RivalsHigh.com has begun its 2010 countdown, ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 100.
We started at No. 100 on July 26 and will release two groups of five teams per day. Then, we'll do a daily countdown from No. 10 to No. 1. Our top team will be unveiled on Monday, Aug. 9 - two weeks from the start of the season.
After that, we will wait until Sept. 1 for the next rankings, then have them every Monday during the season.
The team rankings were compiled by high school sports senior analyst Dallas Jackson, the Rivals AMP team, football recruiting analysts and the entire RivalsHigh network of publishers.
COACH: Steve Spect LAST SEASON: 9-3 FINAL 2009 RANKING: No. 93 in RivalsHigh Top 100
KEEP AN EYE ON: Who emerges as the quarterback at St. Xavier. Replacing Luke Massa will be very tough to do, especially for a team that generally has a better defense than offense. Currently, there is a four-player battle for the starting gig, only one of whom is a senior. Coach Steve Spect said that it would not be a shock to have a two-person system in place when the season starts and go from there.
STRENGTH: It's a no-brainer this season, and most seasons, at St. Xavier - defense is everything. This year, the St. Xavier defense has the potential to be one of the best in the nation, and running the ball against them could be nearly impossible. The team returns six starters from last season and really may only truly miss one of the departed players.
STRENGTH OF THE ... STRENGTH: Digging deeper into the defensive unit puts the spotlight on the linebacking core. The big name players are Steven Daniels and Sean Duggan, both of whom are over 6-0 and weigh in at more than 215 pounds. They love to hit and keep the play in front of them to hit the point of attack. One other name to throw into the mix is junior linebacker Nathan Gervis. He was a defensive end as a sophomore but will slide back to backer for his junior year. He fits right into the mix at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. Spect said that Gervis could be as good if not better than the other two. Scary.
SCHEDULE: It is not news to anyone in Cincinnati - or Ohio for that matter - that St. Xavier schedules one of the most difficult slates of games of anyone in the country. The Bombers will open with one of the best in Maryland in Olney (Md.) Good Counsel, and follow that with a Top 10 team in Indiana in Indianapolis Cathedral and the No. 1 team in Kentucky in Louisville St. Xavier, all before opening its Greater Catholic League South schedule that includes Moeller and Elder. Just for good measure, the team plays Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward and Cleveland (Ohio) St. Ignatius to close the year before the playoffs.
QUOTABLE: "It is just the philosophy of our school," Spect said. "We challenge our kids in the classroom and that carries over to the football field. You do not get better by beating up on lesser opponents. I don't believe in the approach of soft scheduling. The GCL presents an extremely high level of competition and that isn't going to change, and neither is our philosophy on non-conference scheduling."
Top 100 countdown
No. 44 Franklinton, Louisiana
COACH: Shane Smith LAST SEASON: 14-1 FINAL 2009 RANKING: No. 85 in RivalsHigh Top 100
KEEP AN EYE ON: The one-two punch of Terrance Magee and Josh Robinson. Magee lines up at quarterback, but the formation is essentially two running backs in the backfield. Magee ran for 1,300 yards on 138 carries and scored 13 touchdowns while passing for 1,800 yards and 26 touchdowns in the high-octane offense. Robinson only needed 98 carries to pile up 1,315 yards and 22 touchdowns. If that wasn't enough, when those two get tired, Reggie Wilson can step in for a spell. He ran for 812 yards and 17 touchdowns last year.
STRENGTH: Having one of the highest scoring offenses in the nation last year was great. Bringing back eight of those starters is even better. Along with Magee, Robinson and Wilson in the backfield, the Demons return leading receiver Vincent Wilson, backup quarterback and big-play threat Chris Biggs and three offensive linemen.
ONE TOUGH TEST: Franklinton was questioned time and again last season for running through one of the weaker conferences in the state. This season, the Demons have stepped up the challenge by adding a road game against defending Texas state champion, Abilene (Texas) High. The opening game of the season for Franklinton will be in San Antonio and a major game to pay attention to nationally.
LOSING A LEADER: With all of the players returning for the Demons, trying to find holes to fill is nitpicking. But one thing is worrisome on the defensive side of the ball - the loss of Josh Meeks. Franklinton runs a 3-4 defense and he was the heart and soul on that side of the ball. Last year, Franklinton scored more than 50 points in eight games, so winning was relatively easy. If the Demons find themselves in a close game this year, who will be the leader to step up on defense?
Top 100 countdown
No. 43 North Penn, Pennsylvania
COACH: Dick Beck LAST SEASON: 13-1 FINAL 2009 RANKING: No. 10 in Pennsylvania
KEEP AN EYE ON: The development of quarterback Corey Ernst from backup to starter. In his limited duty as a reserve last season, the junior was exceptionally accurate. At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he has to be. But that's also all North Penn needs him to be. With a variety of attack points on offense, North Penn doesn't need anything special at quarterback. Todd Smolinsky completed 64 percent of his passes as a senior last year and only lost one game, and Ernst was just as good in limited duty. If he continues that, North Penn might be able to avoid that one misstep.
STRENGTH: North Penn is extraordinarily deep at running back and wide receiver, allowing them to give different offensive looks and put players in various positions. Star running back Craig Needhammer was third on the team in receiving last year, while rising senior Dom Taggart was third on the team in rushing. Six different players ran for more than 100 yards, while five caught passes for more than 100 yards. That type of versatility gives opponents fits, and it won't ease up this year.
STAR OF THE SHOW: Needhammer racked up close to 1,500 yards last season and 29 touchdowns. He'll have help, but he'll have the lead role in the ensemble cast. The 5-foot-7, 170 pound senior knocked off a 99-yard touchdown run - a school record - in September last year, so he has exceptional breakaway speed. He's also durable enough to carry the ball 20 or more times a game if he has to, although head coach Dick Beck would prefer to keep his carries down and spread the ball around.
QUOTABLE: "Despite being one of the strongest regions in the state, there has not been a state champion from District 1 in the state's highest classification since North Penn pulled it off in 2003," PaPreps publisher Andrew Chiappazzi said. "It won't be easy, and the most difficult part may be getting out of their district and into the semifinals, but North Penn has the team that could finally break that spell."
Top 100 countdown
No. 42 Cedar Hill, Texas
COACH: Joey McGuire LAST SEASON: 12-1 FINAL 2009 RANKING: No. 51 in RivalsHigh Top 100
KEEP AN EYE ON: How the Longhorns spread the ball around. The team returns a plethora of seniors that can play multiple skill positions. The fact that there's only one football on the field may be spreading the patience too thin for some players.
STAR OF THE SHOW: With all of the talented players at Cedar Hill, it is three-year starting quarterback Driphus Jackson that will be the focal point of the team. As a starter, Jackson enters his senior year with a 24-3 record and high expectations. The dual-threat quarterback can motor if needed, as he has been clocked at a 4.6. He has offers to a handful of Division I schools but has not announced his commitment.
QUOTABLE: "I suppose we will learn quickly if we earned this ranking," McGuire said. "By the time we get to that [Mansfield (Texas)] Legacy game, we will have seen Allen [(Texas) High], [Denton (Texas)] Guyer, and [Odessa (Texas)] Permian. While those games won't determine our season, I am sure it will affect our rankings with you guys."
Top 100 countdown
No. 41 Grant, California
COACH: Mike Alberghini LAST SEASON: 12-1 FINAL 2009 RANKING: No. 94 in RivalsHigh Top 100
KEEP AN EYE ON: The quarterback situation for the Pacers, which could very well determine how far this team goes in 2010. After starting a senior in Glenn Deary last season, Grant will hand over the reins to junior Terry Shine (5-foot-8, 160 pounds), whom coach Mike Alberghini called a very good athlete and a player who can step up into the role at some point during the year.
STAR OF THE SHOW: Junior Shaq Thompson will be counted on in an expanded role this fall after breaking onto the scene as a sophomore. The younger brother of former Grant and Cal star Syd'Quan Thompson, Shaq had nearly 500 total yards and eight touchdowns in spot duty on offense last year and was stellar at defensive back with 74 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions. This year, he will play running back, wide receiver, defensive back and possibly some quarterback if the need arises. He is already considered to be one of the top prospects nationally for the 2012 class. "He is ready to step up and be our leader," Alberghini said of his now-junior standout. "I think for us to have the year we want to have, Shaq is going to be very important."
STRENGTH: After giving up just 68 points all of last season and returning five defenders who are legitimate Division I prospects, it is safe to say defense will once again be a strength for Grant. The returning defense is led by nose guard Viliami Moala, who is an imposing force at 6-foot-2, 326 pounds, and tallied 104 tackles and 15 sacks. Other defenders to note are defensive end Puka Lopa (100 tackles, 20 sacks), linebacker Darryl Paulo (110 tackles, seven sacks), safety James Sample (111 tackles, three interceptions) and Thompson. "We are going to play in a little bit tougher league," Alberghini said of matching last year's numbers. "Our defense is still going to be our strength with the whole defensive line back."
SENIOR LEADERSHIP: Alberghini noted that a characteristic many of Grant's best teams have had is strong senior leadership, which this year is headlined by Moala, Sample, Lopa and Paulo. "They are the kind of guys who set the tone and don't have a problem in standing up."
SPECIAL TEAMS ARE SPECIAL: Playing top caliber competition (No. 82 Folsom on August 27) is where a good special teams game becomes vital. The Pacers have the pieces for a good unit in placekicker Charlie Vue, who went 79 of 82 on extra points as a sophomore, and Thompson, who can air punts north of 40 yards, Alberghini said.
QUOTABLE: "I believe we are going to be a pretty good football team," Alberghini said. "The key is how fast our quarterback (Shine) becomes a polished leader."