Coach: Bob Milloy Last Season: 11-1, won WCAC championship. Ranked No. 21 in RivalsHigh 100 Key Player: Running back Leo Ekwoge will be asked to do much more than last season because he will be the full-time replacement in the backfield for Dorian O'Daniel. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound ball of power does not have the explosive speed that many look for out of the position, but he is very hard to take down and he runs with a lot of energy inside the tackles. The Western Michigan pledge carried 91 times for 496 yards last season and scored 13 touchdowns. All numbers figure to improve. The Good: The offensive line returns five starters and will be the driving force of the offense. The highest-rated prospect is Notre Dame commit Sam Mustipher, and he is joined by plenty of talented players. Joe Ralli (6-3, 250), Richie Wenzel (6-3, 288), Sam Madaras (6-3, 325) and Vince Gorgone (6-0, 266) could prove to be Division I players in their own right. With the Falcons breaking in a new quarterback and a new full-time running back, while bringing back only 26 receptions from last year, it will be on this group to pave the way. The Bad: Keeping the train moving will be tied to the offense and what production it gets from a load of fresh faces. There does not appear to be an explosive player such as Stefon Diggs or a reliable option such as O'Daniel on this side of the ball, so finding balance and players to go to will be important. The defense should be strong, as usual, but a top 25 finish is going to be dependent on what this offense eventually looks like.
The Bottom Line: Good Counsel will have to figure out how to score points against Baltimore (Md.) Gilman and Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha, and it must slow down Immokalee (Fla.) High. Those three games likely will dictate where this program is ranked -- and how many losses it winds up with. Good Counsel has emerged as the premier program in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area, but this could be a tipping-point season with a loaded DeMatha team back on the map.
Top 100 countdown
No. 29 Corona Centennial, California
Coach: Matt Logan Last Season: 14-2, lost in Open Division Bowl. Ranked No. 15 in RivalsHigh 100 Key Player: The quarterback-led offense run by Centennial welcomes back Robert Webber after a massive season. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound player had nearly 4,000 yards passing with 41 touchdowns. He added nearly 800 yards on the ground. While he is not an FBS-level prospect, Webber is a very good high school quarterback. In an offense that has churned out QBs, he is another good one. The Good: Webber will be surrounded by talent, and the team could be poised to return to its fourth Open Division Bowl game. Tre Watson piled up nearly 1,500 yards last year, and the three-star back parlayed that production into a commitment to California. Receiver Barry Ware returns to stretch the field. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound player is ranked as a three-star and has given his verbal pledge to UCLA. The offensive line is anchored by 6-foot-3, 300-pound Viane Talamaivao. The Alabama commit will have new faces around him, but the program has been solid on the offensive line for the better part of Logan's time on campus. The Bad: With only four returning starters on defense, the unit could use time to come together and that may result in early losses. The defensive line will be the strength, which is encouraging. USC commit Austin Maloata is the headliner, and fellow three-star Jaylen Johnson lines up next to him. The secondary is nearly all new which may be beneficial as a group it struggled to find its footing last year. The Bottom Line: If the team can navigate its early games against Long Beach (Calif.) Poly and Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure, there is a good chance it will find itself in another Open Division regional finals. The top end of SoCal is deep this year and there will be challengers for that spot, so a slow start may put a damper on its plans. The program has been one of the most consistent in the area, and this team figures to be the same as many have come to expect: a potent offense with a defense that just needs to keep pace.
Top 100 countdown
No. 28 North Gwinnett, Georgia
Coach: Bob Sphire Last Season:11-2, lost in quarterfinals of Class AAAAAA. Ranked No. 56 in RivalsHigh 100 Key Player: It will be on the coach's son, Hayden Sphire, to lead the team to the next level. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound pro-style quarterback has the talent around him to take the reins, and he is a smart player who knows the offense. The only question will be if he can perform. Sphire saw limited time last season, and this year he steps in full time. Not only will the program be looking for a state title, but he will be looking to prove worthy of his first major FBS offer. The Good: The program has as much offensive talent as any in the state, region or nation. Hayden Sphire will be protected by one of the best players in the class of 2015, offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt. A potential five-star player, Hyatt shined at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour this summer. At receiver, the Bulldogs have seniors Nate Brown and Caleb Scott, who both hold FBS offers, as well as juniors Jaye Stackhouse and Daniel Immatorbhebhe. The running back position is held down by two-star C.J. Leggett, who has multiple offers. There is little holding this group back. The Bad: Outside of defensive end Dante Sawyer, linebacker Tony Bradford and defensive back Bobby Young, there are not many top-line defenders. Instead, there is a solid group of high school players on that side of the ball. The group will be tested against plenty of offenses within the state, and it will need to be prepared for those challenges. The Bottom Line: Bob Sphire has had only one season in the last 17 with fewer than 10 wins, so the bar is clearly set for the program. North Gwinnett is going to scrimmage Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson before opening play with nationally ranked Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County, talented Loganville (Ga.) Grayson and defending champion Norcross (Ga.) High. From there the schedule lightens up, but the damage may already have been done. With a Class AAAAAA title coupled with this schedule, an undefeated run would guarantee a top five finish.
Top 100 countdown
No. 27 DeSoto, Texas
Coach: Claude Mathis Last Season: 14-1, lost in 5A-DI semifinals. Ranked No. 7 in RivalsHigh 100 Key Player: Generously listed at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, dual-threat quarterback Desmon White is what makes the offense go. Last season, White threw for more than 3,500 yards and rushed for 1,300. He understands the offense and makes the right decisions about where to throw the ball and when to run it. He has talent around him, so those numbers will be close to the same this season. However, there will be more pressure on him to perform. The Good: Surprisingly, the bright spot entering this season is expected to be defense. DeSoto has been trying to change its perception as a defense-optional program, and over the last two seasons it has improved. It returns eight starters on the defensive side, and many of them have plenty of experience. The headliners are junior defensive lineman and Texas commit Bryce English and four-year starter and North Texas commit Nick Orr. The two are far from the only FBS prospects. Defensive back Howard Wilson pledged to Louisiana Tech, and defensive end Johnavhan Grahm and defensive tackle Shaquel Jackson committed to North Texas. The Bad: The offensive line is completely turned over, and running back Dontre Wilson is gone to Ohio State. The offense returns only two starters and could be slow to come together. White will look to Oklahoma State-bound wide receiver Chris Lacy as his go-to threat, but others need to emerge. It is an odd flip that DeSoto will need to rely on its defense first, but that is the case. Mathis has been open in saying that the success of the team is with the offensive line, and until the pads are on no one quite knows what to expect. The Bottom Line: No one disputes that the quality and depth of play in Texas make it one of the top three football states in the country, and even with a brand new offensive line DeSoto is jumping in with both feet. It opens its season with a quality Arlington (Texas) Martin program before taking on a trio of nationally ranked teams: Tulsa (Okla.) Union, Euless (Texas) Trinity and Cedar Hill (Texas) High. The path to a state title in 5A-DI for DeSoto may be as tough as any path for any team in the country, which is why it has yet to capture one. The schedule settles down after the fourth game, but there are any number of challengers who can trip up the Eagles in the playoffs. This is a team that could travel up and down the rankings.
Top 100 countdown
No. 26 Cibolo Steele, Texas
Coach: Scott Lehnhoff Last Season: 14-1, lost in state semifinals. Ranked No. 18 in RivalsHigh 100 Key Player: Three-year starting Justin Stockton figures to be the primary producer on offense. The Texas Tech commit rushed for more than 2,200 yards last season and can be expected to push past that number this year. At just 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Stockton is surprisingly tough and can run inside. He has the expected speed on the outside. The Good: The team returns eight starters on offense and one of the best offensive line groups in the state. It is led by another Texas Tech pledge in 6-foot-3, 300-pound Deionte Noel, along with Kevin Lavelle, among others. The receiver group is talented with senior athlete D'Angelo Wallace and junior playmaker Jaylen Harris to go with Nevada tight end commit Matthew Moen. The team will be breaking in a new quarterback, with last season's backup, Tyler Wagner, taking control, but all the pieces appear in place for this to be one of the better offenses entering the season. The Bad: The linebacker group is new. While the unit is not devoid of talent, it is completely lacking in experience. Junior Marquee Allison is a bright spot, but he needs seasoning. The defense returns five starters, so there could be a learning curve. The secondary should be strong and could mask other limitations.
The Bottom Line: San Antonio football has improved, but it is still limited. Steele can figure it is a lock to run at least into the quarterfinals of the 5A-DII playoffs. It will take on San Antonio (Texas) Madison, Converse (Texas) Judson and Austin (Texas) Westlake before district play, and it could see tests there. It will not lose in district play, so the playoffs could be an interesting proving ground, depending on how Houston shakes out with its break into Division I and Division II.