With the out-of-state registry of games nearly complete and playoffs fast approaching, it is the time of the high school football season that sees teams open district play. For many nationally ranked teams, this means lopsided scores and emptying the bench.
The lag in meaningful games was especially true for the top 10 teams in the RivalsHigh 100, as all stormed to wide margins of victory against various levels of in-state competition on the final weekend of September. But the battle at the top of the rankings is gaining much more attention as No. 2 Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee continues to claw at top-ranked River Ridge (La.) John Curtis.
Paced by Mississippi State quarterback commit Cord Sandberg and his four touchdowns, the Hurricanes blew out rival Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast, 52-13, to improve to 4-0 on the season.
Manatee scored six touchdowns and a field goal on its first seven possessions and never looked back. Its defense, led by four- star DT Derrick Calloway, stifled Southeast, allowing only four plays in the first half to gain more than a single yard.
Sandberg completed 12 of 18 passes for 217 and two touchdowns and ran for two additional scores in the contest.
Rivals.com southeast recruiting analyst Kynon Codrington said that Sandberg was most impressive.
"I have to say Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg is the best player I've seen so far (this year)," Codrington said. "Sandberg is natural winner and makes everyone around him better."
Sandberg caps his career against Southeast undefeated in three starts and pushes the Manatee's overall winning streak to 16 straight overall.
Top-ranked River Ridge (La.) John Curtis will hold its spot in the national rankings this week after it defeated a winless Reserve (La.) Riverside team by the final of 59-0. The Patriots were up 37-0 at halftime and cruised to another victory. The defense intercepted Riverside three times on the evening and did not allow the opposition to penetrate beyond midfield until a 50-yard pass as time expired.
It was the second consecutive shutout for the private school powerhouse against less-than-stellar competition.
With the best of the schedule behind both Curtis and Manatee -- until playoffs -- there are few nationally relevant games to evaluate and separate the teams. So as long as each stays the course until late-November, there is unlikely to be a change in their overall rankings.
SPOT SWAP IN TOP 10: With blowouts galore, there was minimal movement among the nation's elite. But there was a minor shuffle as Bellevue (Wash.) was jumped by Hoover (Ala.) and DeSoto (Texas), dropping the Washington power to the No. 9 position.
Bellevue defeated Kirkland (Wash.) Juanita by a final of 49-0 but continues to slide on its strength of schedule as well as in its perception as the clear top team in the state with Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline charging hard.
Hoover rolled to another impressive victory, downing rival school Vestavia Hills (Ala.), 35-15. The typically stingy defense was dominant again this week, but it was the running of Calen Campbell that pushed the Bucs to another victory.
Campbell rushed for 115 yards on 17 carries and had a back-breaking 52-yard run late in the game to salt away the victory.
DeSoto, which pushed into the top 5 last season, continues to climb the national rankings this year with one of the toughest opening stretches of any team in the nation.
This week it bettered South Grand Prairie (Texas), 40-7. It had reeled off victories over quality opponents Arlington (Texas) Martin, Jenks (Okla.), Euless (Texas) Trinity and Cedar Hill (Texas) to open the season. Its overall roll call of wins pushes it ahead of Bellevue, which shares a common opponent in a victory over Euless Trinity.
MOVING INTO THE RANKINGS: Making its debut inside of the Top 50 of the RivalsHigh 100 this week is Auburn (Ala.) High at No. 47.
This week the team bettered a quality Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City team by the final of 49-24. Gadsden City had entered the game undefeated with a win over Oxford (Ala.) on its resume.
The battle for rankings will continue this week when Auburn hosts Montgomery (Ala.) Carver and its quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
Joining Auburn in the rankings are four other first-time entrants: Lincoln-Way (Ill.) East; Spring Branch (Texas) Smithson Valley; Lake Oswego (Ore.); and Metairie (La.) Archbishop Rummel.
Lincoln-Way East took advantage of an injury to Bolingbrook (Ill.) quarterback Aaron Bailey and cruised to a 41-18 victory to claim the No. 2 spot in the state as well as the No. 75 position in the RivalsHigh 100.
Smithson Valley had another solid showing in a 44-6 victory over Corpus Christi (Texas) King and continued its climb in the Texas state rankings, entering the national rankings at No. 87.
Lake Oswego (Ore.) was already the top-ranked team in the state of Oregon, and with losses to teams in front of it combined with a 41-0 win over Portland (Ore.) West Linn, the program moved into the back end of the rankings at No. 98.
The top team in Louisiana Class 5A, Archbishop Rummel, also climbed into the rankings after just missing the cut last week. The team downed New Orleans (La.) Holy Cross, 42-7, to take over the No. 99 spot. It nearly entered the rankings after crushing New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine two weeks back. With the parity in the classification, this spot could be very temporary.
RETURN TO THE RANKINGS: A pair of Keystone State teams rejoin the rankings as Harrisburg (Pa.) Bishop McDevitt and Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin re-enter the national rankings at No. 92 and No. 93, respectively.
Central Dauphin was a preseason Top 25 team but fell from the rankings after it fell to Bishop McDevitt in the second week of the season -- despite having its best two players suspended for the game.
This week the defending Class AAAA champions bettered State College (Pa.) by a final count of 32-7.
McDevitt improved to 5-0 with a 37-14 victory over Harrisburg (Pa.) Susquehanna Township. The team was the preseason No. 100 team and left the rankings the same week Central Dauphin did.
The top team in Mississippi also returns to the rankings after a week removal as Picayune (Miss.) checks back into the rankings at No. 96.
The Maroon Tide was the No. 96 team two weeks ago and fell out following a victory and massive turnover at the bottom of the rankings. This week it reclaimed its spot in the rankings as the only team from Mississippi in the poll.
ON THE SLIDE: As the top team from Indiana in the RivalsHigh 100, Carmel (Ind.) has been as high as No. 83 but will fall back to a season-low No. 95 ranking.
The defending state champions have played two one-score contests with Valparaiso (Ind.) and this week against Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central in which it won 10-7.
Last season was a major boost in national perception for Indiana football with four teams being nationally ranked, but this season it has slid back down with only Carmel clinging to the poll.
With Indianapolis (Ind.) Ben Davis remaining on the schedule, as well as one of the most inequitable playoff formats in the country, there is still time to prove this ranking to be too low; but the early returns are not pointing to an upward trend.
DROPPING ARIZONA: The state of Arizona will not have a single team nationally ranked for the first time since the inception of the RivalsHigh 100, as all three previously ranked programs are exiting the poll.
Peoria (Ariz.) Centennial, Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe, and Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista will join Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton and Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy as teams from the state to have entered and exited the RivalsHigh 100 this season.
While the lack of a team may be a perceived as a troublesome situation for a state that has been battling for respect, it is actually a compliment this year as the state has so many quality programs for the first time in a long time.
Tucson (Ariz.) Ironwood Ridge, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain, Chandler (Ariz.) high, and Chandler (Ariz.) Basha are all teams that have made forward progress this season and continue to comprise an upper echelon in an ever-improving state.
KEEP AN EYE ON ... ... how Missouri starts to shake out.
For the third consecutive week the Show Me State does not have a team ranked but it has three just on the fringe of the national rankings.
Lee's Summit (Mo.) West was nationally ranked but fell back toward the pack with St. Louis (Mo.) Christian Brothers, Webb City (Mo.), and Jefferson City (Mo.).
The four teams have a slight separation on Blue Springs (Mo.) and Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst but not enough to push into the RivalsHigh 100.
None of the teams are slated to play one another until the playoffs and so this may be a season-long search for a representative, but it bears watching.
ON HIS SHOULDERS: It was a quick turnaround for Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary's Prep after downing Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech. This week it was back on the field to play another nationally ranked team, Birmingham (Mich.) Brother Rice.
Thankfully, the team had Grant Niemiec on offense. And defense.
The 6-foot, 218-pound running back ran for 85 yards on 23 carries and scored three touchdowns in a 24-14 victory. He also made a key stop on a fourth-down play late in the third quarter when his team was up 10-7.
The stats are not as gaudy as we usually find in this spot, but the timeliness of the plays and the significance of Niemiec's impact carried his team to its second straight victory and a bump in the rankings up to No. 73.
ON TAP THIS WEEK: There are only two games between nationally ranked teams as No. 41 Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny will take on No. 55 Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway for an early lead in the Pennsylvania rankings, and No. 84 Jenks (Okla.) plays No. 85 Broken Arrow (Okla.) to complete the circle of four ranked Oklahoma teams.
Outside of those two marquee games, there are some other battles that have the interest of high school football fans on the national level.
No. 11 Marietta (Ga.) Lassiter will host previously-ranked Marietta (Ga.) Walton; No. 12 Cincinnati (Ohio) Colerain will play a game against a talented Middletown (Ohio) team; the preseason No. 1 team and current No. 39 Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Santa Margarita will be back in action without injured QB Johnny Stanton for the first time against a down but potentially dangerous Anaheim (Calif.) Servite squad; No. 56 Sandy (Utah) Jordan will look to rebound from its first loss against Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood; and No. 100 Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany hosts a nationally relevant Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame team.