Who should be No. 1 to start the 2009 Maryland high school football season?
DeMatha? Good Counsel? Linganore?
We will save that debate for another day.
Today, however, MDVarsity.com starts its countdown toward No. 1 with the honorable mentions and teams ranked No. 25 to 21. Each day, MDVarsity will list five more teams until unveiling its top five on Friday.
The annual MDVarsity preseason Top 25 often serves as the guide for the official Maryland State Poll, which will release its preseason ranking Aug. 25, followed by week-to-week rankings throughout the regular season and a final postseason poll.
While a lot of energy is spent on the debate for No. 1, the entire 25 merits recognition. These programs represent roughly 10 percent of the football-playing schools in the state, and in every case, these teams are worthy league-, region- and, in many cases, state-title contenders.
In sizing up the preseason Top 25 the following factors are heavily weighed: quality of returning players, strength of schedule, reasonable season expectation and recent history.
Let the countdown begin •
Honorable Mentions (Listed in alphabetical order): Allegany, Bishop McNamara, Clarksburg, Douglass-PG, Friendly, Landon, McDonogh, McDonough, Perry Hall, Poly.
25. Edmondson (8-4 in 2008)
Last year, the message boards were buzzing as people wondered if head coach Dante Jones was crazy for scheduling Loyola. This year, the sixth-year head coach takes it a step further by scheduling another Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) power in Mount St. Joseph in the opening game, followed by Loyola. With Baltimore City powers Poly, City and Dunbar rounding out the schedule, the Red Storm has the most difficult schedule in the City. Jones has the best quarterback in Baltimore in Jerry Lovelocke and a host of returning starters, which means Edmondson could be one of the favorites to win the Class 2A title this season.
Key Game: at Loyola, Sept. 12
24. North Point (8-3)
North Point graduated 40 players from its first senior class, but what's left remains a talented group capable of pushing Westlake for the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference (SMAC) title. Running back Arlando Scott is electric. Junior linebacker Conner Crowell will be among the state's elite prospects for 2011. North Point moves from 2A to 4A this year and is positioned in the 4A East Region, which could be a blessing. There are six Anne Arundel County schools that are serious playoff threats, yet they all go head-to-head, guaranteeing multiple losses. Meanwhile, North Point's schedule, comprised completely of SMAC schools, features only two games against playoff teams from last year.
Key Game: at Westlake, Oct. 16
23. Paint Branch (6-4)
In his first two years, head coach Mike Nesmith has led Paint Branch within one game of the Class 3A playoffs -- only losses to Damascus kept them out. This year, the Panthers move up to Class 4A and return starting quarterback Tracy Martin. A pair of three-year starting receivers Ivan Tagoe and Torian Henderson along with others who have spent the past three years in Nesmith's system could propel the Panthers to their first playoff appearance since 2000.
Key Game: vs. Sherwood, Sept. 17
22. Northwest (6-5)
Northwest rebounded from a 5-5 record to finish 6-4 and make the playoffs last season. Now Mark Maradei takes over a program that has a three-year starting quarterback in Jarrhett Butler, a four-year starting tight end in Ali Tolson and one of the best running backs in the county in Hassan Dixon. On the down side, the Jaguars suffered a tragic offseason: Dixon was in a car accident that took the life of his little sister, and Edwin "Dek" Miller collapsed during conditioning drills and died on July 6. If the Jaguars rally, they look to be the favorite in 4A West.
Key Game: at Quince Orchard, Sept. 25
21. Eastern Tech (13-1)
Is it possible a team that graduated 10 all-county performers after last season could have a better chance at winning a state title a year later? Eastern Tech could be that team. The Mavericks have back-to-back 13-1 seasons, both times losing to River Hill in the 2A state final. Now River Hill has moved to 3A, leaving 2A wide open. In fact, every school that has won a 2A state title since 1997 is no longer in that classification with the exception of Edmondson (2006). Despite the graduation losses, Eastern Tech returns four all-county performers led by two-way starter Emmanuel Gbor. Eastern Tech and Edmondson, both preseason Top 25 teams, are in the same region meaning only one of the two can advance to the state semifinals.
Key Game: at Hereford, Sept. 11
ESPNRise encourages comments from its users. Leave a comment below. Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com