The long journey from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Cincinnati doesn't concern St. Thomas Aquinas coach George Smith. Following an unfamiliar routine in an unfamiliar city doesn't bother him, either. Nor is he bothered that Cincinnati Elder will have plenty more fans than the Raiders when the teams kick off the Kirk Herbstreit Series at 11 a.m. Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Instead, what worries him is the disproportionate amount of field time the opposing squads have accumulated respectively.
In essence, Elder has had plenty of it and Aquinas has not.
"The biggest disadvantage is the practice time," said Smith, whose squad is ranked No. 7 in the RivalsHigh 100. "There's no question on that. We started practicing the 11th of August and have had no double sessions because of school starting. They've been going since Aug. 1 and have played two scrimmages and one game. We had a freaking tropical storm in here for three days and couldn't practice. It's huge. Huge."
The Raiders missed, by Smith's count, five days of practice because of Tropical Storm Fay. "You go up and lift weights, you go outside, if there's lightning, you have go back inside," Smith said. "You can't get into a rhythm." Elder, meanwhile, opened its season with a 38-19 victory over Middletown (Ohio) High last week.
"What do you do?" Smith asked. "Practice 24 hours a day?"
No, what the Raiders – who have played in 11 of the past 17 state championship finals in their classification in Florida – will do is board their plane to Cincinnati on Friday morning and get ready to play. The Panthers, ranked No. 91, are waiting.
"The thing that's really hard for them is the traveling," Elder coach Doug Ramsey said. "They're going to come up and spend the night somewhere. Playing the early game Saturday, that's a difficult game. That's where we really have the home-field advantage. Our kids will go home, spend the night in their own bed, have breakfast at home and then go in for a meeting. That's where the advantage is – it's a regular routine for us."
Elder also proved last season that it's a tough opponent in this event. Just ask Charlotte (N.C.) Independence. Last season in the Herbstreit, the Panthers overcame a 13-point halftime deficit and topped Independence 41-34 in overtime to snap the Patriots' 109-game winning streak.
Highlighted by four great games at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday The Herbstreit Classic pits some of the best in Ohio versus the rest of the country.
Elder vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) The No. 7 team in the country, Aquinas, heads north to take on one of the best in Cincinnati.
Middleton vs. Warren Central (IN) Indiana football has a chance to gain recognition as Middleton struggled to get out of the gates last week.
Colerain vs. McKeesport (PA) WPIAL 3A power McKeesport Tigers cross state lines to take on a young Colerain team who just upended St. Xavier to open the season.
St. Xavier vs Prattville (AL) St. X is battered and bruised following a tough loss to Colerain. Prattville can make a statement to the rest of the country by sending St. Xavier to an 0-2 start.
Ramsey – whose team also competed hard against Concord (Calif.) De La Salle in the 2006 Herbstreit before falling 56-38 – hopes he'll see a repeat of the Independence upset this weekend.
"Looking at last year's (Aquinas) team – that's what I have to go by because they haven't played a game yet – I think athletically they're the best of the three teams we've played here," Ramsey said. "They're skilled all over the place. They have guys everywhere - a lot of speed and big physical guys.
"Our kids enjoy these kinds of challenges. We go into a game, and no one is giving you a chance. You just let it all hang out. We have to play our style and come at them every single play and be physical."
Smith, though, doesn't think his team should be considered the favorite. Although the Raiders have talented players – wide receiver Duron Carter has committed to Ohio State next year, wide receiver Dwayne Difton and tight end Gabrison Holmes are standouts and quarterback Ryan Becker threw for more than 1,700 yards last season – Smith says they're too raw.
"This is our most inexperienced team we've had in four years," Smith said. "I can't understand how we can be rated as high as we are. It's ridiculous. You return two starters on offense and four or five on defense. I don't know. That's the way it is. Plus, we've got another storm right now."
Assuming Aquinas gets out of town before Tropical Storm Gustav becomes a problem, Smith said no matter what happens, his squad will treat this game as a team-building exercise. Ramsey, meanwhile, would rather showcase Ohio football as a national power.
"The thing you keep in mind, when these teams are coming in from out of town, they're not coming in years when they're going to have bad teams," Ramsey said. "We might not necessarily have our best teams, but we're competing with the best teams in the country. We've stepped up to this challenge. We've showed in Ohio that we can play football with the best teams in the country."