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  1. Sports

HomeTeam 25: Football rankings, Week 1

1. Plant (11-2 in 2014)

This week's opponent: at Colquitt County (Ga.)

Scoop: Despite the season-ending injury to starting quarterback Rex Culpepper and inexperience on the offensive line, the Panthers still hold down the No. 1 spot thanks to returning starters in key positions and the vast potential in new players like WR Juwan Burgess and LB Thomas Allen. Plant faces an uphill battle in getting an inexperienced quarterback ready for a tough schedule, but it's nothing the squad — which has lost great quarterbacks to injury before — hasn't been able to overcome in the past.

2. Armwood (14-2)

This week's opponent: vs. Plant City

Scoop: Armwood may have lost most of its highly-ranked defense from 2014 and a quarterback who was the definition of consistency, but the Hawks are still riding a two-year state championship appearance streak, and they should rebuild just fine. Helping in that process will be the return of Trevor Laurent, who joins a wide receiving corps that has the talent to make a big statement, alongside a pair of running backs in Erin Collins and Brian Snead who could have breakout seasons.

3. Jefferson (6-4)

This week's opponent: vs. Tampa Bay Tech

Scoop: Jefferson had an uncharacteristic down year in 2014, but it appears the Dragons are back. And this season, they could be the team to beat in Hillsborough County. The Dragons return talent all over the field, but especially under center in junior quarterback Cade Weldon, who still threw for more than 2,000 yards in his first season as a varsity starter. Now that he's got a year under his belt and talented wide receivers, the potential for Jefferson's offense is limitless.

4. Hillsborough (9-2)

This week's opponent: at Durant

Scoop: Sure, the Terriers are replacing a three-year starter and Division-I signee under center, but they've still got some offensive weapons in wide receivers Rudy Dawson III and Duran Bell Jr., and their defense could be equally strong, headlined by four-star DE Zach Carter. As long as Lawrence Dawsey Jr. can distribute the ball, Hillsborough should still be in good shape.

5. East Lake (13-1)

This week's opponent: at Palm Harbor University

Scoop:The Eagles, who made the state semifinals each of the past two seasons, are fielding one of their youngest teams in years after graduating a good chunk of the starting lineup, including receiver George Campbell (FSU) and linebacker Carson Lydon (Virginia Tech). Though there are not as many big-time recruits, East Lake still has talent. Running back Xavier Jackson and receiver Bryce Miller are poised for big seasons, and the offensive line, led by Julian Santos, is big and powerful. Linebacker Jake Hansen will lead a young defense that keeps improving.

6. Sickles (8-4)

This week's opponent: vs. Alonso

Scoop: Sickles looked shaky in its spring jamboree, but the Gryphons appeared to have worked out all the kinks during the summer. They will look a lot different than usual this season, relying on a strong passing game and transfer quarterback Chris Oladokun instead of Clemson signee Ray Ray McCloud III, who was their go-to source of offensive production the past three years. But Sickles should be able to make it work, especially with an offensive line as big and talented as the one it has and a defense that returns last year's county sack leader, Cameron Miller.

7. Robinson (4-6)

This week's opponent: at Blake

Scoop: Robinson has been the definition of mediocrity since it's state semifinal run in 2012, but this season — as evidenced by their come-from-behind preseason victory against Pinellas Park in the preseason — the Knights could break that trend. Starting quarterback Malik Tyson looks like a totally different player than he was last year, and if he can get the ball to standout receiver Iyan Mitchell, they should have no trouble putting points on the board.

8. Clearwater Central Catholic (11-2)

This week's opponent: at Berkeley Prep

Scoop: After making the state semifinals each of the past two seasons, the Marauders have gone through a roster makeover, graduating 23 seniors from last year's team. But the starting lineup, albeit young, still is capable of another deep playoff run. In the spring, CCC lost to Clearwater by five despite missing 15 players, including star receiver C.J. Cotman. Last week, the Marauders beat Bradenton Bayshore 37-0. Quarterback Jakob Parks has looked sharp so far and the ground game, led by Rashaad Stewart, could be among the best in the area. The defense will be led by defensive lineman John Chiaramonte, a transfer from Calvary Christian, and linebacker Max Kligman.

9. Tampa Catholic (4-8)

This week's opponent: vs. Indian Rocks Christian

Scoop: There's been a lot of movement in and out of Tampa Catholic since the last time the Crusaders took the field for a regular-season game, but it seems as if they've made a net gain. While the defense — which lost Tre McKitty and Malik Barrow to IMG Academy — could be spotty and inexperienced at times, we expect the Crusaders' bevy of offensive skills players to more than make up for it.

10. East Bay (4-6)

This week's opponent: at Freedom

Scoop: Sure, it was only one half of football and in the preseason. But the Indians' 15-13 victory against Hillsborough said a lot. As usual, East Bay has a good group of running backs, led by junior Anthony Hollingshed, who rushed for 104 yards in a second preseason half against Armwood. But the Indians' offensive line is also strong, and three-star cornerback KJ Sails should hold down the defensive fort with relative ease.

11. Clearwater (4-6)

This week's opponent: vs. Tarpon Springs

Scoop: The Tornadoes are a combined 4-16 the past two seasons but after an impressive offseason in 7-on-7 tournaments and wins against private school powers Clearwater Central Catholic in the spring and Indian Rocks Christian in last week's kickoff classic, they are expected to become a serious district title contender. Quarterback Garrison Bryant directs an offense loaded at the skill positions, with running back Adarius Lemons, receiver Jacquez Jones and tight end Kane Taylor all projected to post big numbers.

12. Pinellas Park (8-3)

This week's opponent: at Osceola

Scoop: The Patriots have made the playoffs four straight seasons and are a combined 31-14 during that span. For Pinellas Park to keep that streak alive, it will have to get plenty of production from newcomers at the skill positions all while holding off East Lake, Countryside and St. Petersburg in one of the area's toughest districts (7A-9). In the kickoff classic, Rodiez Newsome scored twice on the ground, and Zamari Maxwell had a touchdown catch and an interception in a loss to Robinson.

13. Countryside (7-3)

This week's opponent: at Dixie Hollins

Scoop: The Cougars are trying to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball to get it done. Quarterback Trent Chmelik is in his second season as a full-time starter and will be throwing often to receiver Kee Whetzel and tight end Chris Barrett. The defense will be tough, led by lineman Alex Pollock, linebacker Thomas Roman and defensive back Felix Dixon. The Cougars have been strong in beating Citrus in the spring and Alonso in last week's kickoff classic by a combined 83-13.

14. Tampa Bay Tech (8-6)

This week's opponent: at Jefferson

Scoop: Deon Cain and his nearly 3,000 yards of offense won't be an easy thing to replace. Retaining athletes like Daquon Green and Marchalo Judge, however, should make that transition a little bit easier for the Titans. Their offense may not be nearly as explosive as it was with the Clemson signee under center, but we expect Tampa Bay Tech to still be able to get the job done, as it proved it could do with a 44-0 shutout of Blake in the preseason.

15. River Ridge (10-2)

This week's opponent: vs. Mitchell

Scoop: Last season, the Royal Knights made the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and won their first playoff game in school history. River Ridge has a good chance to keep that momentum going due in large part to the return of Chris Schwarz, who rushed for 2,689 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. So far, Schwarz has picked up where he left off, rushing for a combined 461 yards in the spring game against Tampa Catholic and last week's kickoff classic against Braden River. With a favorable schedule, Schwarz is a threat to break the 3,000-yard plateau this season.

16. Pasco (6-4)

This week's opponent: vs. Lakeland Victory Christian

Scoop: The Pirates' seven-year streak of making the playoffs ended last season. There are more than enough playmakers to get them back to the postseason with quarterback Michael Penix, receiver/defensive back Jayvaughn Myers, offensive/defensive lineman Jamal Mention and tight end/defensive end Nick Bryant leading the way. The offense has been explosive, combining for 108 points in wins against Wiregrass Ranch in the spring and Ridgewood in the kickoff classic.

17. Indian Rocks Christian (12-1)

This week's opponent: at Tampa Catholic

Scoop: The Golden Eagles should be just fine on offense. Zeke McGaughy and Theo Anderson both looked in midseason form in the preseason game against Clearwater. And newcomer Ty Majlik gives quarterback Garrett Ross-Johnson a big target at receiver. IRC may struggle a bit on defense after several key players graduated. And many Eagles play both ways, so stamina could be a season-long problem. IRC was sloppy against Clearwater, with two fumbles near the goal line, but that should get worked out.

18. Jesuit (8-5)

This week's opponent: at Lakewood Ranch

Scoop: Two words: Malik. Davis. The junior running back — who could break McCloud's all-time leading rusher record in Hillsborough County with two more seasons like he had last year — carried the Tigers' offense in 2014 and will likely do the same this year, too. The only difference is that Jesuit might give him more support with its passing game. Coach Matt Thompson is excited about new starting quarterback Daniel Boon, and we can see why after his two touchdown performance in the Tigers' preseason victory against Strawberry Crest.

19. Mitchell (6-5)

This week's opponent: at River Ridge

Scoop: The Mustangs return their most productive players from last year's team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Quarterback Larry Dalla Betta takes over as the full-time starter and has the luxury of throwing to a pair of experienced receivers in J.J. Lewis and Dominic Fiumara. On defense, Devontay Taylor is playing a bigger role as a pass-rushing specialist and had three sacks in last week's kickoff classic against Palm Harbor University. A big test comes this week against River Ridge in a huge rivalry game.

20. Plant City (4-6-1)

This week's opponent: at Armwood

Scoop: There are few teams in Hillsborough County that have as much potential as the Raiders, with star-quality skill players like Markese Hargrove and TJ Chase on the roster. Living up to those expectations, however, will be Plant City's biggest task. One of the biggest question marks could be quarterback Corey King, who had just 516 yards passing in seven games last season. Still, he was fairly accurate, completing 39-of-60.

21. Lennard (8-3)

This week's opponent: vs. Spoto

Scoop:The Longhorns came out of nowhere last season, posting a program-best record after winning just one game in the combined two seasons before that. And since they start the season with a returning quarterback who put Lennard on the map in the first place, a revitalized group of assistant coaches and a district more favorable to obtaining a postseason berth, Lennard deserves a spot in the Week 1 rankings.

22. Nature Coast (6-4)

This week's opponent: vs. Bradenton Southeast

Scoop: The Sharks appear to have a good enough running game to hold up in Class 5A-7. They rushed for 341 yards against Wiregrass Ranch in the preseason. DeShawn Smith looks ready to have a big season as the top ball carrier. Quarterback Jamison Carnegie is also experienced, and they both have a big offensive line to run behind. Southeast will provide a good opening test, especially for the Sharks' defense.

23. Sunlake (9-3)

This week's opponent: vs. Gulf

Scoop: The Seahawks were a playoff team last season and believe they are again this season. They must put a 34-19 preseason loss to East Lake behind them. Sunlake has veteran leadership and will need it in its tough district. The Seahawks are hoping to shore up the defense and get some more offensive firepower, which is possible against a rebuilding Gulf.

24. St. Petersburg (8-3)

This week's opponent: vs. Gibbs

Scoop: The Green Devils will rely on their running game, and it struggled against an improved Northeast in the preseason game. Darius Miller, who recently committed to Alcorn State, and Jacquel Waller are good enough to wear teams out. The defense also looks as if it can stand up against anyone. St. Petersburg opened against Gibbs last season and won 41-8. Expect a much closer game this year.

25. Admiral Farragut (4-5)

This week's opponent: at Carrollwood Day

Scoop: The Blue Jackets picked a tough preseason opponent in South Sumter and lost 30-20. Now comes another tough game at Carrollwood Day. Transfer quarterback Austyn Causey hooked up with transfer receiver Matthew Landers for a touchdown pass last week. Expect that to happen plenty of times this season. And as expected, cornerback Craig Watts looked good on defense. If Admiral Farragut can build chemistry and find some depth, it could keep moving up the rankings.

In the conversation: Brandon, Largo, Lakewood, Northeast, Northside Christian, Steinbrenner, Spoto