The annual debate continues in 2011. Which of the three big talent-producing states - Florida, Texas or California - has the most talent this year? While Florida and California both boast two five-star prospects early in the rankings to one from Texas, would Cibolo (Texas) Steele running back Malcolm Brown lead the Lone Star State to victory in a round-robin playoff? Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell breaks it down.
Going strictly by the Rivals100, Florida looks like the runaway winner in this three-way battle, boasting 20 prospects on the prestigious list. Texas follows with 12 and California brings up the rear with only 10. However, how would these teams match up on the field?
Each team would play the other once in the preliminary round with the top two teams emerging to a finale and obvious rematch and on paper and in analysis, a clear winner would emerge. Despite quite a bit of talent this year in Texas and California, there is little doubt that Florida would dominate such a competition.
Let's break it down. When it comes to positional analysis, Florida leads the way in most categories. The Sunshine State has the top quarterback in the group in Oviedo Hagerty gunslinger Jeff Driskel and the best tight end in West Palm Beach Dwyer star tight end Nick O'Leary. However, it's on defense where the Sunshine State truly separates itself from the field.
Florida dominates along the defensive line with bookend pass rushers in Cape Coral Island Coast standout Aaron Lynch and Fort Pierce Central big man Giorgio Newberry and stout tackle Timmy Jernigan from Lake City Columbia. At linebacker, the team is led by the nation's No. 2 player in St. Augustine Pedro Menendez superstar Tony Steward and the secondary is loaded with super safeties Karlos Williams from Davenport Ridge and Wayne Lyons from Ft. Lauderdale Dillard. While Texas and California have talent on defense, they can't match the depth of Florida.
While Florida dominates at quarterback, at tight end and on defense, the biggest debate between the three states has to be at running back. However, once again Florida gets the nod here for one reason - the nation's No. 3 prospect. While Texas has an amazing 1-2 punch in Brown and San Antonio James Madison speedster Aaron Green and California boasts Los Angeles Crenshaw stud De'Anthony Thomas and Fresno Central East stud Brendon Bigelow in its backfield, Tampa Plant superstar James Wilder Jr., the nation's top athlete and third-ranked prospect, tips the balance of power when he's teamed with Punta Gorda Charlotte waterbug Mike Bellamy and Bradenton Manatee grinder Mike Blakely.
Every running back on each roster is ranked among the nation's top 26 players so clearly the running game would be key. Top Florida backs like Orlando Dr. Phillips all-purpose back Demetrius Hart and Marlin Lane from Daytona Beach Mainland, Texas studs Brandon Williams from Brookshire Royal and Herschel Sims from Abeline and California star Amir Carlisle from Sunnyvale Kings Academy are all Rivals250 prospects, but didn't even make the cut at their position in state. The talent level at running back amongst the three states is ridiculous, but Florida still gets the nod with its trio.
However, one area where the Sunshine State is outshone is at receiver. California, led by five-star George Farmer from Gardena Junipero Serra and bolstered by Fontana Summit athlete Devon Blackmon has the best 1-2 combination at receiver and give quarterback Cody Kessler two amazing targets. California could arguably have the best offense of the three with its talent at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, but the Golden State is lacking along the offensive line. Not one California lineman cracks the Rivals100. Chico Pleasant Valley guard Jordan Rigsbee leads a less-than-stellar offensive line for California which would struggle opening holes and protecting Kessler, thus negating some of the offensive firepower.
California is also lacking great playmakers on defense. Beverly Hills end Greg Townsend Jr. is a stud off the edge and would be paired with Lakewood end Todd Barr to provide a nice pass rush while Mission Viejo linebacker Tre Madden can cover a lot of ground, but the secondary isn't as strong as one would expect of a group from California and there isn't a lot of star power at linebacker aside from Madden.
Moving to Texas, the wide receiver group is a bit weak despite being led by Whitehouse star Trey Metoyer, although athlete Ladarius Brown from Waxahachie will certainly help. However, compared to California's strong group and the size-speed combination in Florida with Kelvin Benjamin from Belle Glade Glades Central and Lakeland speedster Javares McRoy leading the way, Texas checks in third here. The same can be said at quarterback where Denton Guyer signal-caller J.W. Walsh is a notch behind Driskell and Kessler.
Aside from the running backs, the strength of the Texas team is in the trenches which bodes well. On the offensive line, Galena Park North Shore guard Sedrick Flowers is complemented by Hallsville tackle Josh Cochran and Klein tackle Garrett Greenlea. Texas clearly has the best offensive line of the three teams and could make a case for best defensive line as well if it only had a pure pass rusher or two. Texas is loaded at defensive tackle led by Houston Westfield terror Desmond Jackson and San Antonio Sam Houston stud Quincy Russell, but the defensive end combination of Cleveland's Cedric Reed and Kelin Oak's Nathan Hughes pales in comparison to Florida and California.
The Texas linebackers are solid led by potential five-star Steve Edmond from Daingerfield but the secondary is similar to California's and lacks the playmakers of Florida. Mansfield Legacy cornerback Tevin Mitchel is very talented but safety is a big concern with Dallas Skyline's Franklin Shannon and Plano East's Lyndell Johnson both three stars at the position.
So having broken things down by position, how would things go in an actual game? Florida vs. California would be a battle of speed but the glaring weakness along the offensive line for the Golden State standouts is worrisome. The Florida defensive line as well as Steward and company would dominate the line of scrimmage and keep the running game in check while hurrying the passing game, playing right into the hands of the loaded Florida secondary. Florida's offense, led by the three-headed monster at running back as well as the best quarterback and tight end in the game would be enough to wear down a California defense strong on the outside but lacking depth up the middle. This would be a rout with Florida taking the game by two touchdowns.
The matchup between Florida and Texas would be interesting with Texas trying to play smashmouth football with its strong offensive line and thunder and lighting running back combination, but once again Florida would come out on top. While Wilder and Blakely might struggle a bit inside against the stout Texas defensive tackles, Bellamy would run wild outside and Driskell would have his way through the air, especially utilizing O'Leary and Benjamin down the middle. The Florida defense would struggle to contain the two great running backs, but they would have little problem loading the box and making Walsh and company beat them through the air, something unlikely with ballhawks at cornerback and safety. Florida would win this game going away as well.
With Florida undefeated in the preliminary round, it would come down to a California-Texas battle for the right to attempt to pull an upset in the finale. While California would also struggle against Texas at times like they did against Florida, especially with the advantage in the trenches for the Lone Star standouts, they would eventually win out. With quick drops and the ability to utilize Farmer and Blackmon downfield while running Thomas and Bigelow to the outside, Cali's speed would be too much. The offensive line issue wouldn't be as glaring for California this time around with no nasty pass-rushing defensive ends for Texas and they would attack the outside in the running game and the middle of the field in the passing game. Texas would have success running the ball as always and the passing game would clique much better than against Florida, but Texas would still lose this one in a close battle that comes down to offensive speed and quarterback play.
Obviously Florida would once again have its way with California in a non-climactic finale, showing off once again that the Sunshine State clearly has the most talent from top to bottom this year. California, despite less Rivals100 members and a weakness along the offensive line would come in second mainly due to the speed and playmaking ability of its offense while Texas, despite a good running game and solid offensive line, would finish third due to a weakness in the secondary, a lack of pass rushers outside and a passing game that struggled.