games we just wish it did.)

According to DeSoto (Texas) High head coach Claude Mathis, some of those words are hollow.

"There are teams in this state that just duck people," he said. "That's just is how it is. Some teams will play and some teams won't."

He didn't stop there.

"You really can prove how good you are in the playoffs in this state, but only one team takes home that title," he said. "If you are losing games before (the playoffs) then you can lose your job. Getting those Ws when you can are important at a lot of schools, and that's why they don't play out-of-state or play tough out-of-district games."

Mathis didn't limit his answer to just out-of-state games, saying that often his team cannot find legitimate in-state opponents.

"We can't get games most years," he said. "We call and call and get rejected time and again. We have to take anyone that says they will play us now."

DeSoto is among the teams annually trying to play a tough, nationally relevant, schedule. This year, the Eagles ranked No. 2 on the Rivals.com preseason list of toughest out-of-district schedules in Texas.

Mathis said some of that is by design and some is by desperation.

"We have to get ready for district play," he said. "We can't do that by not being out on the field. This year we have a brutal stretch but that is okay it will get our kids ready."

DeSoto will play Arlington (Texas) Martin, Jenks (Okla.) High, and Euless (Texas) Trinity. All three will be nationally ranked in the preseason RivalsHigh 100 when the poll is released on July 23.

Rivals.com Southwest analyst Brian Perroni believes that there is a movement being made to improve the out-of-district scheduling of many of the top teams in the state.

"I think the push to play tougher non-district schedules has resulted from how tough the state playoffs have gotten," he said. "Some schools coast through their regular season with a 10-0 or 9-1 record and then are in for a huge awakening once the playoffs arrive."

While some of these nationally relevant programs will take on teams from other states the majority of team in Texas won't -- and some have scheduled tough enough to show it isn't needed.
Euless Trinity
Aug. 30 at Bellevue (Wash.) High
Sept. 8 vs. Tulsa (Okla.) Union
Sept. 15 at DeSoto High
Aug. 31 at Arlington Martin
Sept. 9 vs. Jenks (Okla.) High
Sept. 15 vs. Euless Trinity
The Woodlands High
Sept. 1 vs. Dallas Skyline
Sept. 7 vs. Ft. Bend Hightower
Sept. 15 vs. Katy High
Cedar Hill High
Aug. 31 at Denton Guyer
Sept. 7 vs. Allen High
Sept. 15 vs. Miami (Fla.) Washington
Dallas Skyline
Sept. 1 vs. The Woodlands High
Sept. 7 vs. Arlington Martin
Sept. 14 at Arlington Bowie
Converse Judson
Aug. 31 vs. Austin Lake Travis
Sept. 7 at Cibolo Steele
Sept. 13 vs. San Antonio Churchill
Arlington Martin
Aug. 31 vs. DeSoto High
Sept. 7 at Dallas Skyline
Sept. 14 vs. South Grand Prairie
Carrollton Hebron
Aug. 31 vs. Abilene High
Sept. 7 vs. Mansfield Timberview
Sept. 13 at Keller Fossil Ridge
Sept. 21 at Allen High
Sept. 28 at Plano High
College Station A&M Consolidated
Aug. 31 vs. Copperas Cove High
Sept. 7 at Waco Midway
Sept. 14 vs. Austin Westlake
Sept. 21 at Austin Lake Travis
Austin Westlake
Aug. 31 vs. Cedar Park High
Sept. 7 at Temple High
Sept. 14 at College Station A&M Consolidated
Sept. 21 vs. Cibolo Steele
He also disagrees with Mathis' assertion that teams will play lesser opponents to build an impressive record with soft wins.

"As far as ducking opponents, I think if you make it through the Class 5A or 4A playoffs in Texas you have proven something," Perroni said. "I don't think anyone can look at a schedule that includes six playoff victories in the state of Texas and say the team didn't play anybody. Coaches may choose to play tough non-district opponents to prepare their teams for the playoffs but I don't think anyone has a problem if a team schedules three cupcakes early instead."

One of the most successful programs in the state, Euless Trinity, has upped the ante on its pre-district schedule this year. It will play one of the most difficult stretches of any team in the nation and it claims the top spot in the Top 10 out-of-district ranking by Rivals.com.

The Trojans will travel to Bellevue (Wash.) High to open the season, then host Tulsa (Okla.) Union before traveling to play DeSoto.

Mathis has Trinity on his schedule but can not look beyond his first two games.

"Trinity will be Trinity," he said. "We have to get by Arlington Martin and Jenks before I really worry about them, but I think everyone knows what to expect with that team."

The on-field product has not been a question with Trinity -- it has ended each of the last four seasons ranked in the RivalsHigh 100 -- but the teams that Trinity has played in its out-of-district schedule typically have not been of this caliber.

It is not just Trinity that has elevated its opponents, as Dallas (Texas) Skyline has worked to improve its early-season opponents.

Skyline plays in one of the weakest Class 5A districts in the state, but returns what might be the most talented team in the country. Its playoff failures have been well-documented and with the addition of elite early games, it looks to prepare for a deeper run.

Lead by head coach Reggie Samples, the Raiders have added Arlington Martin, Arlington Bowie and The Woodlands High to the schedule.

Those three nationally-ranked teams are not the only ones settling into the Top 5 for tough schedules inside the state.

Cedar Hill will play Arlington Bowie, Denton Guyer, Allen High, and Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington.

The Woodland's will play Skyline, Fort Bend Hightower, and Katy.

Mathis said that programs can benefit as a whole by increasing the competition level it sees and that it can create teaching moments with his own team, even in defeat.

"Even in a loss, it is good for your kids to see what it takes to win. They can learn from that, too," he said. "A tough non-district can work against you if you get beat up, but I think the benefits outweigh that risk because kids can get injured in every game... you aren't going to make that kind of run in December by not playing tough teams in August and September."

Perroni thinks that this is a trend that will continue to grow.

"There are so many top teams in your home state and in your city alone that are not in your district that you can play," he said. "From the Houston area, Katy and North Shore have both been perennial powers over the past decade. It is huge when they play each other now. A lot of times that has been two nationally-ranked teams playing. In Dallas, you have schools like Euless Trinity, Allen, Dallas Skyline and DeSoto all in different districts. Those teams could play each other in non-district play and it would be a Murderer's Row lineup. There is really no need to bring in a top team from Florida or the East Coast to match up with since there are so many very, very good teams much closer to home."

If those games materialize, you can count Mathis among the legions of high school football fans who will be thrilled to see it.

"We always want to see good games and be involved in them," he said. "If teams start get serious about playing good games it will make scheduling easier even if it makes coaching harder."

-- TheOldCoach.com staff writer Michael Garland contributed to this report.

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