Why? The high school football season is starting across the nation, and even your harebrained fantasy league commissioner knows not to schedule the draft on Friday night. Plus, it's an early opportunity to indulge in football after surviving an almost six-and-a-half month stretch without it. No longer must you aimlessly click on volatile message boards and claim to be "satisfied" with the local beat writer's practice reports. Starting with this weekend's first full slate of games, the helmets will actually crack and the whistles will actually ring -- even if the referees look more like Mark Mangino than Ed Hochuli.
So let's get to it. The narrative surrounding the high school football season -- like any high school, college or professional sport -- is dominated by conjecture. Rankings, like my own, are more or less predicated off what teams have the highest volume of Division I talent, and which have the best balance of such celebrated prospects. Luckily, high school football fans will get to see several top national matchups in the beginning of the season, helping to settle some debate -- and forge an early hierarchy -- even before Sept. 1.
JACKSON: Ranking the toughest H.S. schedules
Here are the initial Power Rankings, which will come out every Monday during high school football season.
2011 record: 13-2, CIF Southern Section champion
First game: Aug. 25 at Brophy College Prep (Ariz.)
Santa Margarita sits in the top spot in several polls, and much of it has to do with its Tebow-esque starting quarterback: Johnny Stanton. A Nebraska commit, Stanton tallied 3,867 yards and 34 touchdowns last season and dominated the state title game. Factor in 14 returning starters, a running back (Ryan Wolpin) that scored 29 touchdowns last season and the protection of UCLA-bound offensive tackle Erik Bunte, and the Eagles become the national frontrunner to start the season. This team features an explosive offense with a questionable but sturdy defense, anchored by Arizona State commitment Nick Begg. It's hard to envision any team in the nation limiting such a multi-faceted attack.
2011 record: 14-1, Texas Class 5A Division I semifinalist
First game: Sept. 1 vs. The Woodlands (Texas)
A traditional powerhouse in a football-crazed state, Skyline returns its prolific starting quarterback and a receiver that could one day follow the footsteps of Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon. Ole Miss commit Devante Kincade threw for more than 3,200 yards last season and will continue to seek out Oklahoma State commit Ra'Shaad Samples, a rangy receiver that could put up enormous numbers. The defense returns six starters, but lost three Division I players. After being upset in the semifinals last year, Skyline is a veteran -- and unmistakably hungry -- group heading into 2012.
2011 record: 15-0, Georgia Class AAAAA champion
First game: Aug. 25 at McEachern (Ga.)
Most of the attention will focus on Clemson commit and No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche, but Grayson has the roster to establish itself as a national powerhouse for the second consecutive season. Nkemdiche is a veritable man-child, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound force who is virtually unstoppable against high school offensive linemen; he's so powerful that he's used out of the backfield in critical short-yardage running downs. But the Rams aren't all Nkemdiche. Fellow Clemson commit Wayne Galman is one of the top running backs in the state, while linebacker Zach Barnes, defensive end Jack Banda and cornerback David Kamara are Division I-caliber defenders.
2011 record: 13-2, Florida Class 7A champion
First game: Aug. 24 vs. Osceola (Fla.)
The offense starts and ends with Mississippi State commit Cord Sandberg, a dual-threat quarterback who combined for more than 2,800 yards of offense and 29 touchdowns last season. Couple Sandberg's prolific numbers with a star-studded defensive line, anchored by 6-foot-1, 310-pound Derrick Calloway, and the Hurricanes will almost certainly vie for top honors in talent-rich Florida -- no easy task, indeed.
2011 record: 13-1, Florida Class 7A runner-up
First game: Aug. 25 at Grayson (Ga.)
Central may be the surprise of the Top 10, but it is nearly impossible to ignore the pure, tantalizing talent that the Rockets feature on offense. With two junior running backs, Dalvin Cook and Joseph Yearby, already committed to Clemson and Florida State, respectively, Central should boast a multi-faceted offensive attack. The Rockets will also play in a series of high-profile games, leading off with Grayson and including fellow powerhouses Manatee and Booker T. Washington. Central's schedule is the toughest in the nation, according to Rivals.com analyst Dallas Jackson.
2011 record: 12-2, Florida Class 4A runner-up
First game: Aug. 25 at Miami Northwestern (Fla.)
Washington is loaded with returning starters, feature a positively terrifying linebacker in 6-foot-3, 205-pound Matthew Thomas and will rely heavily on junior athlete Treon Harris, the son of coach Tim Harris, to improve on a stellar sophomore campaign. The Tornadoes also bring back an astonishing nine players on defense and should have one of the most ferocious units in the country. Florida State commit Michael Johnson will marshal the secondary, while junior strongside defensive end Chad Thomas will anchor the line. It's a talented unit at Washington, and, if all goes well, it could emerge as the top team in Florida.
2011 record: 14-0, Louisiana Class 2A champion
First game: Aug. 31 at Franklinton (La.)
Curtis boasts a four-pronged rushing attack that could end up gassing all of Louisiana by the time it's done running. The former high school of New York Jets running back Joe McKnight, John Curtis may feature the finest crop of running backs in the school's history -- according to the pundits, at least. Tevin Horton, Raekwon James, Sherman Baddie and San Diego State commit Brandon Porter are all potential No. 1 running backs. They should all see significant playing time, even in a crowded depth chart.
2011 record: 12-0, WCAC champion
First game: Aug. 24 at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
With 6-foot-5 Virginia commit Brendan Marshall under center, Good Counsel could overcome a brutal early season schedule that features powerhouses Bishop Gorman (Nev.), Gilman (Md.) and St. Joseph Regional (N.J.). The Falcons have significant depth on both sides of the ball, headlined by Virginia-bound defensive back Kirk Garner, Clemson-bound running back and linebacker Dorian O'Daniel and Virginia Tech-bound cornerback Kendall Fuller -- arguably the best player at his position in the entire class of 2013.
2011 record: 13-2, South Carolina Class 4A Division I champion
First game: Aug. 25 at Oscar Smith (Va.)
The South Carolina powerhouse returns six starters on defense and a junior quarterback, Shuler Bentley, who threw for more than 3,500 yards last season. Given its top talent -- wide receivers Akia Booker and Trey Barron are both heralded recruits -- and a challenging non-league schedule, and Byrnes has the pieces in place for another state title run.
2011 record: 16-0, Texas Class 5A Division I champion
First game: Aug. 31 at Allen (Texas)
Texas A&M commit Kenny Hill is a prolific dual-threat quarterback who combined for more than 4,400 total yards (2,790 passing; 1,399 rushing) last season. The trick now is finding a way to increase his totals while helping the Dragons recapture last year's glory. The 2011 state champions face a stiff opening test at Allen, a Texas powerhouse opening a brand new $60 million stadium, and shoulder the burden of trying to repeat. Louisiana Tech-bound offensive guard Cam Manning and senior defensive backs Tanner Jacobsen and Ray Crockett should help, but Southlake is constructed much like several other top teams: The offense will certainly be there, but with only three returning starters, the defense could be a larger concern.
Next five: Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, Calif.), Bellevue (Bellevue, Wash.), De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), Trinity (Louisville), Lake Travis (Austin)
Other notables: Camden County (Kingsland, Ga.), Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, Va.), McGill-Toolen (Mobile, Ala.), Butler (Matthews, N.C.), Plant (Tampa), Central Dauphin (Harrisburg, Pa.), Whitehaven (Memphis), Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), Lassiter (Marietta, Ga.)