Commentary

St. Thomas Aquinas impresses in final outing

Updated: December 22, 2008, 3:49 PM ET
By Doug Huff and Mark Tennis | ESPNRISE.com

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas' 56-7 win in last Friday's Florida Class 5A state championship isn't that the Raiders won by that score, but which team they did it against.

Lakeland -- the program, led by head coach Bill Castle, which wasnamed the mythical national champion just two years ago and the same team that had beaten St. Thomas Aquinas three straight years in state championship games from 2004 to 2006.

After an outing like that, there wasn't much doubt that the Raiders, who entered the game No. 1 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 national rankings, would maintain the top spot.

St. Thomas Aquinas becomes the third straight Florida team to end as the nation's No. 1 team in the FAB 50. The Raiders follow Lakeland from 2006 and Miami Northwestern from last year. Those three teams, however, broke a streak of 37 straight years in which the mythical national champion was not from Florida.

This year's St. Thomas Aquinas team was, in some respects, better than the last two Florida teams to finish No. 1 in the land. The Raiders didn't have any close games, although to be fair, they also didn't play an opponent as strong as Southlake Carroll of Texas (which Miami Northwestern played last year) or St. Xavier of Cincinnati (which Lakeland played in 2006).

Coach George Smith built a squad that was exceptional in every way: offense, defense, special teams, size up front, experience at quarterback, speed on the edges and execution.

It was thought that the Raiders would probably have their strongest team ever at the beginning of the season, as they were No. 4 in the preseason ESPN RISE FAB 50. They impressed at the Kirk Herbstreit Classic with a 35-24 win over Elder of Cincinnati, a team that would later make it into the Ohio Division I state final, and they had no trouble with Deerfield Beach in a much-anticipated regular season game.

In the playoffs, St. Thomas Aquinas posted a margin of victory of 231-46 and its average margin of victory in all games was 40 points.

With senior quarterback Ryan Becker (2,033 yards and 30 TDs), junior running back Giovanni Bernard (1,579 yards and 18 TDs) plus senior receiver Duron Carter (14 TD catches), there wasn't much the Raiders couldn't do on offense. The defense, meanwhile, was equally outstanding, led by senior linebacker Conor O'Neill (leading tackler and scored on interception return in state final) and junior safety Cody Riggs (8 interceptions). James White also scored 18 TDs while Ronnie Kennedy was a nightmare for opponents returning kickoffs and punts.

Past national champions

Here is a list of previous mythical national champions dating back to 1910. The FAB 50 national champions have been crowned since 1999. Before that, the mythical list is from the now-defunct National Sports News Service, which were the first and original national rankings begun by hobbyist Art Johlffs of Minnesota. The National Sports News Service lists were officially designated to be joined with the FAB 50 in 2004.

ESPN RISE national champions
2008--St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) 15-0
2007--Northwestern (Miami, Fla.) 15-0
2006--Lakeland (Lakeland, Fla.) 15-0
2005--Carroll (Southlake, Texas) 16-0
2004--Carroll (Southlake, Texas) 16-0
2003--De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 13-0
2002--De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 13-0
2001--De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 12-0
2000--De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 13-0
1999--Evangel Christian (Shreveport, La.) 15-0
1998--De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 12-0
1997--Hampton (Hampton, Va.) 13-0
1996--Hampton (Hampton, Va.) 14-0
1995--St. Ignatius (Cleveland, Ohio) 14-0
1994--De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 13-0
1993--St. Ignatius (Cleveland, Ohio) 14-0
1992--Valdosta (Valdosta, Ga.) 14-0
1991--Ben Davis (Indianapolis, Ind.) 14-0
1990--Aldine (Aldine, Texas) 15-0
1989--Permian (Odessa, Texas) 16-0
1988--Vigor (Prichard, Ala.) 13-0
1987--Fontana (Fontana, Calif.) 14-0
1986--Valdosta (Valdosta, Ga.) 15-0
1985--East St. Louis (East St. Louis, Ill.) 14-0
1984--Valdosta (Valdosta, Ga.) 15-0
1983--Berwick (Berwick, Pa.) 13-0
1982--Moeller (Cincinnati) 13-0
1981--Warner Robins (Warner Robins, Ga.) 15-0
1980--Moeller (Cincinnati) 13-0
1979--Moeller (Cincinnati) 12-0
1978--tie: Stratford (Houston, Texas) 15-0; and Annandale (Annandale, Va.) 14-0
1977--Moeller (Cincinnati) 12-0
1976--tie: Warner Robins (Warner Robins, Ga.) 12-0); and Moeller (Cincinnati) 12-0
1975--Loyola (Los Angeles, Calif.) 13-0
1974--Thomasville (Thomasville, Ga.) 12-1
1973--tie: John Tyler (Tyler, Texas) 15-0); and Baylor (Chattanooga, Tenn.) 13-0
1972--Permian (Odessa, Texas) 15-0: and Bristol (Bristol, Tenn.) 13-0
1971--Valdosta (Valdosta, Ga.) 13-0
1970--Reagan (Austin, Texas) 14-1
1969--tie: Blair (Pasadena, Calif.) 13-0; and Coral Gables (Coral Gables, Fla.) 10-0
1968--Reagan (Austin, Texas) 15-0
1967--tie: Coral Gables (Coral Gables, Fla.) 13-0; and Reagan (Austin, Texas) 14-0
1966--El Rancho (Pico Rivera, Calif.) 13-0
1965--Miami Senior (Miami, Fla.) 12-0
1964--Coral Gables (Coral Gables, Fla.) 12-0
1963--St. Rita (Chicago, Ill.) 9-0
1962--Valdosta (Valdosta, Ga.) 12-0
1961--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 11-0
1960--Lawrence (Lawrence, Kan.) 9-0
1959--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1958--Jefferson (Portland, Ore.) 12-0
1957--tie: Little Rock Central (Little Rock, Ark.) 12-0; and Jefferson (Portland, Ore.) 11-0
1956--Abilene (Abilene, Texas) 14-0
1955--San Diego (San Diego, Calif.) 12-0
1954--Vallejo (Vallejo, Calif.) 9-0
1953--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1952--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1951--Weymouth (Weymouth, Mass.) 9-0
1950--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1949--Wichita Falls (Wichita Falls, Texas) 14-0
1948--Waco (Waco, Texas) 14-0
1947--tie: Classical ( Lynn, Mass.) 11-1; and Roosevelt (East Chicago, Ind.) 9-0
1946--Little Rock Central (Little Rock, Ark.) 14-0
1944-45--none named.
1943--Miami (Miami, Fla.) 9-0
1942--Miami (Miami, Fla.) 9-0
1941--Leo (Chicago, Ill.) 11-0
1940--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1939--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1938--Manual (Louisville, Ky.) 10-0
1937--Austin (Chicago, Ill.) 10-0
1936--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1935--Massillon Washington (Massillon, Ohio) 10-0
1934--Canton McKinley (Canton, Ohio) 11-0
1933--Capitol Hill (Oklahoma City, Okla.) 12-0
1932--Toledo Waite (Toledo, Ohio) 12-0
1931--Ashland (Ashland, Ky.) 10-0
1930--Phoenix Union (Phoenix, Ariz.) 12-0
1929--Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) 9-0
1928--Medford (Medford, Ore.) 9-0
1927--Waco (Waco, Texas) 14-0
1926--Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) 9-0
1925--Pine Bluff (Pine Bluff, Ark.) 16-0
1924--Toledo Waite (Toledo, Ohio) 10-0
1923--tie: Toledo Scott (Toledo, Ohio) 10-0; and Shaw (East Cleveland, Ohio) 9-1
1922--Toledo Scott (Toledo, Ohio) 9-0
1921--Duval (Jacksonville, Fla.) 8-0
1920--Tie: Oak Park (Oak Park, Ill.) 9-0-1; and Everett (Everett, Wash.) 9-0-1
1919--Harrisburg Tech (Harrisburg, Pa.) 12-0
1918--Harrisburg Tech (Harrisburg, Pa.) 9-0
1917--none named.
1916--San Diego (San Diego, Calif.) 12-0
1915--tie: Everett (Everett, Mass.) 11-0-1; and Detroit Central (Detroit) 11-0-1
1914--Everett (Everett, Mass.) 13-0
1913--Oak Park (Oak Park, Ill.) 10-1
1912--Oak Park (Oak Park, Ill.) 10-0
1911--Oak Park (Oak Park, Ill.) 10-0
1910--Oak Park (Oak Park, Ill.) 10-2

Mark Tennis is the deputy sports editor of ESPN RISE. Doug Huff is a senior editor of ESPN RISE.