Posted: 12:46 pm Friday, August 9th, 2013

Football: A look at each classification’s Florida state title contenders 

By Jeff Greer

What are some of the best teams in Florida? Who has legitimate state-title hopes? Who are the dark horses?

Park Vista's one of the area's top teams with high hopes for 2013.

First, take a look at how I think the season will shake out here in Palm Beach County. I have Dwyer going undefeated in the regular season, plus several other teams getting six or more wins and playoff spots. Dwyer is the only large-schools team that should be considered a major state contender. Any other big school team from our area will be widely thought of as a dark horse, though there are certainly several of them.

At the small-schools level, American Heritage serves as the frontrunner among 3A teams, but Cardinal Newman and Pahokee have high hopes for this fall. Glades Day, Jupiter Christian and Village Academy will all have their sights set on playoff runs, too. Glades Central, though it’s always a talented team, must get through University and Booker T. Washington to go anywhere in the playoffs, and both of those teams are highly ranked national powerhouses.

Now, the format for this year’s state tournament pits the Region 1 champ vs. Region 2 in the semifinals, and the winners from Region 3 and Region 4 against one another in the other state semi.

The state title games will be played at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl over two weekends (Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 13-14). State semis for Classes 1A-4A are Nov. 29, and the state semifinals for the larger classes are Dec. 6. Playoffs start Friday, Nov. 15.

CLASS 8A
As you’d expect, this is one of the toughest classifications in Florida. Good teams abound. Apopka, Manatee and Plant are nationally ranked. Dr. Phillips and Cypress Bay both have vaunted defenses and have enough playmakers on offense to be state contenders. As for the Palm Beach/Treasure Coast area, Fort Pierce Central, Palm Beach Central, Palm Beach Gardens, Park Vista and Seminole Ridge are all real threats at reaching the regional finals, but Fort Pierce Central in particular has a tough road, with Manatee set up to be the Cobras’ regional semifinal opponent.

State final: Apopka over Cypress Bay.
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – Apopka; Region 2 – Plant; Region 3 – Cypress Bay; Region 4 – South Dade.
Area teams in regional finals: Region 3 – Palm Beach Central.
Other contenders: Dr. Phillips, Sandalwood, Miramar, Deerfield Beach, Oviedo, Timber Creek, Flagler Palm Coast, First Coast, Miami Killian, Fort Pierce Central, Palm Beach Gardens, Park Vista, Seminole Ridge.

CLASS 7A
Another year, another treacherous group of 7A teams. The usual suspects are all here, from St. Thomas Aquinas (the favorite) to Dwyer, Lakeland and Lincoln. Dwyer’s got a fantastic shot at a state final if — and that is a gigantic if — the Panthers can upset St. Thomas Aquinas in the Region 4 final, which, in my opinion, would be the pseudo state-title game. Looks like Lakeland and Kissimmee Osceola could be on the way toward a regional semifinal matchup, and the winner of that would likely get to the state semis. Now, I know St. Thomas Aquinas is nationally ranked in MaxPreps (17), Rivals (9) and USA Today (11), but something tells me Dwyer has a special season on the way. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the Panthers are getting enough attention and they could surprise a lot of “pundits” this fall.

State final: Dwyer over Tallahassee-Lincoln.
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – Tallahassee-Lincoln; Region 2 – Kissimmee-Osceola; Region 3 – Tarpon Springs-East Lake; Region 4 – Dwyer.
Area teams in regional finals: Region 4 – Dwyer.
Other contenders: Lakeland, Royal Palm Beach, Plantation, Lake Nona, St. Thomas Aquinas.

CLASS 6A
From the top to the bottom, at least the bottom of the contenders list, this has to be the toughest class in the state this year. Miami Central is the No. 1 team in the country in the Rivals rankings and No. 2 in MaxPreps’ preseason poll. Armwood, Gainesville, Miami Northwestern, Largo, Lake Gibson and Columbia have all received some love, too, especially in the Friday Night Football Florida magazine. Seven 6A teams are in the magazine’s preseason top 25.

State final: Miami Central over Armwood.
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – Lake City-Columbia; Region 2 – Armwood; Region 3 – Lakeland-Lake Gibson; Region 4 – Miami Central.
Area teams in regional finals: None.
Other contenders: Gainesville, Miami Northwestern, Largo, Miami Norland, Venice, South Fort Myers, Winter Haven, St. Augustine, New Smyrna Beach, Mainland, Ocala-Vanguard.

CLASS 5A
Another good classification loaded with good teams, 5A seems to have a definitive favorite in Tallahassee-Godby. Several other schools have received some preseason attention, namely Pensacola Catholic and Immokalee. There are a bunch of good teams south, north and west of Palm Beach, which doesn’t have a single team in the classification this fall. Unfortunately, Godby and Pensacola Catholic could play each other in either the regional quarterfinals or semifinals, and they’d have to deal with Wakulla. The winner of that four-team regional pod would likely get Clay in the regional final.

State final: Godby over Immokalee.
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – Godby; Region 2 – , Dade City-Pasco; Region 3 – Lake Wales; Region 4 – Immokalee.
Area teams in regional finals: None.
Other contenders: Miami Jackson, Plantation-American Heritage, Palm Bay, Palm Bay-Heritage, Palm Bay-Bayside, Dunbar, Green Cove Springs-Clay, Citra-North Marion, Crawfordville-Wakulla, Lakewood.

CLASS 4A
There are five state powerhouses in this class — Miami Washington, University, Madison County, Cocoa, Bolles and Glades Central — and another team (Raines) ready to break out. Someone has to get out of Region 4, with Washington, University and Glades Central, and someone has to escape Region 1, with Bolles and Raines.

State final: Miami Washington over Bolles.
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – Madison County; Region 2 – Bolles; Region 3 – Cocoa; Region 4 – Miami Washington.
Area teams in regional finals: None.
Other contenders: Jacksonville-Raines, Glades Central.

CLASS 3A
This classification used to be a lot different. It had University, last year’s champ, plus Madison County, Trinity Christian, Pensacola Catholic, First Academy, Ocala Trinity Catholic, American Heritage and Chaminade-Madonna. Well, some of them are back. A wide-open District 7-3A in Palm Beach County features three teams with high hopes for 2013 and a fourth (King’s Academy) that could play a spoiler role. Unfortunately, only one of Trinity Catholic and Trinity Christian can make it past the regional final.

State final: Clearwater Central Catholic over Trinity Christian.
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – Trinity Christian; Region 2 – Tampa Catholic; Region 3 – Clearwater Central Catholic; Region 4 – American Heritage.
Area teams in regional finals: Region 4 – American Heritage.
Other contenders: Cardinal Newman, Pahokee, Ocala-Trinity Catholic.

CLASS 2A
University Christian returns a ton of talent to a team that won a state title last season. Warner Christian, North Florida Christian and First Baptist all have a lot of good players back, too. Dade Christian may drop off a bit after reaching the state final, but it may not matter in a region packed with uncertainty. Champagnat is the biggest threat. Palm Beach’s District 7-2A is wide open this fall, with Jupiter Christian and Glades Day serving as the favorites.

State final: University Christian over First Baptist
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – University Christian; Region 2 – Warner Christian; Region 3 – First Baptist; Region 4 – Glades Day.
Area teams in regional finals: Region 4 – Glades Day, Jupiter Christian.
Other contenders: Tallahassee-North Florida Christian, Village Academy, Champagnat, Dade Christian.

CLASS 1A
Last year’s dominant postseason run by Northview, which only played one close game in its four-game run to a title, makes the Chiefs a threat to make another title push. But they’ll have to do it against an increasingly good field. Trenton, the state runner-up, returns most of its players from last season. Liberty County and Newberry, the other state semifinalists, both have good shots at more playoff success.

State final: Trenton over Northview.
State semifinal picks: Region 1 – Northview; Region 2 – Liberty County; Region 3 – Trenton; Region 4 – Dixie County.
Area teams in regional finals: None.
Other contenders: Blountstown, Baker, Newberry, Union County.

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