In the process of naming a champion, state-to-state inconsistencies cause problems. There is no universal governing body, no nationally mandated schedule. While Buford wrapped up its regular season last Friday, Don Bosco has three remaining games and won't kick off the playoffs until December. However unavoidable, discrepancies make separating the best from the rest an increasingly difficult task.
But make no mistake: The top teams in the nation have emerged. Preseason expectations have vanished, and with several defensive powers at the forefront, the true national contenders have materialized. It sets the stage for a frenzied finish to the season.
In this week's Power Rankings, teams are categorized into three tiers: the favorites, the challengers and the sleepers.
1. Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
Previous rank: 1
Last game: 63-15 win at Passaic County Tech (N.J.)
Next game: Oct. 28 vs. Paramus Catholic (N.J.)
Don Bosco's offense may be coming around, after all. The Ironmen exploded for nine touchdowns at Passaic County Tech, demolishing the Bulldogs 63-15. Greg Toal and Co. have now scored 101 points in two weeks, and with a winnable upcoming stretch (Paramus Catholic, Clifton, at St. Joseph), show no signs of letting up.
Speaking of Toal, make sure to read this article by Art Stapleton in The Record. Among other things, it reveals that before accepting the head coaching gig in Ramsey, the 13-year frontman was one day from signing with in-state rival Clifton. Good career choice. Bosco is 41-1 since 2008, while Clifton is 20-16.
2. Trinity (Louisville)
Previous rank: 2
Last game: 49-0 win at Male (Ky.)
Next game: Oct. 28 vs. Archbishop Moeller (Ohio)
The Shamrocks enjoyed their second bye of the season, resting in preparation for a matchup with Moeller. It couldn't have come at a better time. Despite consecutive losses, the Crusaders have the talent to test Trinity, and Friday's game could turn into a shootout: Trinity is averaging 46 points per game. Moeller is averaging 35.8.
In defeating Brentwood Academy (Tenn.) and St. Xavier (Ohio), Trinity has proved its national merit. Another high-profile win, particularly a convincing one, could go a long way toward bettering the 'Rocks championship resume before the Kentucky Class 6A playoffs.
3. Armwood (Seffner, Fla.)
Previous rank: 3
Last game: 38-16 win vs. Hillsborough (Fla.)
Next game: Oct. 28 vs. Plant (Fla.)
Armwood's defensive scoreless streak finally ended Friday night, with Hillsborough managing a touchdown in fourth quarter. It capped an improbable sequence of events: Darryl Richardson threw a pick six. Matt Jones fumbled to induce a safety. After the ensuing return and a personal foul penalty, Terriers' freshman quarterback James Pensyl connected with Evan Jennings to cut Armwood's lead to 24-16.
The Hawks' response was resounding. Linebackers Antonio McCullough and Keionne Barnes each returned interceptions for touchdowns, extending the lead back to 38-16. It clinched a Class 6A District 8 title and sent a message to the rest of the nation: Coach Sean Callahan's defense is as potent as his offense.
4. Gaffney (Gaffney, S.C.)
Previous rank: 4
Last game: 49-7 win over Lancaster (S.C.)
Next game: Oct. 28 vs. Northwestern (S.C.)
Of all the teams in the group of favorites, Gaffney is the most surprising member. Off the radar when the season began, the Indians have shot through the rankings, a trend furthered in Friday's 49-7 thrashing of Lancaster. Joey Copeland completed 20-of-27 passes for 334 yards and six touchdowns before sitting out the second half, continuing an All-American worthy campaign.
It wasn't all good news in Gaffney, though. Earlier in the week, an Indians' offensive lineman was suspended after being arrested on drug charges. It doesn't derail the team's championship hopes, but it marks the first negative in an otherwise spotless 2011 season.
5. Katy (Katy, Texas)
Previous rank: 7
Last game: 45-0 win at Memorial (Texas)
Next game: Oct. 29 vs. Katy Taylor (Texas)
Every year, a team makes a late push for the title. This year, it's unmistakably Katy. The Tigers recorded a team-record third consecutive shutout, sacking Memorial nine times in a 45-0 beatdown. Gary Joseph's defense has put the nation on notice: It's stifling. It looks even better than last year's unit, a group that forced an eye-popping 32 turnovers.
As the season wears on, Katy could benefit from its Texas Class 5A status. While other contenders such as Trinity (Ky.) and Good Counsel could suffer from perceivably easy playoffs, the Tigers will likely have to face Trinity (Texas), DeSoto or Pearland, a team that beat them in last year's quarterfinals. As far as final impressions go, the big-name competition provides a distinct advantage.
6. Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
Previous rank: 5
Last game: 28-14 win vs. St. John's (Washington, D.C.)
Next game: Oct. 29 at Bishop O'Connell (Va.)
Few teams go about their business as efficiently as Good Counsel. The Falcons dusted another D.C. opponent this weekend, taking care of St. John's 28-14. They were spearheaded by a typically punishing ground attack: Wes Brown, a four-star recruit, rushed 20 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite its success, Good Counsel has struggled to crack the top tier. Two things need to happen for that to change: One (or more) of the favorites has to falter and coach Bob Milloy and Co. need to re-enact last year's WCAC playoff domination. In 2010, they bested the competition 86-3 en route to the title.
7. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
Record: 10-1 (includes forfeit win over Western (Nev.))
Previous rank: 6
Last game: 56-7 win over Arbor View (Nev.)
Next game: Oct. 27 vs. Bonanza (Nev.)
Bishop Gorman isn't truly a challenger for the national title. A loss to Armwood on Aug. 26 all but sealed that fate. But with an average margin of victory of 50.8 since, the Gaels are impossible to ignore. They're simply destroying teams.
Best case scenario: Don Bosco, Trinity and Gaffney all lose, leaving Armwood as the highest remaining unbeaten. Gorman rips through the Nevada Class 4A playoffs, its only blemish a three-point loss to the eventual national champs. The Gaels then cruise to a second-ranked finish.
In any circumstance, following another brilliant performance against Arbor View, it's hard not to marvel at the job Tony Sanchez has done. Ditto for junior quarterback Anu Solomon: He threw for a career-high 298 yards and four touchdowns in Friday's 56-7 triumph.
8. Miramar (Miramar, Fla.)
Previous rank: 8
Last game: 42-20 win at Everglades (Fla.)
Next game: Oct. 28 at Western (Fla.)
West Virginia's Geno Smith (2,497 passing yard, 18 touchdowns in '11) starred for Miramar in '09, putting the Patriots' passing game on the map. Cam Hudge has been a worthy successor: He threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns at Everglades, a reminder of how dangerous the 5-10, 165-pounder can be.
Miramar was uncharacteristically sloppy, though. It committed 14 penalties and coughed up six fumbles, mistakes it'll need to correct if it hopes to continue its Top 10 ascent.
9. Buford (Buford, Ga.)
Previous rank: 9
Last game: 28-0 win over Greater Atlanta Christian (Ga.)
Next game: Nov. 4 vs. Blessed Trinity (Ga.)
Which stat is most impressive? That Buford allows 43 rushing yards per game? That they gave up just 26 to previously unbeaten Greater Atlanta Christian? Or that, in improving to 9-0, the Wolves kept the Spartans behind the 50-yard line for all but three offensive plays?
Answer: all of the above. If any member of the top tier stumbles, look for coach Jess Simpson and Co. to capitalize.
10. Allen (Allen, Texas)
Previous rank: 12
Last game: 38-35 win at Marcus (Texas)
Next game: Oct. 28 at Hebron (Texas)
A few weeks ago, following Allen's 41-38 victory at Plano East, I alluded to the team's knack for fourth quarter comebacks. I underestimated them. Allen outdid itself Friday at Marcus, toppling the undefeated Marauders in another drama-packed classic. Quarterback Alec Morris channeled his inner Tom Brady: Trailing 35-31 with 1:40 to go, he engineered a nine play, 80-yard game-winning drive, punctuated by a 16-yard pass to Oliver Pierce with eight seconds remaining.
The Eagles have had some squeakers, to be sure. But that hasn't eliminated them from title contention. And, like Katy, Allen will have opportunities to leave lasting impressions. The perennially loaded Texas playoffs -- per usual -- should play a critical role in determining the final high school hierarchy.
Next five: DeSoto (DeSoto, Texas), St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale), Mallard Creek (Charlotte), Warren Central (Ind.), Trinity (Euless, Texas)
Other notables: Camden County (Kingsland, Ga.), Bentonville (Bentonville, Ark.), Harrison (Farmington Hills, Mich.), Bellevue (Bellevue, Wash.), Miami Norland (Miami), Lake Travis (Austin), Grayson (Loganville, Ga.), Central Catholic (Pittsburgh), Skyline (Dallas), Servite (Anaheim, Calif.)
• The recruiting battles for Arik Armstead and Gunner Kiel are back on. USC and Indiana received bad news last week when their five-star offensive line and quarterback recruits, respectively, reneged on commitments. Notre Dame and Alabama are among the schools currently in the running for both.
• Upsets abound in Alabama. Two of the top teams in the state, Daphne and Hoover, both suffered their first losses of the season on Friday night. Daphne was upended 38-28 at McGill-Toolen, while Hoover fell 17-9 at Mountain Brook. The latter was the Spartans first victory over the Buccaneers since 1984.
• Don't sleep on this pair of Georgia powers. Though Camden County and Grayson remain on the outside looking in, they could soon be making an entry into the Top 10. Both are 8-0 and boast average margins of victory of 46.5 and 28.6 points, respectively.
• For the first time in 2011, DeSoto displayed chinks in its armor. The Eagles watched a 26-0 lead evaporate, escaping Mesquite Horn (Texas) in a 59-53 overtime win. Quarterback Raheem Wilson completed 13-of-21 passes for 213 yards.
• Phoebus (Va.) fell for the first time since 2008. Woodside knocked off the Phantoms 14-9, ending Phoebus' 52-game winning streak. With two weeks left in the season, Woodside now owns sole possession of first place for first time in program history.
• St. Thomas Aquinas is back on track. The Raiders racked up 41 points in the second quarter alone in Friday's 50-6 win over Nova.
• Call it the weekend of shutouts. In addition to Katy and Buford, Warren Central, Mallard Creek, Trinity, Grayson and Skyline all blanked the competition, each remaining unbeaten. The combined damage: 238-0.