At football season's midway point it's time to take stock of some of the North Suncoast's top teams and where they stand in terms of the playoff hunt.
Hudson (3-2, 1-0)
Roadblocks: Tarpon Springs (Oct. 30); Wiregrass Ranch (Nov. 6)
Road thus far: Losses to Gulf and Berkeley Prep did no harm to the Cobras' playoff hopes. Hudson's offense isn't an issue. The Cobras have pretty much shown that behind quarterback Zack Wynn (1,251 yards, 13 TDs) and receiver James Tello (44 catches, 623 yards), they can move the ball on just about anyone.
Final verdict: Contender. Winning the district will be difficult, because Tarpon Springs looks to be far and away the top squad. But after that, Hudson appears to be the team to beat for second.
Mitchell (6-0, 3-0)
Roadblocks: Pasco (Oct. 30); Land O'Lakes (Nov. 6)
Road thus far: Under first-year coach Brian Wachtel, the Mustangs are off to a great start. But Mitchell has yet to face a great team. Still, how can you not be impressed with what they've done? Behind tailback Ricky Trinidad, who leads the county in rushing with 1,023 yards, Mitchell has one of the area's top offenses. And its defense has allowed only 12 points per game..
Final verdict: Pretender. As well as the Mustangs have played, they might not be at the level where they can knock off Pasco or Land O'Lakes, both of whom look capable of going far into the playoffs.
Wiregrass Ranch (4-1, 1-0)
Roadblocks: Tarpon Springs (Oct. 23); Hudson (Nov. 6)
Road thus far: The Bulls captivated the county with a pair of wins, then left many scratching their heads after a 23-8 loss to Wesley Chapel. Wiregrass was without running back Josh Johnson for all but two plays of the first half with a mild concussion. Since his return, the Bulls have rattled off two more wins, including a 14-7 victory at district foe Crystal River.
Final verdict: Pretender. First-year coach Jeremy Shobe proved he could guide the Bulls through a tough road environment. Traveling to Tarpon Springs is another matter. The game against Hudson could be for a playoff berth. And as of now, that game appears a toss-up.
Land O'Lakes (5-0, 3-0)
Roadblocks: at Pasco (Oct. 23); at Mitchell (Nov. 6)
Road thus far: The combined records of the Gators' first five opponents is 6-22. None of those teams has a winning record. And with a roster stocked full of talent including Division I prospects, Gary Myrick and Stevie Weatherford, the Gators should win those games.
Final verdict: Contender. The Gators face a tough task with four of their final five regular-season games on the road, beginning tonight at Wesley Chapel. There are no gimmes with arguably the most anticipated Pasco County game of the season at Pasco next week. But Land O'Lakes has made a habit of making the playoffs and this year should be no exception.
Pasco (4-1, 3-0)
Roadblocks: Land O'Lakes (Oct. 23); at Mitchell (Oct. 30)
Road thus far: The Pirates' lone loss, a 32-7 wake-up call at South Sumter, was a good road lesson against a state title contender. Since then, the Pirates outscored Zephyrhills and Gulf a combined 86-7.
Final verdict: Contender. Wins over Plantation American Heritage and a 38-0 shutout of the Buccaneers show the Pirates are again for real. Quarterback D.J. Clower has shown the poise of a veteran leader, and various weapons including the emergence of freshman Janarion Grant, have solidified Pasco's depth.
Nature Coast (4-1, 2-1)
Roadblocks: Dunnellon (Friday); Hernando (Nov. 6)
Road thus far: The Sharks have been difficult to decipher. The scoreboards tell stories of close games, but coach Mark Lee says many of those games were not as close as the final tally. Nature Coast's past three games have been decided by nine points or fewer, including a 7-6 loss to Crystal River. That setback threatened to unravel the season, but back-to-back victories have them in position to still win the district.
Final verdict: Contender. The first step is taking care of Dunnellon on Friday. A big win against a true playoff contender would be a loud statement to an audience wondering if Nature Coast is good or simply fortunate.
Sunlake (2-3, 2-1)
Roadblocks: Mitchell (Oct. 23); at Land O'Lakes (Oct. 30); at Pasco (Nov. 6)
Road thus far: The Seahawks were within field goal range of picking up their third consecutive victory last week. Instead, they fell 27-21 to Wesley Chapel and dropped to the middle tier of 3A-7.
Final verdict: Pretender. Sunlake has made great strides and on any given night the Seahawks are in the game. But the second half of the season is a monster. Sunlake still faces three of the top teams in 3A-7.
Hernando (3-2, 2-1)
Roadblocks: Leesburg (Friday); Nature Coast (Nov. 6)
Road thus far: The Leopards are another one of those head-scratcher teams. They opened with a 26-25 overtime loss to rebuilding Springstead. But a 21-point win over Crystal River, which defeated Nature Coast by one, was an attention getter, as was a 10-point win last week against Tavares.
Final verdict: Pretender. Coach John Palmer, left, and the Leopards have made great strides, but the lack of a true passing game will catch up to them. The playoffs could be a matter of knocking off Nature Coast, which would signify a shift in Hernando County power. But the Leopards have a tough game Friday against Leesburg followed by Citrus.