|Freedom at Wharton||Sickles at Leto||Chamberlain at Gaither||Robinson at Alonso||Hillsborough at Jefferson|
|Last week: Freedom defeated Zephyrhills 37-0; Wharton lost to Plant 42-7.
Last year: Wharton defeated Freedom 20-0.
The skinny: The Patriots used their preseason game to declare they aren't the same team that went 1-9 last year. Quarterback Josh Grady is more experienced and the Freedom defense may be vastly improved. Wharton, meanwhile, shouldn't be too deflated by its exhibition spanking at the hands of state-title contender Plant. The Wildcats were a playoff team a year ago and return a capable defense.
The edge: Freedom upset Wharton two seasons ago while the Wildcats shut out their neighborhood rivals last season. This one should be somewhere in between — Freedom will be better but it still has to prove it. Wharton wins, but not by a lot.
|Last week: Sickles lost to Brandon 14-13; Leto lost to Spoto 18-16.
Last year: Sickles defeated Leto 28-6.
The skinny: The ball is over for Cinderella Sickles after its first winning and playoff season a year ago. The Gryphons are solid at quarterback with Cullen O'Brien returning but graduated a number of playmakers and key members of their offensive line. Leto is looking for continued improvement it showed in its preseason game. The Falcons will unleash a solid running game on the Sickles defense.
The edge: Sickles rebuilding project appears to be a little ahead of Leto's. Gryphons top Falcons again.
Last week: Chamberlain defeated Jesuit 35-20; Gaither defeated Durant 27-7.
Last year: Chamberlain defeated Gaither 41-17 in the regular season and 24-8 in the Class 5A region semifinals.
The skinny: A matchup of arguably the top teams in the North of Tampa area. Both are solid offensively: Chamberlain has do-it-all quarterback Dontae Aycock and running back Kenny Allen, coming off a 200-yard exhibition performance against Jesuit. Gaither has the experience of signal caller Kamren Hawkins and the home run threat of speedy tailback Jarvis Giles. In a contest of strong offenses, the defense might decide this one.
The edge: As evenly matched as these squads are, an intangible may be the difference. Gaither, which lost twice to Chamberlain last season, hasn't defeated the Chiefs since the 2000 season. That's eight straight setbacks to their rival. That's plenty motivation — Gaither finally solves Chamberlain.
|Last week: Robinson lost to St. Petersburg 47-12; Alonso defeated Countryside 27-21.
Last year: Alonso defeated Robinson 24-6.
The Skinny: Robinson struggled mightily in its preseason contest, scoring only on a kick return and a long offensive run. Other than that, the Knights didn't show much consistency. Alonso, on the other hand, has an experienced quarterback in Bennett who can throw and run (55 yards on eight carries against Countryside). The Ravens defense is not bad either with all-state lineman Demonte McAllister manning the middle.
The edge: Bennett and the Ravens get the season off on the right foot, winning big against the Knights.
|Last week: Hillsborough defeated Lakewood 30-18; Jefferson defeated Titusville Astronaut 21-9.
Last year: Hillsborough defeated Jefferson 43-20.
The skinny: Jefferson once again embarks on its treacherous schedule, starting off with the Terriers, a program with nine straight playoff appearances. The Dragons bring some weapons into the season with sophomore quarterback Quentin Williams and senior running back Dominique Johnson. A playoff team a year ago, the Dragons are still solid despite only winning five games in '07.
The edge: The Dragons always play a tough schedule. Sooner or later they will start winning some of those games, but it won't be tonight. The Terriers take it.
Going into a preseason game against Countryside, Alonso coach Mike Heldt wanted to get a good look at his running game. The Ravens didn't exactly set the world on fire against the Cougars on ground in their 27-21 win. But their passing game looked like it was in midseason form.
Junior quarterback and now full-time starter C.J. Bennett completed 23 of 34 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters of work. He spread the ball around to seven receivers and had a 45-yard scoring strike called back because of a penalty.
That's good news for the Ravens, which finished 5-5 a season ago and missed the playoffs. Bennett got plenty of on-the-job training during the second half of the season in 2007. And after a full spring and summer of preparation, Bennett looks prepared to helm the Alonso offense.
"He played well, but you don't want to have to throw that much," Heldt said after the win against Countryside. "We have to work on our running game before the next game."
That next game is tonight, as Alonso hosts Robinson in its season opener. Other opening night contests include three games pitting north Hillsborough teams against each other, in addition to Jefferson hosting powerhouse rival Hillsborough.
All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.