It's only mid-September, but some defining days are here already.
You think you're good - it's time to show folks what you've got.
No. 1 Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep won a big out-of-state opener, but the victory over Mission Viejo (Calif.) High came at home. This week it needs to show it can handle a ranked opponent on the road when it travels to Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee.
No. 4 Louisville (Ky.) Trinity has another Ohio opponent in Cincinnati Elder - and another chance to show it belongs in the national championship discussion. And No. 5 Gaffney (S.C.) High has a chance to solidify its spot as the No. 1 team in the Palmetto State with a big game at Duncan (S.C.) Brynes.
But it's not all about the Top Ten. Just being ranked is a big deal.
This weekend, No. 29 Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton, No. 34 Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward, No. 61 Longview (Texas) High and No. 82 Lufkin (Texas) High all have opportunities to prove they belong.
Defining days indeed.
With that, a closer look at some of the biggest games in the land:
When: Friday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: Sept. 17, 2010 - Gaffney won, 26-16
Rankings: Gaffney (4-0), No. 1 in South Carolina
Byrnes (2-1), No. 4 in South Carolina
WHY IT'S BIG: Gaffney jumped to the No. 1 spot in South Carolina and into the Top 10 nationally after crushing Dorman and Greenwood earlier this season. This game is one that can prove its upward push was warranted or show it was premature. Byrnes is a national name that is a resume builder; Gaffney, without an out-of-state game, can use this as a quality win. Byrnes' mental lapse cost it a loss to Myrtle Beach a few weeks ago, otherwise this would have been a battle of two ranked teams.
BEST MATCHUP: The Gaffney secondary against the Byrnes passing game. With Shuler Bentley at the quarterback spot for Byrnes, the team has taken more to the air than in recent years - injuries in the backfield have also necessitated that - and Gaffney will need to be able to slow the game on the edges.
BYRNES WINS IF: It plays like its proverbial backs are against the wall. The mystique of Byrnes is not gone, but it is fading. If the Rebels lose back-to-back games at home, it could be a major step back toward the Upstate pack. The defense is not as loaded with Division I prospects as it has been in past seasons, but it is very fundamentally sound and it needs to step up. Having this game turn into a track meet would be good for Byrnes.
GAFFNEY WINS IF: It scores more than 28 points. The Indians are scoring at break-neck pace so 28 doesn't sound like a lot - but this week it will not be the Union City defense it is going up against. Gaffney won this game last year 26-16 and it looks like that 28-30 point range is the target again. With an offense that has looked very good against Dorman and Greenwood, this would be a major feather in its cap to put a big number on the Rebels.
PREDICTION: Gaffney is the favorite coming into this game (something that may not have been the case since the 2006 season) so the us-against-the-world mentality will be on the side of Byrnes. Gaffney will have to come out and play like the favorites and get up on Byrnes because the longer the team stays around the more likely the ball is going to bounce its way. Between Coach Miller and Coach Bentley, a 2-2 start to the season will not be tolerated at Byrnes, but it looks like the Rebels will be running hills on Monday. - Gaffney 34, Byrnes 24
When: Friday, Sept. 16, 6 p.m.
Last Meeting: First-ever meeting
Rankings: Don Bosco (1-0), No. 1 in nation/N.J.
Manatee (1-1), No. 10 in Florida
WHY IT'S BIG: Don Bosco is sitting on the No. 1 line nationally, but it still needs to show well in these big out-of-state games. Manatee looks to remain inside the national rankings and it will need to show well to do it. This game was near agreement last season, but it fell through when Don Bosco took a game against St. Ignatius out of Ohio. Manatee was likely a better team at this time last year, but any time two ranked teams from different states meet, it is worth the national attention.
BEST MATCHUP: The Manatee defensive line against the Don Bosco rushing attack. Manatee graduated two really strong players off the defensive line, but it has looked strong inside in its two games. Don Bosco is very athletic on the offensive line and it has a trio of running backs who likely will carry the ball in this game. If Manatee can slow that attack, it could be a pivotal point of the game.
MANATEE WINS IF: It totally overwhelms the Don Bosco rushing attack. The Iron Men were physically conditioned better than Mission Viejo in their opener and it showed in the second half, when the running lanes really opened. If Manatee is not ready for every minute of this game, it could face a similar fate of wearing down and watching Don Bosco run down the field. The formula for defeating Don Bosco this season is simple: Shut down the run, make Don Bosco throw the ball to win and don't make turnovers. Manatee needs to know punts are OK, too. If QB Cord Sandberg doesn't force the ball into a strong defense, it will remain competitive.
DON BOSCO WINS IF: Its formula to pound opponents into submission carries the day. Strength training and conditioning drills are a heavy part of the Don Bosco off-season routine. The team often wins games that are played in September because of work that is put in during May. The conditioning here could be a factor as defensively Don Bosco should be able to shut down Manatee. If Don Bosco remains patient and plays field position while wearing down the Manatee front seven, it will win.
PREDICTION: Manatee already has dropped one game this season, in double overtime to Good Counsel. And though the transitive property of football teams isn't perfect, it should mean Manatee will lose this game. Don Bosco is far more talented on defense than Good Counsel and Manatee struggled to move the ball in that game. Manatee will need a few big plays to go its way to pull the upset. - Don Bosco 31, Manatee 17
When: Saturday, Sept. 17, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: September 25, 2010 - St.Ed won 20-3
Rankings: St. Edward (3-0), No. 4 in Ohio
Elder (2-1), No. 14 in Ohio
WHY IT'S BIG: A week after Elder was handed its second-worst loss in program history (56-7 to Louisville Trinity), it will have to rebound against a St. Edward team which has been hard to get a read on. Sizing up how Elder responds in a hostile environment and playing on the road will be good to see. Elder has spent time atop the Ohio rankings in recent years, but it has struggled recently. Back-to-back big losses would be bad for its image. St. Edward is looking to prove that it is again the best team in the state.
BEST MATCHUP: The St. Ed offense against the Elder defense. St. Ed has struggled to start games strong. Elder has struggled to do much of anything. One of the two will have to give. Elder allowed over 400 yards rushing last week and only saw four passes fall incomplete all night. It is hard to get much worse. St. Ed is not going to feel sorry for the Panthers as it has had a tough time moving the ball regularly. It will need to get on track before its game upcoming game with Don Bosco.
ST. EDWARD WINS IF: Its massive offensive line controls the game. Four-star lineman Kyle Kalis has been working his way back after battling an injury. With his return, the team should be much better with both its rush and pass attack. If the team is able to put Sam Grant back at tight end instead of having him play tackle, that will add another weapon. Once at full strength, St. Edward could prove to be the best team in Ohio.
ELDER WINS IF: It is as good this week as it was bad last week. This had to be a terrible week of practice at Elder as a team thought of as one that could score a big upset got run off the field. Pride is a major player, and at a school such as Elder, it runs deep. The Panthers are wounded animals; whether they come out with a fight or cower to lick their wounds will be a key to the game - and it will be defined early.
PREDICTION: This game will be determined by the end of the first quarter. If St. Edward jumps out and Elder does not respond, it could snowball (as it did last week), especially in a hostile environment. St. Edward has a solid running game and a good passing attack, but look for both to have better than expected results. - St. Edward 38, Elder 14.
When: Friday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: September 17, 2010 - Lufkin won 28-21
Rankings: Longview (2-1), No. 9 in Texas
Lufkin (3-0), No. 11 in Texas
WHY IT'S BIG: Longview was thought to be among the five best teams in Texas, but the way it was pushed around by Allen last weekend created a lot of doubts. Lufkin, which has topped Longview the last two times the teams have played, seems to be steadily finding its offense. The Lone Star State has a very solid group of 20 teams that could all argue for rankings. Games like this help separate which teams really belong and which do not.
BEST MATCHUP: The Lufkin pass offense versus the Longview secondary. The strength of the Longview defense is its defensive line and linebackers. That group will need to improve dramatically over the showing against Allen to take pressure off of the secondary. The Lufkin offense should enter this game with plenty of confidence as it has scored over 30 points in all three games. After seeing Longview give up 42 last week, figure for another scoreboard scorcher.
LONGVIEW WINS IF: Its offensive line can control the line of scrimmage. The Lobos are now three games into the season with an entirely new group of starters on the line. So far, it has looked like it a group that has not come together. While Lufkin's defensive line is not what Allen's was last week, it is still better than the first two weeks' opponents. If the Lobos do not improve in the trenches, they could be unranked come Monday.
LUFKIN WINS IF: It can take the crowd out of the game early. Longview is a very tough place to play, but the crowd did not have much to cheer about last week. If Lufkin can come in and start fast as Allen did, it will be an equally quiet stadium. This is the biggest regular-season game for Lufkin. A good showing here will likely keep it ranked as wins are all but expected until the playoffs. If the team gets 14 points in the first quarter, it could cruise to a win.
PREDICTION: This game is huge for both teams but for different reasons. Longview needs to prove last week was a fluke. Lufkin needs to show its ranking is not built on bad competition. Defense could be the key to this game as it could be quite high scoring. This may not be a game where the team with the ball last wins, but it could be close with the game on the line. - Longview 44, Lufkin 36
When: Friday, Sept. 16, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: December 13, 2010 - Hamilton won, 21-13
Rankings: Hamilton (3-0), No. 1 in Arizona
Desert Ridge (3-0), No. 4 in Arizona
WHY IT'S BIG: Hamilton has a 43-game winning streak, but there is a very real chance of it ending on the road against a strong Desert Ridge team that has been on the fringe of the national rankings. Hamilton was expected to be in a bit of a reload year, but it has won its opening three games with relative ease, outscoring opponents, 116-14. Desert Ridge, which was expected to be good again, has a similar stat line, opening 3-0 while outscoring teams, 134-13. Something has to give.
BEST MATCHUP: The Desert Ridge pass offense against the Hamilton secondary. Desert Ridge tries to be fairly balanced, but the majority of the offense has been run through its quarterback, Parker Rasmussen. If Hamilton's secondary can take away the receivers, it will make Desert Ridge easier to contain. Rasmussen has carried the ball at least 12 times in each of the first three games, so calling his own number is not out of the question. Hamilton must make that his primary way of moving the ball.
HAMILTON WINS IF: Blake Kemp can manage the game and not make mistakes. The senior quarterback has thrown several interceptions this season but they have not come back to bite the Huskies so far. Doing to against a solid defense figures to have different consequences.
DESERT RIDGE WINS IF: Its defense is actually as good as advertised. While the Jaquars enter the game only allowing 13 points, its three opponents have only scored 103 points combined in nine total games. The Jaguars have not exactly been playing world-beaters. The team held Hamilton to a 21-point output in last season's state final - and most think last year's Hamilton team was better than this one. Desert Ridge needs to keep this game in the teens and contain dual-threat quarterback Rasmussen.
PREDICTION: Hamilton has a history of winning games when doubters start to creep in. That could play a factor here as many think that the Huskies are ripe for an upset. This game should be close for the better part of the contest, but the more explosive team will make a big play that turns the momentum and puts it out of reach. Look for the Huskies to pull away in the third quarter. - Hamilton 20, Desert Ridge 7.