Top 10 toughest football leagues in America

Kevin Askeland | Friday, October 1, 2010

Ohio league edges out California's Trinity League and Texas's 5A Region 1 District 8 in MaxPreps' list of toughest leagues in the country.

The debate rages on national sports talk radio throughout the football season — which NCAA football conference is the most competitive?

The SEC usually gets the nod as the best conference, followed by either the Big 12, the Big 10 or the Pac-10, depending on which teams are the most powerful that season.

But what if a similar comparison could be done at the high school level? Wouldn't it be interesting to find out which league has bragging rights as the most competitive league in the country? Thanks to the MaxPreps Computer Rankings, there is a way.

The league competitiveness rankings are based on the computer program created by Ned Freeman, who provides the national computer rankings for MaxPreps. Freeman's program evaluates every team in the nation based on how well that team does against its opponents. The performance of the opponents is also evaluated, as well as the performance of those opponents, and so on.

Those team rankings can then be used to come up with a ranking for each league as well. Based on Freeman's system, Ohio's Greater Catholic South League is the most competitive league in the country. You won't get much debate from La Salle (Cincinnati) coach Tom Grippa.

"Playing in the GCL is a real meat grinder, sorry for the cliche," said Grippa. "All of the teams are extremely physical and tough. All of the teams are extremely well coached so out-coaching one of them is not going to happen. All of the teams are well-conditioned and strong so you have to have a strong year-round off-season program to just stay even. To win, you have to have players and be one of the top teams in Ohio. We've dominated nonleague play before and finished 5-5 because of our league and we have a good football team."

Grippa's assessment bears out in the current MaxPreps computer national ranking of the teams in the GCL. Elder (Cincinnati) is 2-3 and at the bottom of the GCL, yet it is ranked 20th in the state and 241st nationally. Considering that there are 16,328 football teams in the country, being ranked 241 means that team is in the top 1.4 percent in the country.

Meanwhile Archbishop Moeller (Cincinnati) and La Salle are both 5-0 while St. Xavier (Cincinnati) is 3-2. Moeller is third in the state and 18th nationally while La Salle is close behind at 14th in the state and 167th nationally. St. Xavier actually ranks ahead of La Salle, due mainly to its tough national schedule, and comes in ranked No. 7 in the state and 46th nationally.

Part of the reason for the high rankings — talented players. According to John Rodenberg at Moeller, each team in the league regularly has a solid group of Division I-bound players.

"I would say each school has three to seven Division I athletes each year, so the talent level is high," said Rodenberg. "Cincinnati has tremendous support for high school sports, so bragging rights are important. I do think the league helps for our playoff runs because you realize that you have been in three big games (in league play) so you are battle tested."

The Greater Catholic South edges out the Trinity League from Southern California. Home to perennial powerhouses like Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) and Orange Lutheran (Calif.), the Trinity finds itself upside down a little bit this year with those two teams at the bottom of the league standings and JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) and St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), along with defending state champion Servite (Anaheim, Calif.), at the top.

The Trinity League is one of three California leagues in the top 10 league rankings compiled by MaxPreps. The others, the South Coast and the Serra, join the Trinity (along with the Moore and Sunset) to form arguably the toughest playoff division in the country — the Pac 5 Division in the Southern Section.

Texas, Kentucky, Tennesee, Michigan, New Jersey and Maryland are all represented in the list of top 10 toughest leagues. The list below charts the overall record of each team in the league, where they rank in the state and where they rank nationally.
Graphic by Ryan Escobar/Photos by MaxPreps Photographers

Top 10 Toughest Leagues in America

1. Greater Catholic South (Ohio)

Archbishop Moeller, 5-0, 3 in state, 18 nationally; LaSalle, 5-0, 14 in state, 167 nationally; St. Xavier, 3-2, 7 in state, 46 nationally; Elder, 20 in state, 241 nationally.

2. Trinity (California)
Servite, 4-0, 2nd in state, 7 nationally; JSerra Catholic, 3-0, 79 in state, 725 nationally; St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), 3-1, 16 in state, 139 nationally; Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), 3-1, 48 in state, 419 nationally; Orange Lutheran, 2-2, 114 in state, 1,242 nationally; Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 1-2, 24 in state, 227 nationally. Long time powerhouse Mater Dei is at the bottom looking up this year, attesting to the overall depth and power in this league. No team in the league ranks lower than 114 in the state of California, which has close to 1,200 teams, meaning all six teams are in the top 10 percent of the state.

3. 5A Region 1 District 8 (Texas)
Allen (Texas), 4-0, 8 in state, 78 nationally; Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas), 4-0, 16 in state, 118 nationally; Lewisville (Texas), 3-1, 91 in state, 853 nationally; Hebron (Carrollton, Texas), 3-1, 14 in state, 113 nationally; Plano West (Texas), 3-1, 43 in state, 389 nationally; Plano (Texas), 3-1, 114 in state, 1,056 nationally; Plano East (Texas), 2-2, 133 in state, 1,190 nationally; Flower Mound (Texas), 2-2, 84 in state, 774 nationally. The depth in this league is amazing — all eight teams have at least a .500 record. Three of the teams are also ranked in the top 16 in the state of Texas, a tremendous feat in a state known for its football.

4. South Coast (California)
Mission Viejo (Calif.), 4-0, 5th in state, 12 nationally; San Clemente (Calif.), 4-1, 49 in state, 425 nationally; Tesoro (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.), 3-1, 42 in state, 379 nationally; Dana Hills (Dana Point, Calif.), 2-2, 76 in state, 696 nationally; Trabuco Hills (Mission Viejo, Calif.), 2-2, 191 in state, 2,262 nationally. Orange County football is pretty impressive, considering that two of the top four leagues on this list consist of Orange County teams. This year Mission Viejo is ranked in the Xcellent 25 presented by the Army National Guard and rising.

5. Big North I (New Jersey)
Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), 3-0, 1st in state, 2nd nationally; St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.), 3-0, 3 in state, 142 nationally; Bergen Catholic (Oradell, N.J.), 3-0, 2nd in state, 39 nationally; Paramus Catholic (N.J.), 2-1, 69 in state, 3,104 nationally; DePaul (Wayne, N.J.), 1-2, 64 in state, 2,939 nationally. New Jersey is a strong football state and Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic and St. Joseph Regional rank 1-2-3 in the state. Don Bosco Prep is the defending national champion by MaxPreps and is currently ranked No. 2 in the country.

6. Catholic Central (Michigan)
Catholic Central (Novi, Mich.), 1 in state, 26 nationally; St. Mary Prep (Orchard Lake, Mich.), 5-0, 2 in state, 75 nationally; De La Salle Collegiate (Warren, Mich.), 4-1, 14 in state, 454 nationally; Brother Rice (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), 2-3, 37 in state, 1,237 nationally; University of Detroit Jesuit (Mich.), 2-3, 73 in state, 2,303 nationally. The top two teams in Michigan find a home in the Catholic Central. Even the last place team in the league is in the top 75.

7. MIAA A (Maryland)
Calvert Hall (Baltimore), 5-0, 6 in state, 264 nationally; Gilman (Baltimore), 4-1, 1st in state, 15 nationally; McDonogh (Owings Mills, Md.), 3-0, 4 in state, 154 nationally; Mount St. Joseph (Baltimore), 3-1, 26 in state, 1,656 nationally; Georgetown Prep (North Bethesda, Md.), 2-2, 21 in state, 1,525 nationally; Loyola Blakefield (Towson, Md.), 1-3, 67 in state, 4,581 nationally. Three of the top six teams in Maryland are in this league, led by Gilman, which has been among the top 25 in the country all season.

8. 6A District 7 (Tennessee)
Oakland (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 6-0, 1st in state, 63 nationally; Smyrna (Tenn.), 5-1, 4 in state, 114 nationally; Blackman (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 5-1, 12 in state, 317 nationally; Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) 5-1, 17 in state, 407 nationally; Siegel (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 3-3, 46 in state, 1,471 nationally; LaVergne (Tenn.), 2-4, 104 in state, 3,493 nationally. Four of the top 17 teams in the state of Tennessee reside in this district.

9. Serra (California)
Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.), 4-0, 19 state, 158 nationally; Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.), 4-0, 17 state, 151 nationally; Crespi (Encino, Calif.), 3-1, 61 state, 551 nationally; Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), 1-3, 125 state, 1,504 nationally; Loyola (Los Angeles), 1-3, 91 state, 904 nationally. Alemany has come on in the past few years, making this tough league even tougher. Bishop Amat, Crespi, Notre Dame and Loyola all are among the top teams in the Southern Section each year.

10. 6A District 5 (Kentucky)
Trinity (Louisville, Ky.), 4-2, ranked No. 1 in state, 66 nationally; Ballard (Louisville, Ky.), 4-2, 11 in state, 641 nationally; Seneca (Louisville, Ky.), 4-2, 28 in state, 1,909 nationally; Eastern (Louisville, Ky.), 3-2, 14 in state, 846 nationally. This league benefits from the presence of Trinity, which is the premier program in the state of Kentucky. Four times in the past five years the Shamrocks have finished No. 1 in the state and in the top 50 in the national rankings. Ballard has also routinely finished among the top 25 in the state the past five seasons.

Note: Two leagues ranked by Freeman's rankings, the Steel Valley in Ohio and the 5A District 14 in Florida, were not included in this list because they have fewer than four teams in the league.