It’s the third weekend in August, which can only mean one thing: It’s time for ESPN’s annual high school football kickoff to get the prep football season started in a very big way.
Over the course of three days, ESPN will televise 10 games that feature a whopping nine state champions, four of whom start the season in the USA Today Super 25, which will serve as the exclusive rankings for ESPN’s high school football coverage in 2014.
There’s no time to dilly dally with all of these subplots simmering, so let’s get right into the action. Here’s what to look for this weekend:
FRIDAY, AUGUST 22
Byrnes (S.C.) vs. Northwestern (S.C.), 6 p.m., ESPNU: There’s no way to start the season like reigniting a major rivalry, and this South Carolina face off accomplishes just that. Northwestern is the back-to-back defending Class 4A state champion in South Carolina; Byrnes was eliminated in the semifinals in 2013. This year, Byrnes thinks it can go a round better, but they’ll have to prove that they can compete with the big boys right off the bat, taking on a reloaded Northwestern squad on the road in Rock Hill.
Leeds (Ala.) vs. Madison Academy (Ala.), 9 p.m. ESPNU: The first of a few public-private face offs on opening weekend, this serves as a straight rematch of the 2013 Alabama Class 3A state title game. Madison won that face-off 31-14, and they’ll enter this game liking their chances at home. Consider: Madison Academy has won 25 straight games and they have the best athlete in the game in Kerryon Johnson, a top-25 national recruit and Auburn commit. There’s no reason to believe that Leeds should win this game, but that doesn’t mean they won’t, and quarterback TaDarryl Johnson, who started in 2013 as a sophomore, will have a big say in whether Leeds can compete.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 23
No. 8 Miami Central (Fla.) vs. No. 7 Hoover (Ala.), 12 p.m. ESPN: This is the biggest of the big guns in an old fashioned street brawl. Both teams enter ranked in the Top-10 of the Super 25 and both have a legitimate shot at running the table and putting a compelling case forward for a national title … provided they can win on Saturday. While Miami Central was strong on both sides of the ball in 2013, the 2014 squad is so loaded on defense that it takes the look of the 1986 Bears. Two of the team’s starting defensive backs are top Division I recruits, another future DI starter anchors the linebacking corps and the defensive line could be among the best in Florida. While the offense could be a work in progress, if it fails it won’t be for a lack of athletic talent. Meanwhile, Hoover will do what Hoover does, using its loaded, SEC-future star defense and a crisp offense to execute clinical game plans to perfection. If the Bucs are on point, it will be very hard for Miami Central to win this game on the road.
Westover (Ga.) vs. Lee County (Ga.), 1 p.m. ESPNU: This game may not have the name cache of Miami Central vs. Hoover, but it does have one of the top recruits in the nation in Westover defensive tackle Trenton Thompson. Add in a heated rivalry that most recently saw Lee County win a heated 2013 contest, and you have a recipe for a fine Southern football fracas.
Niceville (Fla.) vs. Clay-Chalkville (Ala.), 4 p.m. ESPNU: This game will immediately follow the ballyhooed Miami Central-Hoover game at Bucs Stadium, so neither team is truly on home soil. Still, both teams are coming off a bitter conclusion to 2013 — Niceville fell in the Florida Class 7A title game, Clay-Chalkville in the second round in Alabama — and both have very hard schedules ahead. Ergo, neither can afford to fall in a season opener. Put those factors together and you get a high stakes desert course served in the Hoover heat. Mmmmm, good.
No. 11 Booker T. Washington (Fla.) vs. Oscar Smith (Va.), 9 p.m. ESPNU: Tornado warning! Booker T. is coming off the 2013 Super 25 national championship and a Florida Class 4A state title. So they start the 2014 campaign ranked … 11th? The disrespect! Actually, there are good reasons to doubt BTW’s title credentials, mainly because most the 2013 squad is off playing college football. That’s not to say that the 2014 Tornadoes can’t do it, too, particularly after landing a triumvirate of top tier transfers from Homestead. No one knows if the BTW squad will gel, but the early signs are good; it won the NFL’s National 7-on-7 title earlier this summer. Oscar Smith is no pushover, either, and features defensive lineman Josh Sweat (see highlights below), one of the nation’s top overall recruits who just may be the next Jadeveon Clowney. Oscar Smith enters the 2014 campaign just outside the Super 25, but a win here at home would definitely push them into the rankings, and decisively. Guess you have a date for Saturday night now, huh?
Trinity Christian (Fla.) vs. No. 24 Buford (Ga.), 9 p.m. ESPN2: Both of these teams are returning state champions, so they’ll enter with plenty of confidence. Trinity Christian returns five, count them, five top Division I recruits. Buford will spend a lot of the game running and passing behind top offensive lineman Blake Ferguson, who will expected to make an impact at LSU soon. Trinity will certainly ensure that Ferguson and his teammates will have to make a major impact at home if they hope to field a second-straight undefeated season.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 24
Oakland (Tenn.) vs. Blackman (Tenn.), 12 p.m. ESPN2: This is a rematch of a heated third round state playoff game, so you know that both teams have skin in the game. Blackman won the 2013 edition, but star linebacker Josh Smith and his Oakland teammates are confident they can avenge their only loss of the 2013 campaign in their first game of 2014.
Dwyer (Fla.) vs. American Heritage (Fla.), 3 p.m. ESPN: This game has become an annual fixture, with American Heritage using a 2013 early season victory as a launchpad for a state title. Dwyer also earned a title, and returns top wide receiver Tavares Martin to take the next step in 2014. They’ll have to contain the ever explosive Torrance Gibson, a consensus top-20 overall recruit in the Class of 2015, if they’re to finish in front of an American Heritage squad competing on its home turf.
Nixa (Mo.) vs. Helias (Mo.), 4:30 p.m., ESPNU: Nixa is a state superpower. It almost never loses. That’s why it’s setback in the third round of the 2013 state playoffs still iks the program. For Helias, a state title was right there, but still eventually elusive, with the squad falling short in the Class 4 state title game. Hale Hentges, a future Alabama tight end, is determined not to let that happen again, and his teammates will like their chances in this season opener on their Jefferson City campus.