Video: Toughest Schedules in High School Football
Host Zack Poff breaks down the gauntlets facing these teams this year.
The old days when high school football teams would beef up their schedules strictly to prepare for the postseason are largely gone.
The elite teams now eyeball other elites to gain national exposure and credentials for national rankings. All of it helps players from those programs get noticed by top FBS programs.
Some squads go above and beyond in this realm, scheduling some of the best in the preseason. And others simply play in the toughest leagues in the nation. After much review and analysis, we have come up with the 10 toughest schedules for the 2017 season.
Top 10 toughest schedules for the 2017 season
10. East (Salt Lake City)
The Leopards, who earned a Top 25 national ranking last year for the first time, will likely be even better in 2017. So coach Brandon Matich decided to go for it. East will not only take on perennial national and state powers Bingham (South Jordan, Utah)
and Saguaro (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
in its first two games, but will also finish up with a monster: a home game with IMG Academy on Oct. 20, just before the state playoffs. "Some people think we're crazy to play them — especially week 10," Matich said. "Trust me, our guys aren't afraid of IMG."
9. St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.)
Let's get this right out of the way: The Green Knights play in probably the toughest league in the country — the United Red of the North Jersey Super Conference. All five teams from the league were among the Top 100 squads
selected by MaxPreps host and football editor Zack Poff heading into the 2017 season. On top of facing off with those four foes, St. Joseph Regional has a Sept. 9 date at Washington D.C. power St. John's. 8. St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)
On top of the United Red onslaught, the Marauders travel to Widener University in Week 2 to play likely Top 25 foe St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia)
, which features one of the east coast's most productive quarterbacks in Marquez McCray
. 7. Bergen Catholic (Oradell, N.J.)
The Crusaders play six teams in the MaxPreps preseason Top 100, including top 5 lock Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.). The United Red has been well covered above, but that doesn't make it any easier. A home opener with Pennsylvania power Archbishop Wood (Warminster, Pa.)
on Sept. 9 gives coach Nunzio Campanile plenty of firepower to motivate the Crusaders.
6. St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.)
Bosco coach Jason Negro loves road trips and he's starting out with a doozy, with the Braves traveling to St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
on Aug. 25. The perennial national power and 10-time Florida champion finished 13-2 last year and No. 6 nationally. That game could decide a national championship. So too could be its Trinity League battle at Mater Dei on Oct. 13. The Braves also travel to Washington D.C. power St. John's, which has beefed up its schedule astronomically (see below).
5. St. John's (Washington, D.C.)
The Cadets have perhaps the toughest four-week stretch in the nation — certainly in September — when they open at seven-time national champion De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
on Sept. 2, followed by a home game with St. Joseph Regional (New Jersey), a trip to IMG Academy and then a home date with defending California Open Division champion St. John Bosco. After about a month off, St. John's hosts DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.)
, which finished eighth in the country last year.
4. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
Ever since the Sanchez brothers — current UNLV coach Tony and current Gorman coach Kenny — took over a decade ago, the Gaels have taken on all comers. The 2017 season is no different with home games against DeMatha on Aug. 25, Miami Central on Sept. 8 and De La Salle on Sept. 16. Squeezed between all that is a Sept. 1 clash at Mater Dei (Santa Ana), which may be the best team in the country. The Gaels, with new but highly talented quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson
, better hit the ground running.
3. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
With probably the most talented team in its storied history, the Monarchs, ranked ninth in 2016, not only play in one of the toughest league's in the country — the Trinity League of the Southern Section — but they also have a huge Sept. 1 matchup at home against defending national champion Bishop Gorman. Mater Dei faces four Top 100 teams overall, including home dates with Bergen Catholic on Sept. 16 and league rival St. John Bosco — two possible Top 10 teams — on Oct. 13. The Monarchs also visit Northern California power St. Mary's (Stockton)
on Sept. 23.
2. Central (Miami)
If you play in South Florida, there are no weeks off. But the perennial national power Rockets not only get the usual onslaught of local foes on the road — Northwestern (Miami)
and Carol City (Miami)
— they also travel to Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) on Sept. 8 and IMG Academy (Bradenton) on Sept. 22. Those two squads finished No. 1 and 3 in the country last season and don't appear to be slowing down. Throw in Chaminade-Madonna (Hollywood, Fla.)
on Aug. 25 and Booker T. Washington (Miami)
on Sept. 1, and Central faces six top 100 teams nationally before the playoffs even begin.
1. IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
The Ascenders, who boast 4- and 5-star players from throughout the country, should play the nation's elite and they do. In fact, IMG has scheduled a staggering nine teams that are among MaxPreps' top 100 squads entering the season. Seven of the foes are from out of state, including a return trip to the Honor Bowl in Southern California on Sept. 2 to face perennial power Centennial (Corona, Calif.)
. Last year the teams engaged in what was likely the game of the year, a 50-49 IMG win on a late touchdown and 2-point conversion.
The week before that, IMG travels out west against another likely Top 25 team in Chandler (Ariz.)
. After that game the Ascenders will head back to Florida for school and practice, then fly back out to the west coast to take on Centennial. That's a lot of traveling in a one-week span. Other out-of-state powers include Hoover (Ala.)
, East (Salt Lake City), St. John's (Washington D.C.) to go along with in-state and Miami juggernauts Central and Northwestern.