MDVarsity.com continues its countdown toward No. 1 with teams ranked No. 20 to 16. Each day, MDVarsity will list five more teams until unveiling its top five 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.
Today's five teams have a strong Baltimore feel with perennial county power Hereford, three-time defending 1A champ Dunbar from Baltimore City, rising MIAA power Mount St. Joseph and Old Mill, from nearby Anne Arundel County. Quince Orchard, from Montgomery County, is the lone non-Baltimore area team among today's five.
In sizing up the preseason Top 25, the following factors are heavily weighed: quality of returning players, strength of schedule and reasonable season expectation and recent history.
The countdown continues:
20. Hereford (10-3 in 2008)
Let's face it. Hereford is the safe bet. Although a couple of Baltimore County teams may rise up to the level of Hereford in a given year, none have the proven staying power. Hereford has won 10 or more games 11 of the past 13 years and has rolled up a state-best 143 wins during that time. Hereford should do no worse than 8-2 in the regular season and it has owned the 3A North region playoffs since moving up in classification before the 2007 season. Hereford's grind-it-out offense figures to put up big numbers with running back Willie Williams. The Bulls have added North Harford as the opening game, which increases this team's strength of schedule.
Key Game: vs. Eastern Tech, Sept. 11
19. Mount St. Joseph (7-2)
Mount St. Joseph head coach Chip Armstrong returns 11 starters from last year's 7-2 team. The Gaels will play a difficult schedule that includes MIAA B conference power Archbishop Curley, Baltimore City power Edmondson and WCAC power Good Counsel. A defense led by Virginia Tech commitment Kyle Fuller should be strong and the keystone of the team. In a conference that features defending three-time champion Loyola and one of the strongest Gilman teams in a few years, the Gaels could be considered the sleeper team in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) A conference.
Key Game: at Fort Hill, Sept. 18
18. Old Mill (9-2)
Old Mill had a victory over Arundel, the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A East playoffs, and appeared primed for a rare state semifinal appearance last year. Severna Park had other ideas, stunning Old Mill in the first round of the playoffs. This year, Old Mill returns with even more firepower and high expectations. Athlete Josh Furman is a national recruit. Running back Jason Clements already has more than 2,000 career rushing yards. The team's top linebacker, Randy Spann, has committed to NCAA Division I Liberty University. In addition, Old Mill picked up a quarterback transfer to fill the void by last year's Big School All-State honorable mention signal-caller Grant Enders. It all adds up to Old Mill being a serious Class 4A state tournament contender.
Key Game: vs. Arundel, Sept. 4
17. Quince Orchard (10-2)
With the loss of four top-flight Division I-A athletes, the Cougars could be considered going through a rebuilding year. That would be a mistake. Head coach Dave Mencarini has lost only six games in his first five years and this year's team is talented -- if without a superstar name. Karim Jones transfers in from Magruder and starting quarterback Kevin Adams moves to receiver. Cody Magill's younger brother, Tyler will play on offense and defense and Nick Gross is an athlete that could have a breakout senior season. The toughest part of this year will be the move down to Class 3A West, where QO will battle for a playoff spot with Damascus, Seneca Valley, Clarksburg, Linganore and Tuscarora.
Key Game: at Damascus, Sept. 11
16. Dunbar (13-1)
The Poets are the three-time defending Class 1A champions and once again have a host of talented athletes. Joshua Alaeze transferred in from Parkville and Evan Pittman will take over at quarterback for Jonathan Perry, after transferring from Calvert Hall. Head coach Lawrence Smith already has two Division I-A prospects in Nathan Ayers and Devin Clark. The question is how will Dunbar replace a special player like Tavon Austin? Maryland's all-time leading rusher and scorer graduated and is now at West Virginia, leaving a void in the Poets' backfield. However, the schedule is not as daunting this year without an out-of-league game like Gwynn Park last season.
Key Game: vs. Poly, Oct. 30
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