Welcome to Week Zero.
Yes, the 2013 high school football season is officially upon us, as games that will actually matter will not only take over neighborhoods and stadiums across the country, but our televisions as well.
As we all know, high school football isn’t just a community builder full of hometown spirit and local rivalries anymore. It’s about national television and top-name recruits. It’s about preseason rankings and national championships.
And it can all be a bit overwhelming for those who haven’t made themselves familiar with teams outside of their own district.
So, here’s a comprehensive look at everything you need to know to understand the high school football landscape as the season gets underway.
Preseason No. 1
Two of the major high school preseason publications are in agreement on one thing – the best team in the country entering the season is Miami (Fla.) Central.
RivalsHigh, which has been compiling national rankings for high school football since the 2008 season, have the Rockets at the top spot despite starting the year with a new head coach.
Likewise, in its inaugural high school football magazine, Athlon Sports also gave Miami Central its top billing.
(Disclosure: I served as an assistant editor on the Athlon Sports 2013 high school magazine but had no input on the rankings. I previously worked for RivalsHigh during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.)
The Big Three No More?
The three top high school football states in the country are Florida, Texas and California. That’s long been the standard.
In 2013, however, the landscape may be changing a bit.
In the Athlon Top 25, Texas has four teams, while Florida and California are tied with 3 each. Par for the course.
But there’s another state with three teams – Georgia.
Georgia has come on to the scene in recent years, making strong appearances in out-of-state games, leading to more national recognition. In fact, the RivalsHigh100 preseason ranking has Texas, Florida, California and Georgia all tied with three teams in the Top 25.
It appears that gap is closing this season. In the RivalsHigh100, the Big Three – Texas (14), Florida (11) and California (9) – still lead the way on the number of teams represented. But Georgia isn’t that far behind, with nine teams earning a place in the poll.
This year, Georgia’s top ranked team is Norcross, the defending Class AAAAAA state champion, ranked No. 12 in the nation by Athlon and No. 5 by RivalsHigh. And just to get the season started quickly, Norcross will face Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington – the No. 4 team in the nation in both polls – on Saturday.
Another state narrowing the gap is Ohio. While the Buckeye State only had one team in the Athlon Top 25, it landed 11 teams in the RivalsHigh100. Most of those teams were ranked in the third tier, between 50 and 75. So in 2013, Georgia gets the edge over Ohio.
When it comes to recruiting individual talent, most people tend to think about players from Florida or California.
But there’s another state that’s boasting serious talent in the Class of 2014 – Virginia.
According to the 247Sports Top 247 player ranking, three of the Top 10 prospects in the 2014 class hail from Virginia – defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, defensive tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding. All three are 5-star prospects and two of them – Brown and Blanding – have verbally committed to play at Virginia next year. The state also has 12 4-star prospects.
But, having top individual talent doesn’t necessarily mean having a dominant teams. In this case, Virginia only has two teams in the RivalsHigh100 preseason ranking – No. 95 Clifton Centreville and No. 74 Virginia Beach Ocean Lakes. Neither of those teams has a prospect ranked in the Top 20 in the state.
The Stadium Myth
High school football stadiums have caught the attention of peripheral fans over the past several years, especially after the opening of Allen (Texas) High’s $60 million stadium last season.
Not to be outdone, the Frisco Independent School District announced earlier this month that a partnership with the Dallas Cowboys would allow them to share a new domed facility that will seat at least 12,000 fans.
But, while grandiose stadiums have stolen the headlines, it’s definitely a case of the haves and have nots.
Last year’s RivalsHigh national champion, River Ridge (La.) John Curtis, is a small, private school that doesn’t have a stadium on campus. It shares with whatever local facilities are available on the weekends.
In similar fashion, two of this year’s Top 5 preseason teams – Miami (Fla.) Central and Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington – share a facility with other Miami high schools.
A Tiered Discussion
As discussed earlier, the Top 5 states for high school football in 2013 are pretty clear – Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and Ohio. Athlon Sports includes all five of those states in its “Tier 1” of classifying states in its preview magazine.
Louisiana (5), Alabama and New Jersey (4 each) fell next in line in teams in the preseason RivalsHigh100. The three states also are consistently in the national conversation, especially Louisiana and New Jersey, each of which has a national champion amongst their ranks in the past four years.
South Carolina is typically in the thick of things when it comes to the national scene, but the state has just three teams in the RivalsHigh100 this year. Likewise, Virginia has come on strong in recent years, but with just two teams ranked relatively low nationally, it’s likely getting a boost from its strong recruiting class.
States noticeably absent from Tier 1? Pennsylvania, Maryland/D.C. and Oklahoma.
Pennsylvania has been down in recent years, as teams haven’t lived up to lofty expectations. The state has just two teams in the RivalsHigh100 – Monroeville Gateway and Philadelphia St. Joe’s – and both have significant questions entering the year. Gateway starts with a new head coach; St. Joe’s has a ridiculously tough schedule.
But both the Maryland/D.C. area and Oklahoma have three teams in the RivalsHigh100. Those combined six teams are consistently in the mix nationally, especially in Maryland where Olney (Md.) Good Counsel received a No. 19 nod from Athlon and Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha was ranked No. 15 by RivalsHigh.
Another state worth considering? Arizona. It’s a state on the rise in both talent and out-of-state performance over the past several years. This year, the state has two teams ranked in the RivalsHigh100 – and they’re in the Top 20. No. 19 Phoenix Mountain Pointe lost in the state title game last year to the other ranked team, No. 13 Chandler Hamilton.
It’s a debate that rages continually between the high school football faithful. And, as is always worth reminding, that’s why the games are played on the field, and why out-of-state competition became not just a novelty but almost a necessity for a national championship.
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