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August 4, 2011

RivalsHigh 100 Countdown: Nos. 20-16

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Last Monday, RivalsHigh.com began its 2011 countdown, 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. 10 - just 10 days from the start of the season.

After that, we will wait until Sept. 5 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.

Preseason 2011 RivalsHigh 100 Rankings | Post your thoughts about the teams

Top 100 countdown
No. 20 St. Xavier, Ohio

COACH: Steve Specht
LAST SEASON: 7-5
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 8 in Ohio

KEEP AN EYE ON: How the team fares playing four games in a 20-day stretch against ranked teams. This is a tough task for any team; St. Xavier will be asked to do it early in the year. Between Sept. 4 and Sept. 23, the Bombers will play Pickerington Central, Colerain, Louisville Trinity and Moeller. St. Xavier often is offensively challenged. Going against the defenses of these four teams will either justify or break this preseason ranking.

STRENGTH: For the first time in a long while, the offense of the Bombers enters the season as the more seasoned group. St. Xavier will return eight starters on offense with center Brandyn Cook, quarterback Griffin Doyle and running back Conor Hundley leading the team. This will be another run-first unit, but coach Steve Specht won't be hesitant to spread the ball around with Doyle.

STAR OF THE SHOW: Hundley, a three-year player, sort of feels as if he has been at St. X forever. He enters his senior season following a Division I First-Team All-Ohio recognition of his 1,507 yards and 19 touchdown effort last year. With a frame at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, many think that he needs to be on the edge to be successful. But with his physically-minded approach, he has the ability to go between the tackles.

PUTTING UP POINTS: Much of the team's offensive struggles can be attributed to the quality schedule the team plays - at least that is what the faithful will say. But since piling up 452 points in 2007, the offense has been found wanting. In 2008, it scored a measly 128 points, followed by 238 in 2009 and 249 in 2010. If St. X wants to stay in the top end of the rankings, it will need to find a way to score points on a regular basis.

Top 100 countdown
No. 19 Harrison, Michigan

COACH: John Herrington
LAST SEASON: 14-0, won Division II state championship
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 25 in RivalsHigh 100

KEEP AN EYE ON: Jake Vento, who moves from receiver to quarterback. The team returns the bulk of its skill players, but it is losing its quarterback and several key members of the offensive line. Vento, one of the better athletes, will slide to quarterback; he will rely on receivers Aaron Burbridge, Devin Funchess, Gairus Coleman and running back Austin Hunter.

STRENGTH: The defense only allowed 11.8 points per game in 2010 and returns a lot of the key players. The strength of the group of starters returns as Ken Russ, Lamar Marshall, Ed Huckleby, Jordan Head and Aaron Johnson all logged significant minutes. Jake Slobin, the best offensive lineman, will go both ways and play on the defensive line.

STAR OF THE SHOW: Harrison is fortunate to have three big-time national prospects in Burbridge, Funchess and Mario Ojemudia. Burbridge is a Rivals.com four-star prospect, ranked as the No. 19 overall wide receiver in the country and the No. 1 overall player in Michigan. Funchess is a three-star prospect and the No. 17 overall tight end in the country. Ojemudia is also a three-star prospect and a Top 5 player overall in Michigan. Funchess and Ojemudia have both given the University of Michigan verbal commitments. With three Top 10 players in the state on one team and a state championship already its their belt, the stars have aligned for Harrison.

SLEEPER: Coleman gets overlooked due to all the talent on this team. Coleman, Harrison's top prospect in the Class of 2013, had a great sophomore season and an excellent off-season, when he received national attention for his outstanding performance during the summer circuit in passing leagues. Although Coleman is the third or fourth option on offense, his role will increase as teams look to stop Burbridge and Funchess.

Top 100 countdown
No. 18 Norland, Florida
COACH: Dayle Heidelburg
LAST SEASON: 13-2
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 14 in Florida

KEEP AN EYE ON: Whether the secondary can come together. Norland is absolutely loaded and the prohibitive favorite to win Class 5A with eight returning starters on defense and seven on offense. It seems logical that it will run away with the state title. The measurement on the national level will come in the secondary, where the new players need to prove they can hang with other elite teams that can move the ball through the air.

STRENGTH: Learning from last season. Norland wasn't a total surprise as it did have plenty of talent, but beating Booker T. Washington and Belen Jesuit before falling to a loaded Tampa Jefferson team in the semifinals was a major confidence boost. With a solid crop of juniors now seniors, this could be a very dangerous team - one that could compete for the top spot in the state come season's end.

STAR OF THE SHOW: With three players already committed to "The U" and (at least) three more likely to land in Division I programs, it is tough to pick one leader. On defense, Keith Brown is among the best linebackers in the nation and leads that group. On offense, running back Randy Johnson gets the absolute most out of his 5-foot-9 frame and paces the offense. That says nothing of 6-foot-6 Ereck Flowers who always stands out in a crowd on the line.

BEST IN CLASS: The early placement is a big vote of confidence in the newly-formed Class 5A. Among the 87 teams that make up the class, Norland is most likely to meet ranked Glades Central in the playoffs. The two teams make up the top end of one of the lighter classes in the state. The quality of play for Norland, however, can transcend the limitations of its classmates.

Top 100 countdown
No. 17 Stephenson, Georgia

COACH: Ron Gartrell
LAST SEASON: 9-2
FINAL 2010 RANKING: Unranked in Georgia

KEEP AN EYE ON: Whether this team can get out of its own way. Stephenson may have more Division I talent than any team in the country entering this season. The team already has 10 players committed to BCS conference schools and two additional players already accepting offers to Division I programs. Those dozen players are not including the other six potential players who could land at Division I or Division II schools. But that doesn't guarantee success. Stephenson graduated 10 players last year who went to Division I programs and still didn't get out of the first round of the playoffs. This could be the ultimate example of Division I talent not equaling on-field success.

STRENGTH: The defensive front. The team has three defensive linemen committed to Division I schools - Jarontay Jones (Virginia Tech), JaFar Mann (Florida) and Carlos Hood (South Carolina) - and two linebackers that are college-bound as well in Raphael Kirby (Miami) and Darreon Herring (Vanderbilt). Kirby is a high school Butkus Award semifinalist. Even if the offense fails to produce points, the hope is that the defense will blank the opposition.

STAR OF THE SHOW: It is hard to stand out from this pack, but running back Mike Davis needs to emerge. Stephenson is not going to change its Wing-T offensive philosophy despite all of the talent on the roster. Being the top option in the running game will put a lot of pressure on Davis. A Florida commit, Davis is the No. 122 overall player in the country and has impressed this summer.

QUOTABLE: When doing homework in the offseason, it is good to get the opinion of others on certain teams. The opinion of Stephenson is not well regarded. "Heck, you could give them 10 NFL players and they wouldn't make it out of the second round," one coach from Georgia said.

Top 100 countdown
No. 16 Sandy Creek, Georgia

COACH: Chip Walker
LAST SEASON: 15-0, won Class AAA state championship
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 72 in RivalsHigh 100

KEEP AN EYE ON: Who emerges at quarterback. The team lost Ronnie Bell to graduation (now at Ohio University). Someone will need to step into those shoes for the two-time defending state champs (AAAA and AAA).

STRENGTH: The team returns a lot of its starters from last season's title run. With eight on offense (including four on the offensive line) and seven on defense, it could be a strong year. The team knows how to win and is certainly the favorite to make it through to the Class AAA title.

STAR OF THE SHOW: Rivals100 member and Auburn commit JaQuay Williams is the front-and-center star of the team at wide receiver. He is charismatic and very talented and does not shy from the big stage. At 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds, he can do just about anything at the position.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT: The opposition will need to account for Quinteze Williams on the defensive end. The 6-foot-4 and nearly 300-pounder is ranked the No. 23 player in all of Georgia and is committed to Florida. He figures to be double-teamed on almost every play.

ANOTHER GEORGIA SMALL SCHOOL POWER: The beauty of Georgia high school football is that it is not top heavy; quality programs can be found at nearly every level. Sandy Creek has played at Class AAAA and AAA and won on each level. It has competed with AAAAA schools and been successful as well.

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