Rivals.com began its 2012 countdown last Monday, ranking the teams from No. 1 through No. 100.
We started at No. 100 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 Wednesday, Aug. 8 - just 10 days from the start of the season.
After that, we will wait until Aug. 27 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 Warren
Last Season: 10-4, Texas 5A-DII quarterfinalist. Ranked No. 33 in Texas Top 50.
Fast Fact: Abilene won a state title in 2009, which marked the first time the team had made it to the title game since 1956. With 14 returning starters, the expectations are that the time between appearances will be shorter than that 53-year gap.
Key Player: Quarterback Evin Abbe. Abbe is an under-the-radar quarterback who has the talent around him to push this team deep into the playoffs. At 6-foot-1 and nearing 200 pounds, Abbe could push for some FBS-level looks as the season develops. There will be some defensive tests along the way, including an opening week game with Copperas Cove (Texas) High. Abilene will also play district foes Odessa (Texas) Permian and Midland (Texas) High before the playoffs start.
The Good: The team returns plenty of talent with 14 starters coming back. Few of the players are national household names, but all will be key contributors to the Eagles' attack. Running back Marcell Porter and tight end Sam Berry join receiver and Tulsa commit Keevan Lucas on the offense, which should put up plenty of points. Defensive end Jake McMillon may be one of the more underrated players on the team, but he should start to receive more attention as the season progresses.
The Bad: Being undersized. This is an area that did not derail the Eagles title run in 2009, but it is not an ideal situation when starting linebackers Tyler Lackey and Charles McGill each check in weighing less than 180 pounds and are both barely 5-foot-10. It is compounded by starting cornerback Donlan Aguirre measuring 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, and his defensive back mate Nate Kittley at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds. This is not the biggest team by any means and this group will need to play fundamentally sound to literally not get run over.
The bottom line is Abilene is a 10-win team that returns 14 starters. In Texas, and really anywhere, those are numbers that get immediate attention. This is a team that has learned how to win and is comfortable in its own skin. The likelihood is that the Eagles will be in the Division II playoffs this year and that could be the tougher of the two brackets depending on how a few districts go this year. If this team makes a run to the title, then it could also make a run to the Top 10 national rankings.
Top 100 countdown
No. 24 Hoover, Alabama
Coach: Josh Niblett
Last Season: 13-2, Alabama Class 6A runner-up. Ranked No. 50 nationally.
Fast Fact: Hoover has played in 11 of the last 12 state championship games in Alabama. The team has defeated rival Spain Park 11 straight times. Hoover High has 97 state championships in 12 sports over the last decade. It is the model for Alabama high school athletics.
Key Player: Quarterback Connor Short. Short was thrown into the fire last season after an injury to Sam Gillikin made him the starter. Short led the team to a state finals appearance and is the unquestioned offensive leader entering the season. Short sees the field well and makes the right throws. He is the son of a coach and his time with film and in the weight room will pay dividends. The offense will go as far as he can take it.
The Good: The defense. Specifically the back seven as the linebackers and the secondary will be the strength of the defense this season. With Devon Earl and Marlon Humphrey patrolling the defensive backfield, it will be hard to move the ball through the air against Hoover. The team is usually a defense-first squad, so having talented players leading that side of the ball is going to be great. Linebacker Jamal Lucas has already committed to Southern Miss. He will be joined by Evan Osborne to form a very strong linebacking core for this Hoover football team.
The Bad: The trenches. Over the last two years Hoover has graduated two very talented classes of defensive and offensive lineman. Heading into this season there are some questions about those spots. As a program that has had a cycle of success, there is little doubt that there will be some players ready to step in, but who those players will be are still up in the air. The defense has routinely shuttled in two groups of players on the line to keep its legs fresh, but without an FBS-level player in the trenches this season, it may be more necessary to have strength in numbers.
The bottom line is Hoover is going to be in the state finals. It is a rite of passage for the players at Hoover to be playing football into December and this group figures to be no different. The offense will be interesting to watch, as the receivers are undersized, yet very talented and certainly well coached. The defensive line is a major question entering the season. There is no reason to doubt this is one of the best teams in the country, but this group will be tested early as the team travels to Batesville (Miss.) South Panola for regional battle.
Top 100 countdown
No. 23 American Heritage, Florida
Coach: Stacy Sizemore
Last Season: 12-1, Florida Class 3A Champion. Ranked No. 74 Nationally.
Fast Fact: After two seasons as the American Heritage head coach and athletic director, Doug Socha resigned from his position this summer. He was 22-5 in his two years and made the state finals both seasons. Defensive coordinator Stacy Sizemore immediately replaced Socha.
Key Player: Running back Greg Bryant. Bryant is one of the highest rated players in the country, checking in at No. 28 nationally and the No. 4 running back in his class. He was one of the most impressive players at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge as well as at The Opening and his stock may be on the rise. As a junior, Bryant tallied 2,180 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground while leading his team to a state title. What he showcased much of the summer is that he also has great hands and can catch the ball if called upon.
The Good: The offensive backfield. The trio of Marcus Davis, Tyler Provo and Bryant make up perhaps the most complete set of players in the country. Davis is a three-star athlete that plays quarterback for the team, Provo is a three-star Syracuse commit and the No. 2 fullback in the country, and Bryant is a four-star Oklahoma commit who will carry the ball for four quarters if needed. The trio was named the top group in the country and they will be asked to lead the team to another title.
The Bad: Depth. Like every smaller school in the country, depth could be an issue with this team. Heritage will take on ranked Cocoa (Fla.) High and Seffner (Fla.) Armwood in the first three weeks of the season. Each could test the depth of the roster before Heritage goes on cruise control through the regular season.
The bottom line is it is thin ice being a small school ranked this high. American Heritage has the benefit of the doubt with how impressive Bryant is and he can single handily carry this team to a title in Florida. The test against Armwood will really show where this team needs to be nationally, but sitting at the No. 5 spot in Florida is good enough for a Top 25 placement.
Top 100 countdown
No. 22 McGill-Toolen, Alabama
Coach: Bart Sessions
Last Season: 11-2, Alabama 6A quarterfinalist. Ranked No. 6 in Alabama.
Fast Fact: Head coach Bart Sessions took over at McGill-Toolen after a search that led to multiple offers being turned down. Former Alabama and NFL head coach Ray Perkins interviewed for the position, as well as Springdale (Ark.) Har-Ber coach Chris Wood and Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian coach Josh Floyd. Each of them rejected offers. Sessions first year on the job produced the most wins in the last four years at the school.
Key Player: Quarterback Jason Smith. Smith is listed as an athlete in the Rivals.com database and could line up at many positions for McGill-Toolen. He is likely best at the quarterback spot for this team. At 6-foot-1 and just over 180 pounds, the three-star Auburn commit is reminding many of another 6-foot-1, 180-pound athlete from the Mobile area: former West Virginia quarterback Pat White. If he can match that success, then the Jackets will have a solid season.
The Good: The offense. McGill-Toolen scored under 28 points only twice last season and that figures to be the standard again in 2012. With Smith and receiver Carl Lee both back, there should be plenty of opportunity for deep passes as well as quarterback scrambles. The team will be as explosive as any in the country and could be tested before a potential state finals showdown with Hoover (Ala.) High.
The Bad: The defensive line. While it should not come to haunt the team in the early going the defensive line is a concern. There is some size but limited star-power in the trenches which could be exposed. The Yellowjackets will have until Sept. 28 to get the holes plugged as the game at Daphne (Ala.) High will be a true test.
The bottom line is the team will only go as far as Smith will take them. There is a real battle on the top line of Alabama between McGill-Toolen and Hoover as each make it into the national Top 25, but the margin of difference is tiny. McGill-Toolen may be more impressive getting off the bus, but that has been the case against Hoover for a long time and it has not mattered. The two could switch spots multiple times thoughout the year and the hope is that there is a battle on the field to figure it out.
Top 100 countdown
No. 21 Central Dauphin, Penna.
Coach: Glen McNamee
Last Season: 15-1, Won Pennsylvania Class AAAA title. Ranked No. 2 in Pennsylvania.
Fast Fact: Central Dauphin won its first state football title ever last season and returns as the favorite entering the year. The last team on the Class AAAA level to repeat in Pennsylvania was Central Bucks West from 1997-1999. The Rams were expected to be very good this season, but last year was the surprise win.
Key Player: Athlete Zayd Issah. As a sophomore, Issah rushed for 1,653 yards and 23 scores. As a junior, those numbers dipped to 1,345 yards and 21 scores. The difference is that he became a more complete player, adding 12 catches and 500 yards to his resume. Issah is also the second leading tackler on defense from his linebacker spot. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, he is a stellar athlete that is the first to get out of the bus. The Penn State commit is the key to the team and figures to see his stock rise on the year.
The Good: The offense. The team returns four of five offensive linemen, as well as quarterback Brandon Lavia and athlete Drew Scales to go with Issah. The Rams should be among the best offenses in the country while remaining balanced with over 2,000 yards on the ground and in the air last season. Lavia is starting to receive FBS-level looks and Scales, despite being undersized at 5-foot-8, could be an impact player for FCS-level schools. Scales is the second threat on offense to Issah as he tallied over 900 yards rushing, 300 yards receiving, and 650 yards in the return game while scoring 11 touchdowns. The talent is there and the grinders in the trenches are ready to repeat.
The Bad: The defensive line. This is the loser by default as almost every other position group returns its players and the defensive line is thin at known talent. The team was built for this season and so there may not be as much to lose on the defensive line with talented linebackers and a strong secondary to help clean up any messes left from the line.
The bottom line is the Rams success in 2011 could be its undoing in 2012. Central Dauphin was not supposed to upset Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny in the playoffs last season and the title was supposed to go to the WPIAL power, but that plan did not play out. Central Dauphin is now not the one chasing, but instead the team being chased. Between North Allegheny, Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic, Wyndmoor (Pa.) LaSalle and Lansdale (Pa.) North Penn, there are plenty of challengers for this years state title.