Coach: Keith Maloof Last season: 16-0, won Class AAAAAA state title. Ranked No. 5 in RivalsHigh 100 The offense: One major advantage that Norcross has entering this season is that it is returning all five starters on the offensive line. That is invaluable even though it does not get the headlines. That group is led by three-star prospect Horatio Walker -- a 6-foot-4, 320-pound mammoth. The unit will see a battle between transfer AJ Bush and Barker Griffin at quarterback -- which Bush figures to win -- and either will be happy to have LaMarcus Hardnett at receiver. The group loses Alvin Kamara from the running back spot, but that will be filled in by 1,000-yard rusher Myles Autry. Autry is coming back from an MCL/ACL injury but is expected to be healthy by the time the season starts. The defense: Even more important than a returning offensive line is that the team brings back 10 starters on a defense that also is loaded with stars. The main playmakers will be Lorenzo Carter and Kevin Mouhon. Carter is a 6-foot-5, 235-pound defensive end who has earned a five-star ranking and a place in the Rivals100 presented by Under Armour. Mouhon is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker who committed to Tennessee and is a stabilizer for the defense. Why it isn't No. 1: There is a combination of issues in the early going. First, can a new quarterback do the job and earn the trust of the team if he stumbles early? Second, will Autry be healthy for the entire season and can he carry the load left by Kamara? Third, Norcross opens with Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington, which comes back just as loaded and Norcross is the underdog.
The bottom line: With another undefeated season, this team has the talent and the schedule -- which also includes Lilburn (Ga.) Parkview and Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett before a stacked playoffs -- to claim a national title. There are questions outlined above, but if Bush can lead the program and Autry can stay healthy this may prove to be the best team in America. With the defense coming back intact, there was a temptation to start this team in the top spot. It could move there quickly with a win over Booker T. Washington.
Top 100 countdown
No. 4 B.T. Washington, Florida
Coach: Ice Harris Last season: 13-1, won Class 4A state title. Ranked No. 9 in RivalsHigh 100 The offense: Led by three-year starting quarterback Treon Harris, the Tornadoes offense will have eight starters coming back. Wide receivers Lamar Parker and Deltron Hopkins have committed to West Virginia and Appalachian State, respectively, and they share a similar skill set as 5-foot-8, 175-pound burners. Samford commit Krondis Larry will get the bulk of the carries as an undersized 5-foot-6, 165-pound back. The offensive line brings back three starters but is losing its best player because Denver Kirkland graduated. The defense: This side of the ball brings back only six starters, but it may have more top-end talent and be the strength of the team. Along the front line, four-star Miami commit Chad Thomas will apply pressure on the opposition. He will be joined by a fellow Hurricanes pledge, 6-foot-5, 225-pound Demetrius Jackson. The linebacker group will have talented but mostly unrecruited players stepping up with Josh Johnson and Tevin Evans joined by junior transfer James King. The secondary features another Miami commit in four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II and junior prospect Terry Jefferson. Why it isn't No. 1: The simple answer is that it isn't considered the top team in the state so it is hard to declare it the best in the country. Washington fell to Miami (Fla.) Central last season after it dominated play for much of the game, and while the Tornadoes lost some of their best players their rival Rockets stayed the course. It is also only a slight favorite, if not a toss-up, in the game against No. 5 Norcross (Ga.) High because each team could argue for that top spot. The bottom line: With games against Norcross, Central, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman and Miami (Fla.) Northwestern, as well as potential showdowns with Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School and whichever program represents the North in the Class 4A finals, it would be hard to deny Washington the national title if it goes undefeated. The team is slightly undersized when compared to others jockeying for the top spot, but it may be quicker than most of them. Having a three-year starter at quarterback pushed Washington ahead of Norcross entering the season, and it will soon be told if that was the right decision.
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No. 3 Edna Karr, Louisiana
Coach: Nathaniel Jones Last season: 14-0, won Class 4A state title. Ranked No. 23 in RivalsHigh 100
The offense: Since being inserted as the quarterback as a sophomore, Speedy Noil has been sensational. His time as the leader may have come too late because the program opened that season losing two early games, including one to Arlington (Texas) Bowie that fans in that state still hold as evidence against it. Now a senior, the 6-foot, 161-pound Noil is as talented as any player in the country. He is joined on offense by seven other returning starters, including three-star, 6-foot-6 tight end Anthony Jones and 5-foot-10 slot receiver Glenn Irons. Noil will run the ball as often as he passes, whether designed or not, and will give the opposition fits. The defense: If the opposition does not have a strong offensive line, it will be a quick game because few can line up against this front. Four-star lineman Gerald Willis III is a menace at 6-foot-4, 247 pounds. He can occupy bodies in the middle or rush from the edge. He is joined by 6-foot-3, 265-pound Oklahoma State commit Joyan Williams and junior defensive end Isaiah Washington -- the smallest at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. The next level features a pair of FBS linebackers in 6-foot-1, 207-pound three-star LSU pledge Donnie Alexander and Louisiana Tech commit Quanta Moore on the inside at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds. Three-star athlete Jaevon Walton could play running back or linebacker as well -- he may do both -- but it would increase the physicality on this side of the ball for him to join the group. Juwan Offray, who committed to Oklahoma State, is the only BCS prospect in the defensive backfield, but he is far from the only talent. Why it isn't No. l: The offensive line is a question, as is the discipline of the group. Karr finally got over the hump and won a state title last season, but it had moments where the yellow flag slowed progress. This year, there is a new coach and a group that may not be as hungry to win as it is to take college visits. Focus is the biggest question, and that could hold Karr back.
The bottom line: There is as much talent and balance on Karr as there is any roster in the country, and it could prove to be the second straight team from the Bayou to win a RivalsHigh 100 national title. The schedule is not as friendly to Karr as it is the others because its two key games will come against New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine River Ridge (La.) John Curtis and then in the playoffs. It will be tested because New Orleans (La.) Landry-Walker was formed this year and the talented rosters of the two schools will be combined. It may also see a stiff challenge from Covington (La.) St. Paul in the opening week, but that is unlikely.
Top 100 countdown
No. 2 St. John Bosco, California
Coach: Jason Negro Last season: 8-5 (four forfeit losses); lost in PAC5 finals. Ranked No. 65 in RivalsHigh 100 The offense: The Braves will be led by junior quarterback Josh Rosen, who threw for more than 2,000 yards with 22 touchdowns and only eight interceptions last season. Rosen shined at the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour, and at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour he was the best quarterback to compete on the first day. He is under consideration for the top prospect in the country for the junior class. His offensive line is massive with 6-foot-5, 360-pound Damien Mama leading the way. Mama, who displayed incredible footwork at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, will be teamed with Emery Sefo and Elijah Zabludoff. There will be holes left with the departures of Nico Falah on the line, Darren Walker in the backfield and A.J. Holman at receiver, but only Falah was a BCS prospect. The defense: With 10 starters returning from one of the best units in the region, the expectations will be tremendous. The defensive line features four-star Malik Dorton and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner protecting a strong back seven. Linebacker Chandler Leniu will roam the field, and at 6-feet, 225 pounds he can support the run and cover in the flats. The strength will be the secondary, where California commit Jaleel Wadood is joined by Arizona pledge Naijiel Hale and FBS-level cornerback Chandler Hawkins.
Why it isn't No. 1: It was hard not to have this squad as the top team in the nation because it has all the earmarks of a champion: strong quarterback play; the majority of an offensive line returning; and a talented defense. The objective is finding who will emerge as a playmaker on offense. Boise State commit Shay Fields figures to be the top receiver, but an established running back is lacking and that is a cause for concern. The bottom line: Playing in the Trinity League will provide several tests for this team before the end of the regular season, and a march through the PAC5 playoffs will supply a solid tune-up before the Regional Open Finals and an Open Division Bowl game. California has a lot of strong teams this year with Gardena (Calif.) Serra, Corona (Calif.) Centennial, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle and Long Beach (Calif.) Poly inside the top 35 nationally. Games against Fresno (Calif.) Clovis North and Chandler (Ariz.) High could be tests, but likely the first losable game will be against Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.