The 2014 high school football season kicks off tonight with 78 teams from the Tampa Bay area on a quest for district, region and state titles. Here are five things you need to know about this season.
1. Winning a state title is getting harder
Remember a few years ago when folks started comparing the Tampa Bay area to Miami in terms of football quality?
Well, not so fast.
Last year, an unprecedented five of the eight state champions hailed from the Miami-Dade County area, and a sixth, Dwyer, was from Palm Beach.
Putting a dent in that dominance won't be any easier this season.
While there has been a crackdown on transferring in Hillsborough and Pasco counties — and a pipeline opened to Bradenton IMG, which has already claimed a handful of Tampa Bay's very best — South Florida recruitnik Larry Blustein said there were 135 transfers this offseason in the Miami area, fortifying powerhouses that lost players to graduation.
Good luck, fellas.
2. Tampa Bay is in a championship drought
From 2001-11, Tampa Bay teams combined to play in 18 state championship games, winning seven.
But in 2012, no one advanced for the first time in more than a decade.
And last year, Armwood and Clearwater Central Catholic made finals but were beaten by a combined 86-14.
Since 2000, here's how bay area teams fared:
2001: Chamberlain, runnerup
2002: Jefferson and Wharton, runnerup
2003: Armwood, champion
2004: Armwood, champion; Jefferson runnerup
2005: Armwood, runnerup
2006: Plant, champion
2007: Tampa Catholic, runnerup
2008: Plant, champion
2009: Plant, champion; Tampa Catholic, runnerup
2010: Jefferson, champion; Plant and Armwood, runnerup
2011: Plant, champion; Admiral Farragut, runnerup (Note: Armwood won the 6A title but later saw it voided because of various infractions)
2012: No team in finals
2013: Armwood and CCC, runnerup
3. So who can win it this year?
Armwood and CCC are expected to make it back to state finals. If they do, the teams that beat them last year will probably be waiting. Tampa Bay has a handful of teams that can make it all the way with a little bit of luck, but all will have to get past teams ranked among the state's top 25 — and some even nationally.
The locals in order of their chances to win a title:
1. Armwood in 6A
2. CCC in 3A
3. Indian Rocks Christian in 2A
4. Plant in 8A
5. Sickles in 7A
6. Lakewood in 5A
4. Same old, same old
When we look around, we see pretty much the same kind of season we saw last year.
But a few teams are poised to make a jump. Keep an eye on Berkeley Prep (3A), Bloomingdale (8A), Largo (6A), Pinellas Park (7A) and Tampa Bay Tech (7A). All had good 2013 seasons and return a bulk of their key playmakers. They might not be equipped to win a state championship. But if they can pull off a playoff upset or two, it would add a little spice to the season.
5. It's another banner year for recruits
Don't mistake the lack of a state title favorite for a lack of quality players.
In fact, this year only continues an impressive roll for the area in producing high-end recruits.
If you are a college football fan, there's a good chance your favorite team is recruiting a handful of players who are competing on Friday nights, making it worth your while to drop a few bucks to catch a game every now and then.
Tampa Bay is, quite simply, loaded with talent. Heck, we have the top recruit in the country — not just for this season, but the next season as well.
While Armwood's Byron Cowart tops Rivals' list for 2015, Tampa Catholic receiver Nate Craig is No. 1 for 2016.
Sickles running back Ray Ray McCloud III was recently awarded his fifth star by Rivals, a big deal to the kids.
Tampa Bay Tech quarterback Deon Cain is the top-rated receiver in the country, according to 247Sports.
And Blake defensive end Shavar Manuel is the No. 2 recruit in the country for 2016.
And that doesn't even include oral commitments such as Pasco's Bowman Archibald (Miami) and Andrew Ivie (Florida), Hillsborough's Dwayne Lawson (Miami) and Wharton's Auden Tate (Florida State).
Like we said, the class is loaded, and the one behind it isn't too shabby either.
Contact John C. Cotey at email@example.com. Follow @JohnnyHomeTeam.