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MDVarsity.com answers that Friday as it finishes its countdown toward No. 1.
The items listed below will become live links as each segment of the previews is released. Check back daily, as one new conference will be added each day through early August.
Two teams that played in the final weekend of 2008, along with three private school state powers, comprise the MDVarsity.com preseason top five, with ESPN RISE FAB 50-ranked DeMatha at the top. Linganore was the Class 4A state runner-up last season, and Westlake was the 3A state champ. It is possible these teams could play in the 3A state final this year. The hierarchy among the private school trio of DeMatha, Gilman and Good Counsel will play itself out on the field as these teams all go head-to-head in 2009 for the first time.
In sizing up the preseason Top 25, the following factors are heavily weighed: quality of returning players, strength of schedule and reasonable season expectation and recent history.
The countdown continues:
5. Westlake (12-2 in 2008)
Although do-everything Devon Smith has taken his game to Penn State, defending Class 3A state champion Westlake remains loaded. The Wolverines return 13 starters from last year's team, including two of its best defensive players in linebacker Marcus Anderson and defensive back Antoine Reese. While last year's team was known more for its explosiveness thanks to Smith, who scored rushing, receiving and kick- and punt-return touchdowns, this year's team could be known for its defense. While Westlake will be favored in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference, there will be plenty of challengers on the schedule, especially McDonough, Huntingtown, North Point, Patuxent and Lackey.
Key Game: vs. North Point, Oct. 16
4. Gilman (6-4)
It might be surprising to see a team that finished 6-4 last season as the No. 4 team in this year's MDVarsity.com Preseason Top 25, but this Gilman team is loaded. Last year the Greyhounds defeated DeMatha, but faltered toward the end of the year. The team was young, but now appears ready to get back on top. Just look at the schedule: Gilman opens with Bear Creek (Lakewood, Colo.) and plays both DeMatha and Good Counsel this season -- and that is just the nonconference schedule. Gilman will still face Loyola, Mount St. Joseph and McDonogh. It is an odd thing to say, but by Week 4, the Greyhounds could be the No. 1 team in the state or out of the Top 25 altogether. If the Greyhounds go undefeated, expect to see them with No. 1 beside their name at the end of the year.
Key Game: vs. Bear Creek (Lakewood, Colo.), Sept. 5
3. Good Counsel (11-1)
Last year many thought Good Counsel had its best team, but the Falcons could be even better this season. A big-name national recruit like Jelani Jenkins may not reside in Olney this season, but that doesn't mean the Falcons aren't talented. More than seven players already have Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers, and the Falcons' schedule appears to be more difficult than DeMatha's. Good Counsel starts the season against Valhalla (El Cajon, Calif.), which has Arizona State commit Peter Thomas at quarterback. The Falcons will also play Mount St. Joseph and Gilman from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, along with DeMatha (likely twice again this year). If the Falcons go undefeated against that schedule, there would be little argument that they would be the best team in Maryland.
Key Game: vs. DeMatha, Oct. 9
2. Linganore (13-1)
With Linganore's late-season schedule, combined with the teams it will likely face in the Class 3A playoffs, the Lancers could have the toughest schedule in the state this season. Linganore ends the regular season with three straight teams that made the playoffs last year: Tuscarora, Thomas Johnson and Urbana. Running through the 3A West region -- where the Lancers could face a combination of Damascus, Seneca Valley, Clarksburg and/or Quince Orchard -- poses a daunting five-game run just to make it to the state semifinals. If any team is equipped to handle the task, it would be Linganore. The Lancers have nationally recruited athletes in Zach Zwinak and Robbie Havenstein, plus several other FBS prospects in offensive linemen Kyle Tucker and Kevin Saylor and receiver Ryan Dixon. With those players, combined with the return of Nick Marth and Ricky Conner at quarterback, Linganore looks to be the favorite to win Class 3A. If DeMatha falters this season and Linganore goes undefeated, the Lancers could be looking at their first state No. 1 final ranking in school history.
Key Game: at Thomas Johnson, Oct. 30
1. DeMatha (10-2)
The 2008 national signing day had not yet arrived when a prominent college coach told MDVarsity.com that DeMatha was going to be loaded in 2009. The Stags boast 10 athletes with multiple FBS offers -- something head coach Bill McGregor has never had in his 28 years in Hyattsville. DeMatha boasts a future FBS offensive line anchored by Arie-Manuel Kouandjio, Shane Johnson and Cyrus Kouandjio. The running backs are just as talented, with Marcus Coker, Austin Bailey and Lorenzo Waters all likely to get carries. The Stags look to avenge last season's regular-season losses to Gilman (Sept. 12) and Good Counsel (Oct. 9). The Stags have won six straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) championships and all but one this decade. It will be time to make room on the mantle for another one if they go undefeated this season.
Key Game: vs. Good Counsel, Oct. 9