A look at the Miami Herald’s preseason top 20 football rankings in Miami-Dade and Broward, with a brief comment describing each team’s outlook this season. Last year’s record and playoff finish (if team made it) are also listed:
1. Central (15-1, Class 6A state champion): The Rockets have won three consecutive state championships and four in five seasons. A national title has eluded them during that span. With a top five national ranking in several polls, an undefeated season could mean the end of that long quest for Central.
2. St. Thomas Aquinas (14-1, 7A state champion): New coach Roger Harriott and a star-studded roster has the Raiders opening the season in the top 10 nationally as well. An explosive offense led by quarterback Jake Allen and stingy defense led by top national recruit Nick Bosa makes the Raiders the heavy favorite to repeat in Class 7A.
3. Flanagan (13-1, 8A state semifinalist): The Falcons reached the state final four in Class 8A last year, capping their best-ever season. Flanagan feels like this could be its best shot to finish the job with an elite group of seniors that should put them within striking distance of that first state title once again.
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4. American Heritage (12-3, 5A state champion): The Patriots have some holes to fill in certain areas, most notably quarterback following the departure of Torrance Gibson. But American Heritage has become a program that reloads annually and should be in the mix for a third consecutive state title, which would be a first for a Broward County team.
5. Columbus (13-2, 8A state runner-up): The Explorers had their best season since 1982, but were denied a first-ever state title by Apopka. Columbus may have their best defense ever at the school and a balanced offense that should put them right in Flanagan’s crosshairs once again with a trip to Orlando at stake.
6. Hallandale (11-1, 6A regional semifinalist): The Chargers went toe-to-toe with Central for a half before watching their undefeated season to that point come to a crashing halt in the regional semifinals. Led by senior quarterback Tyler Huntley, Hallandale is a legit threat to Heritage’s reign at the top of Class 5A.
7. Booker T. Washington (15-0, 4A state champion): The Tornadoes lost an extremely talented group to graduation and transfers, and changed coaches after Earl Tillman was hired following Tim Harris, Jr.’s departure to FIU. But reports of their demise have been exaggerated. While this year’s squad may be sophomore heavy, and it faces a brutal schedule, expect Booker T. to be in the battle once again for the Class 4A title as it tries to win its fourth in a row.
8. Dillard (5-5): Led by a stacked defense and an offense that should energized by the arrival of versatile quarterback Mo Hassan, the Panthers are the clear favorite to win District 15-6A. If the Panthers can contend with Central in Class 6A remains to be seen, but at least a second-round playoff run is very likely.
9. South Dade (7-3): A jammed District 16-8A field and a costly early-season loss to Southridge kept the Bucs out of the playoffs a season after they won the Class 8A state title. With 16 starters returning and one of the best running games in South Florida, South Dade is the favorite in the district again.
10. Deerfield Beach (4-6): Two years removed from a 10-0 regular season, expect the Bucks to take a big step back this season in a district that’s theirs for the taking. To achieve more, Deerfield will likely have to get through postseason clashes with the likes of Miramar and Flanagan.
11. Jackson (6-5, 5A regional quarterfinalist): The Generals took a huge leap in 2014, earning a postseason berth and winning the Soul Bowl for the first time since 2002. The progress should continue this season as it showed this week. Reaching the playoffs will be difficult, however, in a mega-district that includes American Heritage, Hallandale, Coconut Creek, Cardinal Gibbons and Stranahan.
12. Norland (3-6): The Vikings should have one of the county’s best defenses once again a season after allowing only 16 points per game. If Norland’s offense can continue to show improvement, the Vikings might have enough to grab that tightly-contested second playoff berth in District 16-6A.
13. Carol City (4-6): Following a disappointing 2014 season, the Chiefs had a great summer on the 7-on-7 circuit that they hope translates to the regular season. Carol City should have all the pieces it needs to return to the playoffs. Will they live up to the expectations this time?
14. Miramar (7-3, 8A regional quarterfinalist): The Patriots ended last season in controversy and without a chance to actually play in the postseason. Things seem to be turning around under former Booker T. assistant coach Pierre Senatus. But can the Patriots hold off the competition in a tougher District 12-8A and make it back to the playoffs?
15. Coconut Creek (4-6): Three U.S. Army All-Americans – Trayvon Mullen, Malek Young and Binjimen Victor led the Cougars to big wins this summer and have generated a lot of excitement on a squad eager to prove it can make a state title run in Class 5A.
16. American (9-2, 7A regional quarterfinalist): Can a move up to Class 8A end the Patriots’ first-round playoff jinx? The defense will be one of South Florida’s best. The offense struggled mightily late in the season and needs to prove itself capable in order to propel American to its first playoff win since 1997.
17. Southridge (7-4, 8A regional quarterfinalist): Veteran coach Billy Rolle hopes to bring some stability to the coaching position at one of Dade’s traditionally strong programs. The Spartans’ talented squad should be good enough to make a postseason run if it can survive the grind in District 16-8A.
18. Northwestern (5-6, 6A regional quarterfinalist): The Bulls survived the gauntlet in District 16-6A to return to the playoffs, but got crushed by Hallandale in the first round. Longtime former Central defensive coordinator Max Edwards takes over a younger group that should have enough talent to keep for a postseason berth again.
19. Plantation (8-4, regional semifinalist): The Colonels have won at least eight games each of the past three seasons and reached the second round of the playoffs. A move to Class 8A means no more St. Thomas Aquinas in the way, but a tough district nonetheless presents a challenge to returning to Plantation’s postseason hopes.
20. Coral Gables (9-3, 8A regional semifinalist): The Cavaliers failed to win their district and fell to Columbus in the second round of the playoffs ending a disappointing season that began with state championship expectations. Gables has enough firepower on both sides of the ball to make another playoff run, however.
Under consideration: Killian (12-1, regional finalist), Miami High (7-3), Gulliver (6-5, regional semifinalist), Belen Jesuit (8-4, regional semifinalist).