RivalsHigh.com has begun its 2011 countdown, ranking the teams from No. 100 down to No. 1.
We started at No. 100 on July 25 and are now down to our final three days counting down from No. 10 to No. 1. Our top team will be unveiled on Wednesday morning on Rivals Radio - two weeks from the start of the season.
After that, we will wait until Sept. 5 for the next rankings, then have them every Monday during the season.
The team rankings were compiled by high school sports senior analyst Dallas Jackson, the Rivals AMP team, football recruiting analysts and the entire RivalsHigh network of publishers.
COACH: Lance Pogue LAST SEASON: 15-0, Mississippi Class 6A State Champs; National Champs
FINAL 2010 RANKING: No. 1 in RivalsHigh 100
Validation was as important as the actual title for Lance Pogue.
The head coach of Batesville (Miss.) South Panola had known that his teams were good. He knew they could go out-of-state and play. He knew he had a national program, not just a state or regional power.
But being named the RivalsHigh 100 national champion helped validate all of that to everyone else.
"Last year was important for us as a program," Pogue said. "I think doing what we did with getting a win outside of our state, beating the teams the way we did and being named a national champion really pushed us to the next level.
"To have people talking about us in the national discussion already this year makes me proud of what we accomplished. I am thrilled to have the expectation level raised."
But graduating one of the best senior classes ever to walk the halls has him as concerned as he is excited.
"We just finished our first week of practice," he said. "And we look as inexperienced as we are, I'll tell you that. We have good players, but they have to prove it."
Pogue estimates that he could be starting as few as five seniors.
"I am really excited to get this group out onto the field," he said. "I am looking forward to this year maybe more than any I have before because of the potential we have. I don't know if we will meet that potential, and that is our jobs as coaches, but we have the talent."
For South Panola, it begins and ends with junior do-everything player Antonio Connor.
"He will have an impact in every phase of our gameplan," Pogue said. "You'll be seeing him at tailback, receiver, quarterback, corner, safety, linebacker, on kick return and probably punts.
"I don't know if there will be another player in the country that will have as much an impact in every single game like he will."
Connor has started for South Panola since he was a freshman. His potential to be a top player nationally is not something lost on Pogue.
"He is the most physically-conditioned player we have ever had here," Pogue said. "And he is a mature young man; he's special."
The youth movement will not be limited to just Connor.
Taking a prominent role in the offense will be sophomore running back Quandez Lee.
Lee saw time sparingly as a freshman in 2010, accumulating just over 100 yards on 17 carries mostly in mop-up duty.
At 5-foot-10 and just over 200 pounds, Lee will be a change of pace back that South Panola likes to use.
"He is a bruiser," Pogue said. "He is an angry runner and we like that in him."
What will be lining up in front of Connor and Lee will be something new: prototypically sized offensive lineman.
"We have been 5-10, maybe 6-foot up front the last few years," Pogue said. "Now those boys could play, but this year we will have a 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, and a 6-foot-6 guy out on the offensive line. It will allow us to do some things."
Pogue is likely exaggerating. His philosophy of run the ball and play defense is not going to change with the addition of offensive linemen. Likely, it will decrease his desire to pass.
"We are more athletic inside now," he said. "But we don't have a (wide receiver Nikolas) Brassell, (defensive back Kendrick) Market, or those guys out there. We have to replace them."
With the Tigers first game on Aug. 19 against reigning Class 5A state champion West Point (Miss.) High, and then four in a row against No. 70 Hoover (Ala.) High, unranked but on the national radar Memphis (Tenn.) University School and No. 28 Gulfport (Miss.) High all before the end of September, the team has work to do very quickly.
"We are going to get tested early," Pogue said. "But we did that by design. We would rather go and get those games in a hurry so we can make adjustments. I have been on both sides of this and it is better to find out your weakness early than roll the ball out and beat a few bad teams and get false confidence and be exposed midseason or in the playoffs.
"We don't want to be talking about having a young team later in the season. We want to be talking about a championship."