If the goal of Power Rankings is to compare the merits of the top teams in high school football, then let's contrast what many consider to be the two best teams in 2012: Santa Margarita (Calif.) and Manatee (Fla.). Both entered the season with sky-high expectations, and both recorded high-profile victories in their opening games on ESPN.
The two teams will not square off this season, making a head-to-head evaluation more difficult. But the squads offer an opportunity to compare California and Florida powerhouses, an unsettled but worthy debate.
Santa Margarita is this year's edition of the top team in the Trinity League, an elite hub of California Catholic schools that includes Mater Dei (notable alums: Matt Barkley, Matt Leinart and Colt Brennan), Orange Lutheran (Aaron Corp, Blake Ayles), St. John Bosco (Keith Price) and Anaheim Servite (Matt Kalil, Chris Galippo). Orange County has also featured Mark Sanchez and Todd Marinovich, and housed some of the top high school football programs even before players like Carson Palmer and Chris Rix quarterbacked for Santa Margarita.
And this year's Eagles should only add to that lineage. Despite some struggles in the opening game, quarterback Johnny Stanton powered Santa Margarita past Brophy Prep (Ariz.), tallying 208 passing yards, 99 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in a 27-14 win. He showcased his skills behind a powerful offensive line, while the defense effectively limited one of Arizona's top vertical threats in Devon Allen. Santa Margarita has six players committed to major conference schools, and one more, offensive lineman Riley Sorenson, who will likely end up in a BCS conference.
The Eagles are a prototypical Orange County powerhouse, a team built predominantly on strong quarterback play, a massive offensive line and a disciplined if unspectacular defense. As demonstrated in its Week 1 victory, Santa Margarita fits the established Orange County blueprint.
Manatee is an entirely different machine. The Hurricanes are a torrential offensive force, and they didn't wait long to prove it.
In a 49-14 win over Osceola (Fla.), Manatee scored 28 points in the first quarter and led 35-0 at the half. Quarterback Cord Sandberg threw for a 71-yard touchdown and ran for a 23-yard score by the end of the second quarter, and the defense thoroughly overwhelmed the Warriors. In a season of titanic expectations, Manatee obliterated its first opponent.
Unlike Santa Margarita, Manatee is built at the skill positions and is brimming with athletic talent. Both Stanton and Sandberg are dual-threat quarterbacks capable of breaking off big gains on designed runs; the difference is that Stanton has three Division-I quality offensive linemen to protect him, while Sandberg is more frequently exposed out of the pocket.
Sandberg may not be the second coming of former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, the most decorated Manatee grad and a legendary dual-threat signal-caller, but Sandberg and heralded defensive tackle Derrick Calloway exemplify why pundits are raving about the Hurricanes. Manatee boasts pure, stunning athleticism. They make it virtually impossible for opponents to keep pace.
And judging by its opening-night performance, Manatee is also well-coached and disciplined to boot. It scored three touchdowns in the first four minutes -- a remarkable feat at any level.
Both Santa Margarita's and Manatee's wins offered a glimpse into why each team is considered among the nation's elite. Stanton began his quest to join a decorated group of quarterback legends, while Manatee showcased its ability to run past foes with its speedy offense and incredible group of athletes. The contests also provided an early comparison of Orange County and Florida football, two unquestioned hotbeds that should continue to make headlines throughout the season.
Below are the Power Rankings for this week. But keep in mind, it's only Week 1.
The Hurricanes take the top spot after dominating Osceola from start to finish, a rout that began with Kelvin McKnight's 90-yard kickoff return on the first play of the game. Manatee will take part in another nationally televised game next week against Miramar, last season's Class 8A runner-up.
The Eagles turned the ball over four times, but some staunch defense at key moments helped spearhead a 27-14 victory over Brophy Prep. Johnny Stanton's performance didn't hurt, either. The Nebraska commit accounted for 307 yards of total offense (208 passing, 99 rushing) and all four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in the win.
The vaunted Grayson defense -- anchored by No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche -- lived up to expectations, and the Rams bulldozed McEachern on the ground. Grayson racked up 314 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in Saturday's 31-12 victory.
Skyline enjoyed a final week off, but the Raiders will start their season with a stiff test. Quarterback Devante Kincade and Co. host The Woodlands, the same team Skyline narrowly beat 35-31 in the quarterfinals of last year's Class 5A Division I playoffs.
Central has the nation's most difficult high school schedule, and it begins with perhaps its toughest game. The Rockets rushing attack, led by wunderkind Joseph Yearby, will look to penetrate Grayson's defense; Central's D, bolstered by eight players with Division I offers, will look to contain the Rams' multi-pronged ground game.
Washington travels, albeit not very far, to open its much-anticipated 2012 campaign. Look for linebacker Matthew Thomas, who's being courted by Florida State, Georgia and Alabama, among others, to make an immediate impact.
The Patriots return 16 starters, including a trio of dangerous running backs, entering 2012. Their first-game opponent, Franklinton, went just 5-7 in 2011.
Bishop Gorman recorded the biggest win of the weekend with its victory over perennial powerhouse Our Lady of Good Counsel. Arizona-committed quarterback Anu Solomon had four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and finished the night by completing 13 of his 17 attempts. The Gaels nearly surrendered a 19-point third-quarter lead, but held on to make a Week 1 statement. Now coach Tony Sanchez and Co. will travel across the Pacific to take on Saint Louis School, one of the top teams in Hawaii.
Byrnes easily dispatched Oscar Smith with a swarming defense and a big performance from standout receiver Akia Booker. Booker had 10 receptions for 141 yards, six carries for 31 yards and three total touchdowns. The Rebels' defense forced three turnovers and recorded four sacks.
The defending Class 5A Division I champs open the season on the road -- and in a brand new venue. Carroll will visit Allen, a school that unveiled a sparkling $60 million stadium during the offseason.