August 14, 2012

Ranking the nation's top 25 schedules

MORE: No. 16 Miami Central has nation's top schedule

High school football kicks off this weekend with 16 teams inside of the RivalsHigh 100 opening play.

In the five-year history of the RivalsHigh 100, no team starting outside of the Preseason Top 25 has ever claimed a national championship. Of course, no preseason No. 1 team has gone wire-to-wire, either.

Neither fact means one of those two can't happen, as teams that have started the year unranked nationally have finished as high as No. 2; but none have claimed the title.

Major factors in the final ranking are the schedules that the teams play, how each fares week-in and week-out, as well as an overall strength of opponents.

With that in mind, we rank the schedules of the teams with the inside track to claim a title.

Miami (Fla.) Central, Preseason No. 16
The best game: At No. 3 Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee, Sept. 14.
The next four: No. 4 Loganville (Ga.) Grayson, No. 6 Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington, No. 66 Miami (Fla.) Columbus, Miami (Fla.) Belen Jesuit.
The buzz: There may not be a harder schedule in the country let alone among the preseason Top 25 teams. The Rockets will play three teams inside the RivalsHigh 100 Top 10 in the first three weeks of the season. If that is not enough all three of the games the team will be the visitor, talk about battle tested. The 2011 version of Miami Central defeated Booker T. Washington, Columbus, and Belen Jesuit in the regular season as well -- by three points in each contest.

Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita, Preseason No. 1
The best game: Versus No. 45 Anaheim (Calif.) Servite, Oct. 5.
The next four: No. 67 Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy Prep, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.
The buzz: The top two games are interchangeable despite being incredibly different teams. Servite defeated Santa Margarita last season - as did Mater Dei - and the rematch should be great towards the end of this season. The game with Brophy opens the season on the road and it is certainly a losable football game. That first contest may be the bigger game as it may set the tone for the team. A loss against Brophy all but eliminates the top team in the preseason from a national title.

Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee, Preseason No. 3
The best game: Versus No. 16 Miami (Fla.) Central, Sept. 14.
The next four: Miramar (Fla.) High, Palmetto (Fla.) High, Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay, Venice (Fla.) High
The buzz: Manatee was to play Sammammish (Wash.) Skyline and Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate but when the financing fell through the team upgraded with Central and Miramar to fill the opening. Both Central and Miramar will test the defensive strength of Manatee as well as force the program to score points. The other three games may not be ones that are viewed as losable each will be tests, especially a Palmetto team that many in the state are excited about.

Loganville (Ga.) Grayson, Preseason No. 4
The best game: Versus No. 16 Miami (Fla.) Central, Aug. 31.
The next four: Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern, Snellville (Ga.) Brookwood, Dacula (Ga.) High, Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett
The buzz: The second game of the season with Central may be the best test of the season for Grayson, and that includes what could prove to be three rounds of ranked opponents in the Georgia AAAAAA playoffs. The team will only have one game to knock off the rust on its offense and it will need it as Miami Central will put up points. Grayson returns 10 on defense and that will be the strength but it will need to put up 24-plus points against Central to keep pushing towards a national title.

Louisville (Ky.) Trinity, Preseason No. 10
The best game: At No. 38 Indianapolis (Ind.) Cathedral, Sept. 21.
The next four: No. 44 Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller, No. 83 Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier, Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy, Louisville (Ky.) St. Xavier
The buzz: This is the same schedule that helped push the Shamrocks to the high school football national championship in 2011 and it is not out of the question for the team to repeat. Trinity began its national title season at No. 10 in the preseason and it returns all of its key players. Its two highest ranked opponents will be played on the road and each are looking for redemption after disappointing performances last season.

Olney (Md.) Good Counsel, Preseason No. 9
The best game: At No. 29 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, Aug. 24.
The next four: No. 60 Montvale (N.J.) St. Joseph's, No. 72 Baltimore (Md.) Gilman, Washington (DC) Gonzaga, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha
The buzz: The season opener, nationally televised, contest with Bishop Gorman will be a tell tale game for this team as both teams will be able to expose vulnerabilities of the other. Playing two other nationally ranked teams as well as some of the better teams in Maryland could push Good Counsel towards a national title with an undefeated season. If this team is able to move to the top spot it would mark the third straight season in which a team from a non-power state claimed a title.

Tampa (Fla.) Plant, Preseason No. 14
The best game: At No. 5 River Ridge (La.) John Curtis, Sept. 7.
The next four: No. 28 Seffner (Fla.) Armwood, Tampa (Fla.) Robinson, Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit, Tampa (Fla.) Tampa Bay Tech
The buzz: The headliner game against John Curtis was the top rated out-of-state game of the year and will likely be a classic so the bar is set pretty high. Plant has struggled recently with neighboring Armwood and both Robinson and Jesuit are expected to be a little better this year than in recent games. If the team would have been able to get Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough onto the schedule it would have been a little stronger overall. With two losable games and two other reasonable tests this is a solid schedule.

Dallas (Texas) Skyline, Preseason No. 2
The best game: Versus No. 37 Arlington (Texas) Martin, Sept. 7.
The next four: The Woodlands (Texas) High, Dallas (Texas) Jesuit, Arlington (Texas) Bowie, Richardson (Texas) Berkner
The buzz: This is a major step up from Dallas Skyline schedules in the past and an undefeated season could wind up with a national title. The games with Martin, The Woodlands, and Jesuit could all be exciting games. Martin will be the best test prior to the playoffs as this team will be playing defense and making sure that Skyline is being fundamentally sound - which is what most everyone wants to see from this squad. Three of its best five games are out-of-district which should be no surprise as this is not a very deep district schedule.

Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington, Preseason No. 6
The best game: Versus No. 16 Miami (Fla.) Central, Sept. 8.
The next four: Cedar Hill (Texas) High, Miami (Fla.) Jackson, Miami (Fla.) Southridge, Miami (Fla.) Carol City.
The buzz: All of the above is ignoring a kickoff classic with Miami (Fla.) Northwestern which will without a doubt be played like a regular season game and not something the does not count in the standings. The most telling game for this team could prove to be the contest with Cedar Hill. Whether the team wins or loses against Miami Central on Sept. 8 traveling to Texas the next week is sure to be an emotional letdown coming off a major rivalry game. If this team wants to prove it is a national title contender it will -- first beat Central -- but then keep its foot on the accelerator against one of the largest schools in Texas.

Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County, Preseason No. 17
The best game: At No. 59 Moultrie (Ga.) Colquitt County, Nov. 9.
The next four: Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes, Valdosta (Ga.) High, Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge, Douglas (Ga.) Coffee
The buzz: Camden County has moved from one of the easiest Regions in Georgia to perhaps the most difficult in the country with many quality games against nationally relevant teams. Lowndes and Valdosta are a little down from each programs recent stature but there are few programs nationally that would change for this schedule let alone many in the Top 25. All three of the toughest games will be on the road which makes for a long busride from south east Georgia.

Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, Preseason No. 7
The best game: At No. 19 Chesapeake (Vir.) Oscar Smith, Aug. 25.
The next four: No. 82 Gaffney (S.C.) High, Spartanburg (S.C.) High, Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern, Spartanburg (S.C.) Boiling Springs
The buzz: The state of South Carolina is not as good as it was two years ago and not as shallow as it was last year meaning that Byrnes is a serious contender for a national title with its current schedule. The game with Oscar Smith will be on television and will showcase two very solid spread offenses. Spartanburg and Northwestern are two keys to this ranking as both are expected to be solid and buoy the strength of schedule. Gaffney is always a tough out and will be again this year.

Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth, Preseason No. 20
The best game: Versus Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy, Oct. 19.
The next four: Chattanooga (Tenn.) Baylor, Lexington (Ky.) Catholic, Memphis (Tenn.) University, Nashville (Tenn.) Battle Ground Academy
The buzz: While none of these teams are nationally ranked each are quality opponents and several are rivalry battles. There has been some turnover at the staffs in Nashville and it has really pushed Ensworth to the far and away lead dog in the Middle Tennessee region. Last year the Tigers fell to Baylor in the regular season, 42-14, but turned the tables in the playoffs, 48-10. All of these teams are familiar foes except for Lexington Catholic which will be a nationally televised game that will sure to be a judging point for many casual fans.

Delray Beach (Fla.) American Heritage, Preseason No. 23
The best game: Versus No. 78 Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer, Nov. 9.
The next four: West Monroe (La.) High, Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central, Delray Beach (Fla.) Atlantic, West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman
The buzz: A small-class school has a lot to prove in its contests with its best three regular season foes as well as a playoff path that may not excite or stack up nationally. The depth is the biggest issue with this school as the top end talent is clearly there. A game against West Monroe which will punish the line of scrimmage will be a major evaluation point and could determine whether this team is Top 25 worthy.

Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, Preseason No. 13
The best game: Versus Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary, Sept. 14.
The next four: Denver (Colo.) Mullen, San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine, Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley, San Ramon (Calif.) California
The buzz: This is the point in the Top 25 when the page breaks so to speak. This is just below the halfway point and the last dozen teams have schedules that could all be argued higher or lower based on preference. De La Salle's schedule could very easily be slid way down the list as it really does not have a headliner game but five rather competitive ones. Other schedules will have a headliner but weak underbellies. While it does not appear any of these games are really losable each does present a respectable foe.

Southlake (Texas) Carroll, Preseason No. 12
The best game: At Allen (Texas) High, Aug. 31
The next four: Keller (Texas) Central, Keller (Texas) Fossil Ridge, Justin (Texas) Northwest, Midland (Texas) High
The buzz: Most of the buzz surrounding the opening game of the season against Allen will not be about the players on the field but more so the actual field. Allen is opening at near $60-million stadium with the defending state champion in Texas and there will be plenty of hype surrounding the game. Allen is expected to be a little down from its last few seasons and so that game being on the top line does not push the schedule ahead like it may have done in previous years.

Austin (Texas) Lake Travis, Preseason No. 11
The best game: At Converse (Texas) Judson, Aug. 31.
The next four: Round Rock (Texas) Westwood, College Station (Texas) A&M Consolidated, Austin (Texas) Westlake, Austin (Texas) Bowie
The buzz: Lake Travis is moving up to Class 5A this season and there is plenty of attention being paid to that transition. The team has several relevant names on the schedule but the preseason evaluations of most all of them have been down which leads this schedule to be lower than maybe it would have been two years ago. Going for its sixth straight championship will prove to be plenty tough come playoff time but in the regular season there are tougher schedules to be played.

River Ridge (La.) John Curtis, Preseason No. 5
The best game: Versus No. 14 Tampa (Fla.) Plant, Sept. 7.
The next four: Reserve (La.) East St. John, Franklinton (La.) High, New Orleans (La.) Carver, Reserve (La.) Riverside
The buzz: This is subject to change as a potential game with No. 75 Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy could be added to the schedule but it may not push the ranking much higher as the bottom teams on this list really drag it down. Curtis' game with Plant will be the biggest in recent memory for the storied program and a solid performance could start a national title buzz at the talent-rich school.

Hoover (Ala.) High, Preseason No. 24
The best game: At No. 33 Batesville (Miss.) South Panola, Aug. 31.
The next four: Vestavia Hills (Ala.) High, Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Hillcrest, Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Northridge, Opelika (Ala.) High
The buzz: Hoover moved Regions this year and took a slight step back in its regular season competition. The opening game against South Panola will be very important to both teams this season as the defense-first and possession-style offenses that the two run will both be tested. A one-sided rivalry game against Hoover (Ala.) Spain Park is no longer on the regular season schedule but it sure would have beefed this list up had it been.

Matthews (N.C.) Butler, Preseason No. 18
The best game: Versus No. 73 Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek, Aug. 17.
The next four: Charlotte (N.C.) Independence, Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell, Charlotte (N.C.) Olympic, Charlotte (N.C.) Vance
The buzz: The season opener against Mallard Creek is what everyone in the state wants to see. The two played a very competitive contest last season with Mallard Creek taking the win early. Both teams enter the season in the same spot as last year - favorites to win the state title. Although neither was able to claim the crown in 2011 the winner of this game will be the odds on favorite in the early going.

Abilene (Texas) High, Preseason No. 25
The best game: At Midland (Texas) Lee, Oct. 12.
The next four: Carrollton (Texas) Hebron, Odessa (Texas) Permian, Abilene (Texas) Cooper, Copperas Cove (Texas) High
The buzz: Most every name on this list is a nationally known name but most every one of those teams is not a nationally relevant team in 2012. The Little Southwest Conference as it was originally named and still known was once one of the best in the state of Texas and while still exceptionally competitive it is not the blast furnace of games it used to be. This schedule could be argued higher but all the teams are about the same and figuring which one will be the headliner and which will be No. 5 is tough to do.

Bellevue (Wash.) High, Preseason No. 8
The best game: Versus No. 77 Euless (Texas) Trinity, Aug. 30
The next four: Bothell (Wash.) High, Snoqualmie (Wash.) Mount Si, Mercer Island (Wash.) High, Bellevue (Wash.) Interlake
The buzz: The opening game against Euless Trinity is the biggest game for the program since it defeated Concord (Calif.) De La Salle. Bellevue has played teams from out-of-state both home and away in the past it has even traveled to Texas for a game it lost to Katy (Texas) High a few years back but this time it is hosting one of the most nationally recognizable teams in high school football. This is supposed to be one of Bellevue's best teams and so it is a must-win, or at least a must compete strongly, for the perception of the state. The rest of the lineup is not impressive with Bothell being the most consistently successful program on the docket.

Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith, Preseason No. 19
The best game: Versus No. 7 Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, Aug. 25
The next four: Chesapeake (Va.) Grassfield, Chesapeake (Va.) Great Bridge, Suffolk (Va.) Lakeland, Chesapeake (Va.) Hickory
The buzz: Oscar Smith has been dominant in Virginia over the last six season and so the expectation is that it will remain a power broker in the state which will make its evaluation game against Byrnes that much more important. In 2011 the team took a thumping at the hands of Baltimore (Md.) Gilman and it was a stigma for the entire season. This year the team hopes to avoid an embarrassing opening loss.

Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin, Preseason No. 21
The best game: Versus No. 92 Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt, Sept. 7.
The next four: Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Cumberland Valley, State College (Pa.) High, Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin East, Chambersburg (Pa.) High
The buzz: The game with Bishop McDevitt will pit the top teams in the Quad-A and Three-A in Pennsylvania and will be an early indicator for both teams and the state. Central Dauphin is expected to be the class of a down Pennsylvania and a loss here could push the entire state out of the national rankings with few other teams receiving evaluations that would push into the national conversation. The rest of the schedule is expected wins over teams that were bested last season as well.

Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen, Preseason No. 22
The best game: At Daphne (Ala.) High, Sept. 28.
The next four: Mobile (Ala.) UMS Wright Prep, Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Northridge, Mobile (Ala.) Davidson, Blount (Ala.) High
The buzz: The fact of the matter is that none of these games are all the exciting and theoretically should all be relatively easy wins. The showdown with Daphne aside there is not much meat on the bone for this schedule and it ranks as one of the easier to navigate in the Top 25. While Wright Prep, Northridge, and Davidson could all be decent games none of them should be considered losable. With Northridge as an evaluation point for both Hoover and McGill-Toolen there may be an early shift in Alabama rankings.

Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta, Preseason No. 15
The best game: Versus Redlands (Calif.) East Valley, Sept. 14.
The next four: San Diego (Calif.) Cathedral Catholic, Temecula (Calif.) Chaparral, Murrieta (Calif.) Valley, Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Thunder Ridge
The buzz: This is a tough schedule to be excited about as the best three teams on the list are all barely nationally relevant names and likely would not be the top teams on any other schedule of the Top 25. The team is incredibly talented but will likely not be challenged frequently until the playoffs. There was little debate over which of the teams had the weakest schedule in the Top 25 and it will be hard to get a true evaluation of this team until late November.

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