Miami-Dade High Schools

The Miami Herald’s South Florida top 20

Here’s a look at The Miami Herald’s first high school football rankings of the new season.

( NOTE: Last season’s records listed in parenthesis.)

1. St. Thomas Aquinas (11-3): With new additions and key returning starters, the Raiders are primed to make a run at their ninth state title and third mythical national title.

2. American Heritage (14-1): Fresh off its first state championship, the Patriots return stronger and poised to repeat in Class 5A while making their own potential climb up the national rankings.

3. Booker T. Washington (14-0): A lot of new faces in key places for the defending national champs, but that doesn’t mean a drop in talent level.

4. Central (13-1): Losing Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook would hurt any team. The Rockets can lean on one of the nation’s best defenses in the early going until the offense comes around.

5. Miramar (13-1): The noticeable difference is the absence of former coach Damon Cogdell, now at West Virginia. The Patriots arguably still have the best team in the region and maybe throughout wide open Class 8A.

6. Coral Gables (11-2): The Cavaliers posted their best record last year since 1985. Can they turn back the clocks to the 1960s and win their first state title since the glory days of legendary coach Nick Kotys?

7. Flanagan (9-2): The lime green jerseys and the louder and more talented Falcons can threaten Miramar and the rest of the region for a chance to reach state.

8. Monarch (8-3): Two Alabama commits in Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker are the big names, but the Knights have plenty of talent around them and enough to make a run in Class 8A.

9. Carol City (7-4): The Chiefs are back to contender status. Playoffs look very possible even in tough District 16-6A. But can they ultimately challenge Central for a bigger prize down the stretch?

10. Hallandale (8-2): Last season, a promising start fizzled with a pair of costly district losses. The district is still tough, but so are the Chargers.

11. Columbus (7-5): All the preseason hype about Gables, Miramar, Flanagan, Monarch might be irritating the Explorers, who feel they will be right in the thick of the race to Orlando come December.

12. Killian (7-5): Star athlete Jaquan Johnson is a senior leading a young Cougars squad. Coach Cory Johnson always gets the best from his bunch and figure this to be another year Killian is a contender.

13. Gulliver (7-4): The Raiders likely have their most talented team since its state runner-up season in 2008. The problem is Booker T. Washington is in the way.

14. Champagnat Catholic (14-0): The Lions will have a hard time going undefeated again, but they are way too talented not to be the clear favorite to repeat in Class 2A.

15. Westminster Christian (11-2): The last ride together for Tim Irvin, Jordan Cronkrite and the rest of the core group of Warriors that have made this team one of the best in the state.

16. Plantation (8-3): Coach Steve Davis lost several players to graduation, but his teams are always talented and well-coached enough to make another playoff run.

17. Deerfield Beach (11-1): Losing Brandon Powell hurts, but the Bucks still have a very good offensive line and star defensive end Jason Strowbridge potentially leading them back to the postseason.

18. South Dade (14-1): The defending Class 8A champs were hit hard by graduation and had a few key players transfer out. But the upcoming class is talented enough to keep the Bucs in contention.

19. Coconut Creek (5-5): Probably the most improved team in Broward County has offensive weapons enough to compete for a playoff spot in tough District 15-6A.

20. Blanche Ely (6-6): The Tigers have several excellent skill players and should still be the favorite to win District 14-7A.

ON THE BUBBLE (in no particular order)

Dillard (8-4): The Panthers got hit hard by graduation, but expect them to be in the district race with Hallandale, Boynton Beach and Coconut Creek.

Norland (3-7): The Vikings should recover from their worst season in quite some time.

Cypress Bay (6-4): Always well-coached and must be taken seriously in the District 12-8A title race.

Cardinal Gibbons (8-3): A solid defense and running game will keep the Chiefs in playoff contention.

Northwestern (5-5): A new coaching staff hopes to revitalize this proud program and push them back to the playoffs.

Southwest (9-2): The Eagles are expected to win their district for the third year in a row. Will they live up to it and can they finally win a playoff game?

North Miami (9-2): Following a turnaround season for the Pioneers, they hope to repeat as district champs and take things a step further in the playoffs.