Pardon me while I just steal a little from past intros on how we picked Tampa Bay's best football team. The ones that mention how once again our choices for No. 1 came down to Plant and Armwood, how one team had the tiniest of advantages over the other. Throw in a crack about it being this way since 2007, and follow that with something about East Lake making a charge, Largo having title hopes, Lakewood boasting so much talent, and Tampa Bay Tech looking to the make the leap. That's right: the usual suspects have taken over our top 25 for 2014.
Last year: 14-1, Class 6A state runnerup
This week: vs. Durant, 7:30
Lowdown: Yes, Armwood lost in the preseason to Plant; but this is still Tampa Bay's best team. The loss of receiver Trevor Laurent (transfer to Charlotte last week) puts a sizable dent in the passing attack, but the running game and defense should get the Hawks through.
Last year: 10-2, Class 8A state semifinalist
This week: at Lowndes (Ga.), 9
Lowdown: Mixed reviews for new starting quarterback Rex Culpepper, but the Panthers are strong enough in other areas to bring the new signal caller along.
Last year: 11-2, Class 7A region finalist
This week: vs. Robinson, 7:30
Lowdown: A rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and an interception? If Friday's preseason win was any indication, Ray Ray McCloud III is going to have one of the greatest seasons in Tampa Bay history.
4. East Lake
Last year: 13-1, Class 7A region finalist
This week: vs. Palm Harbor University, 7:30
Lowdown: For a team that graduates its MVP every season, the Eagles sure do a bang-up job of restocking the cupboard with new stars.
5. Clearwater Central Catholic
Last year: 11-3, Class 3A state runnerup
This week: vs. Naples Lely, 7:30
Lowdown: Scored 43 points against a very good Countryside team. Without C.J. Cotman. Need we say more? (Well, maybe we should mention the defense gave up 35, but for now, let's focus on the positive).
Last year: 8-3, Class 6A region quarterfinalist
This week: vs. Northeast, 7:30
Lowdown: The Packers may lack the running game they have featured the past decade, but Jonathan Crawford is going to catch a whole lot of passes from Donavan Hale to probably make up for it.
Last year: 10-4, Class 5A state semifinalist
This week: vs. Countryside, 7:30
Lowdown: The Spartans gained, then lost a couple of key pieces, but quarterback Ryan Davis returns and that's enough to convince us there will be another Oscar-winning season at Hollywood High.
8. Pinellas Park
Last year: 10-2, Class 7A region semifinalist
This week: at Boca Ciega, 7:30
Lowdown: The Patriots unveiled an Air Crawford-esque attack Friday, but we think the coach was just having some fun. Look for the area's most productive rushing attack to hit the ground running this week.
Last year: 7-4, Class 5A region quarterfinalist
This week: vs. Sunlake, 7:30
Lowdown: The Pirates have two Division I commitments (Bowman Archibald, Andrew Ivie) anchoring what will be a top defense, and look for new weapons to emerge on offense. We're pretty sure the Pirates will be better than you think they are going to be.
10. Tampa Bay Tech
Last year: 6-4
This week: at Newsome, 7:30
Lowdown: We vowed not to buy into the Titans again this season. We've been hurt too many times. But here we are again, front row, bandwagon, excitedly watching quarterback Deon Cain scramble for a first down.
Rest of the top 25
13. Plant City
18. Berkeley Prep
19. Tampa Catholic
20. Land O'Lakes
21. Indian Rocks Christian
22. East Bay
(tie) 25. Springstead
(tie) 25. Tarpon Springs
For more tidbits on our 11-25 teams, visit tampabay.com/hometeam.