Monday, September 17, 2007

The week in review: 9/17/07


I say it a lot, but sometimes people still have a hard time believing me when I tell them the national rankings I compile are a living, breathing organism capable of changing each week.

Every team in the poll is re-evaluated and re-ranked every week in accordance with how it is playing, who it has played against, and my best forecast of how it will fare against the remaining teams on its schedule.

I do not lock a team in to a ranking and say "this spot belongs to them until they lose."

Teams move up. Teams move down. Be it from No. 15 to No. 12 or from No. 17 to No. 22. So too can teams from down from spots in the Top 5.

Unlike the college football polls where several head-to-head results and common opponents can be factored in, ranking high school teams is as much an art as a science. Each week I view game film of the teams I am ranking and blend my own evaluation in with the opinions of experts around the country whose opinions I value and trust.

I don't know of a better way to do it -- and I am proud that I to take the time to share with readers how I do it.

Not unexpectedly, my email box was already overflowing with Prep Poll-related correspondence this morning. A lot of it emanating from the folks living in or near the 513 area code (that's Cincinnati).
There was plenty of concern expressed by some St. Xavier supporters about my decision to leap frog Miami Northwestern to No. 1 in this week's rankings over their Bombers.

St. Xavier supporters: You have my complete and utter understanding of your position. It's one side of an argument that played out in several phone conversations, email exchanges, and in my head as I finalized this week's rankings last night.

Because I am so fully aware of both Northwestern's and St. Xavier's strong cases for No. 1, I will give a thumbnail sketch of both.

But before you read it, keep in mind that it's only September 17.
There are three full months of football to be played before the National Prep Poll titlist is crowned.

Northwestern's case for No. 1 and the case against St. Xavier (as of 9/17/07):
  • Northwestern owns the single best win of any team in the country this season. They not only defeated the then-No. 2 team in the country, they did so in pretty convincing fashion. They also did it on a field located no more than 30 miles from Carroll's campus and no less than 1,300 miles away from their own.
  • Northwestern's winning margin was only 8 points, but the Bulls were able to shut out Carroll in the second half -- something perhaps no other team has done this decade. This is a Carroll program that has won 80 of its last 82 games with four state championships and two National Prep Poll titles since 2002.
  • Beating the Dragons in their own backyard answered questions a lot of people (including me) had about just how well Northwestern would jell this season. I was dubious considering the turmoil that Northwestern's players endured during the offseason and considering the players were not introduced to an almost entirely new coaching staff until just a couple of weeks before the start of two-a-days. You know the old axiom that championships are won in the offseason? Well, as a subscriber to that notion, I am in disbelief at how well put together Northwestern's program looked Saturday night. I cannot applaud enough how terrific the senior leadership on this team must be and what an outstanding job Coach Billy Rolle and his staff have done in getting the team to remain focused and together.
  • To the trained eye, the Bulls simply look superior to St. Xavier in terms of athleticism at just about every position on the field. This case is further supported by Northwestern's placement of seven players among the Top 100 prospects in Florida, according to rivals.com.
  • How would St. Xavier match up with Northwestern? Could St. Xavier's secondary do a better job than Carroll did with Northwestern's big and fast receivers? I have serious doubts.
  • St. Xavier is currently at full strength on defense from a personnel standpoint. But in their last two games the Bombers were outgained by Cleveland Glenville and allowed more than 400 yards of offense to Louisville Trinity. St. Xavier's defense has been very good, but not quite as impenetrable as I expected.
  • Part of evaluating the strength of a schedule is continuing to track the success of the teams you have beaten and the success of the teams that it has played. Glenville's rather close loss (21-13) to then-No. 5 Long Beach Poly on September 1 was diminished when the Jackrabbits lost in rather convincing fashion (20-7) to an 0-1 Birmingham team the following week.
  • St. Xavier has defeated three teams that started the year in the Power 50 preseason rankings I did for RISE magazine. The Bombers have also done so with arguably their best player, RB Darius Ashley, on the sidelines with an ankle injury. But with that said, all four of St. X's wins have happened inside Cincinnati's city limits. The Bombers have not faced the fatigue and distraction factors associated with traveling halfway across country to play a big game against a Top 5 opponent as Northwestern just did.
St. Xavier's case for No. 1 and the case against Northwestern (as of 9/17/07):
  • Even with Northwestern's big win against Carroll, it's still only one win. Comparatively, the rest of Northwestern's schedule doesn't come close to matching that of St. Xavier's. The Bulls' other nine regular season opponents have only a 7-15 cumulative record right now. Their remaining seven games will be against teams who are 6-11 combined with only two state titles since 1980 (and none since 1993).
  • St. Xavier's 10 regular season opponents are currently 26-13. The Bombers' remaining six opponents are currently 17-8 and have combined to win 20 state championships since 1980.
  • If rankings mean anything, St. Xavier figures to have a much more difficult road than Northwestern will in the playoffs. There were 12 Ohio teams ranked in the National Prep Poll's preseason Top 25 in the Midwest region. Eleven of those teams compete against St. Xavier in Ohio's Division I classification.
  • Northwestern competes in Class 6A, Florida's largest classification. But, incredibly, only six of last week's Top 25 teams in the Beef 'O' Brady's Florida all-classification poll came from Class 6A.
  • We have seen a lot of good things from St. Xavier so far this year, but we haven't seen the best St. Xavier yet. Not without Darius Ashley in the lineup. He not only gives the Bombers' offense the outside threat its currently lacking, he should take some pressure off St. X's defense as well. Remember, nothing takes pressure of a defense like an effective ball-control offense.
  • We don't know how good Southlake Carroll is yet. Entering the season there were concerns about the Dragons' inexperience on defense. Some of those concerns were brought to light on Saturday night. If Southlake Carroll does not finish the season ranked in the Top 25, some of the luster off Northwestern's win will certainly be gone.
  • We also don't know how well Northwestern will react from this win. So much attention and energy was focused by the Bulls on this one, enormous game. I am left wondering if the state playoffs will mean as much to Northwestern this time around. Can winning another 6A title mean as much as winning what so much of the media has already described as a national championship? And how about that bulls-eye (no pun intended) that is now sitting on Northwestern's back. Watch very carefully when Northwestern takes on Miami Central on October 27. Keep in mind, it was Central that Rolle left for the Northwestern job in late July.
So, there is a LOT of football left to be played. While the No. 1 spot belongs to Northwestern this week, it is still very much up for grabs. Hang in there, St. X.

California Shake-Up (and it has nothing to do with an earthquake)


The only thing that appeared completely clear when putting together the preseason rankings this year was that there was no clear favorite in California.


We gave the early rankings nod to Long Beach Poly because the Jackrabbits returned nearly all of its big people and, outside of QB, seemingly always have better than average players at all the skill positions. Poly also had momentum from winning a top 7-on-7 title in Southern California near the end of the summer, for whatever that was worth. We also liked the fact that Poly had a chance to impress by playing Cleveland Glenville at the Herbstreit Classic.

But it could have just as easily been Mater Dei, St. Bonaventure, Notre Dame, De La Salle or Corona Centennial.

So far, what we have seen is Poly losing to a Birmingham team that I actually ranked No. 33 in the preseason. But that was before the Patriots lost QB Exavier Johnson to injury and before their season-opening loss to Crespi.


We have also seen Mater Dei crush a couple of inferior opponents. St. Bonaventure and Notre Dame have shown improvement as the young season has gone on.

But so far Corona Centennial and De La Salle seem to be playing better than anyone in California. Because of that, the Huskies and Spartans have moved into the Top 25 and ahead of St. Bonaventure and Notre Dame in the rankings.

It's pretty simple.

No. 19 Centennial has beaten the pants off of a really talented Dominguez team. On Friday, they ran away from the same Crespi team (minus QB Kevin Prince) that beat Poly. They have perhaps the top QB-RB combo in the state with Matt Scott and Ryan Bass, who have already combined for more than 1,200 yards of total offense. Most importantly, Centennial will have a chance to show its the best on the field when it travels to play No. 10 Mater Dei on October 4.

As for No. 22 De La Salle. When coach Bob Ladouceur says things are clicking, my ears perk up. That was the tenor of Ladouceur's comments to the Contra Costa Times following Friday's 55-14 rout of Los Angeles Loyola. The Spartans scored on their first six possessions in the game led 41-0 at halftime.

Like Centennial, the Spartans' longevity in this year's national rankings will be tested on the field. An October 6 trip to West Coast No. 5 Mission Viejo and probable return to the state Division I championship game loom on the horizon.

7 comments:

concha said...

Jamie,

Some observations:

1) Physically, X was "apparently" completely outmanned versus Lakeland last year too (10 SEC recruits), yet the game could easily have gone X's way and X actually outgained them. Ashley put up 120 yards on the Naughts. many of those X kids are now a year older...

2) In a battle royale like SLC-MNW or X-MNW, how much value do you put on X's depth? I think X has shown it can put fresh legs in with little reduction in effectiveness. Versus DeMatha, G'ville and Trinity, X has won the battle of the second half 64-20.

3) You mention Ashley being out, but just for emphasis, X has been winning against a very tough array of opponents without their marquis player. How would SLC or MNW be without their stars (their QBs for example? - I wouldn't use Newton as comparable because X has better lines than SLC, so Newton is more easily made a non-factor).

PrepNationSports said...

1) True. But even though X outgained Lakeland, they did lose the game. And they lost the game essentially on their home field. While I might also predict an extremely tight win for MNW over St. X if they played this week (with a 100% Ashley), I would still probably predict another loss for St. X. Even a tight loss is still a loss.

2) I put an extreme premium on X's depth. I think they are deeper than MNW. But so was SLC. Depth usually does not overcome superior starting talent.

3) I 100% agree and made that exact same argument in my blog.

Anonymous said...

This top 25 is a joke right? Lakeland has 48 straight wins, back to back to back national championships, and still isn't in the top 25? You have Hoover in the top 25? WHAT?!? This is a joke! It has to be!

PrepNationSports said...

After a good start to the season, Lakeland is definitely knocking on the door for the Top 25 again. However, the 'Naughts entered the season with only two returning starters and have yet to be tested by a state-ranked opponent this season.

Lakeland began the year ranked No. 13 in the Southeast region. They would probably be about No. 11 this week.

We'll keep an eye on them, for sure.

As for Hoover. The Bucs went in to Cincinnati and probably should have beaten No. 17 Colerain in its home city before losing in OT.

If you want to see top teams travel the country to play other great teams, you have to reward those temas when they play well.

Hoover has won five state titles in seven seasons with a 108-10 record during that span. They went to Cincinnati and played a Top 25 team to a dead-even finish.

If that does not qualify the Bucs for Top 25 status, then what does?

Andrew said...

I'm an X grad who looks at the rankings realistically, if X just takes care of business, they'll end up on top. My observation on the Northwestern game is that it was a pretty sloppy game. Eight turnovers? That's crazy. Now maybe it's because of the strength of the two teams defenses, but I can't imagine that any top team should be turning the ball over so many times. NWC only had three of those turnovers, while gaining five, they should have won. But Carroll may have beaten itself by not taking care of the ball.

Thomas said...

When top teams meet, and there is hard hitting and quick players, you will have turnovers. How do you know St. Xavier wouldn't also have a few turnovers with that fast MNW D? You aren't talking apples to apples.

Mr. Clean said...

Jamie,

I have to say that West Monroe is playing the best football in Louisiana right now....better than either John Curtis or Bastrop....the addition of superstud Jr. D.J. Banks gives the Rebels an added dimension, b/c he is a born leader.....

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