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August 18, 2011

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Football is back.

A three-word phrase that is music to the ears of bored fathers, competition-hungry players, rabid fans and high school sports journalists.

Some around the country will get a taste this week as a handful of states kick off the season - but the vast majority will start next weekend.

This season RivalsHigh will provide a sampling of the best games around the country with our Game of the Week features (Wednesday), Weekend Watch (Thursday) and Where We'll Be (Friday) to get you prepared for the weekend's slate of games.

The Weekend Watch series will focus on the best games in each RivalsHigh region: Atlantic East, Great Lakes, Heartland, South and West. We also will be taking email requests for our 10 predictions each week and encouraging users to compete in our Pick'Em contest.

With this week's Game of the Week focusing on a Western battle between Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman and Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, we will look into games around the rest of the country.

Weekend Watch
No. 48 Butler v No. 49 Mallard Creek

QB Riley Ferguson (6-2/192, Jr.)
WR Uriah LeMay (6-1/188, Jr.)
LB Peter Kalambayi (6-2/220, Jr.)
RB Jela Duncan (5-10/190, Sr.)
OL D.J. Humphries (6-5/265, Sr.)
WR Jamel Harbison (6-0/191, Sr.)
When: Friday, Aug. 19, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: First game this decade
Rankings: Butler (0-0), No. 1 in North Carolina
Mallard Creek (0-0), No. 2 in North Carolina

WHY IT'S BIG: This could be the biggest game in North Carolina until the state final, and it may be bigger than that if both teams make a run to the title games and are split into different divisions. Entering the season, these are the far-and-away No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state. The debate is - which positions do the teams belong in? Both teams have some holes to fill starting the season; this will be a good measurement for the pair.

BEST MATCHUP: The Mallard Creek running game versus the Butler front seven. Behind D.J. Humphries, the Mallard Creek rush attack will be a focal point of the game as the five-star lineman will look to open holes for Jela Duncan to move the ball. Butler lost a good bit on its defensive front but returns a run stuffing group of linebackers, including Peter Kalambayi.

BUTLER WINS IF: It gets an early lead. The Bulldogs lost a major chunk of talent from last year, when they finished inside the RivalsHigh 100 Top 10, and it will be hard to replace them. If juniors Riley Ferguson and Uriah LeMay can hook up early and show Mallard Creek that they are still the team leading the pack, it will go a long way.

MALLARD CREEK WINS IF: Andrew Goodman has a big game. Replacing Marquise Williams at quarterback may be nearly impossible to do, but Goodman, a transfer to the school, has been getting good reviews this summer. If he is able to move the ball through the air and keep the defense honest with his legs, Mallard Creek will be able to get the win.

PREDICTION: This is the hardest game to pick of the opening weekend as each team has a good core of Division I talent, quality coaching and high expectations. The ranking in the RivalsHigh 100 indicates how closely the two graded out and so either one winning would not be a shock. Mallard Creek is senior-led and has key players back in many spots. Butler is junior-led and has a talented sophomore class coming up with it. The pick here: Butler steals a close one but does not separate itself from Mallard Creek.
- Butler 20, Mallard Creek 16.

-- For more on both teams and North Carolina football, visit NCPreps.com

Weekend Watch
No. 8 South Panola v West Point

RB Mario Virges (5-11/215, Jr.)
LB Brandon Edwards (6-0/205, Sr.)
DT Issac Gross (6-3/270, Sr.)
DE Temario Strong (6-2/210, Sr.)
ATH Antonio Connor (6-2/192, Jr.)
When: Saturday, Aug. 20, 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: Nov. 5, 2004 - South Panola won, 21-14
Rankings: South Panola (0-0), No. 1 in Mississippi
West Point (0-0), No. 5 in Mississippi

WHY IT'S BIG: Squaring off the defending national champions against the reigning Class 5A state champions within the state boundaries is a fantastic start to the season. There is a groundswell of people who believe this is a year to get South Panola; this may be the team - and the time - to do it. West Point, which won the Class 4A title in 2009 and the Class 5A title in 2010, has the talent to take down the Tigers.

BEST MATCHUP: West Point running attack versus the South Panola front seven. West Point runs the ball at a 6-to-1 clip versus passing and it loves to take the air out of the ball and pound on teams. South Panola welcomes that style of play as the guys in the trenches are pretty nasty and want to smash helmets and shoulder pads all game long. Whichever team can dictate the line of scrimmage will win.

WEST POINT WINS IF: It can establish the run and control the clock. If West Point can keep the ball away from South Panola and score touchdowns - not just deflate the football - it will have a good chance of keeping the score down and winning the game. South Panola's offense may need a number of possessions to get on track early in the season.

SOUTH PANOLA WINS IF: Its young players are ready to carry the flag for the best in Mississippi. Coach Lance Pogue has indicated that he could start as few as five seniors this season. Entering the year with a junior quarterback and a sophomore running back, there will certainly be jitters. If the team is not ready to go into battle, it will be bad news.

PREDICTION: Don't underestimate the mystique of South Panola, which intimidates other Mississippi schools. South Panola has proven time and again it is the team to beat in the state but it has its work cut out this year, being so young and with such a tough schedule. If do-everything junior Antonio Connor - a two-way rising star who figures to line up everywhere at one time or another - is the player that many believe he is, South Panola will be fine. If he has to do all the work himself, it could be a long evening.
- South Panola 18, West Point 6

-- For more on both teams and Mississippi football, visit MagnoliaPreps.com

Weekend Watch
No. 3 Warren Central v Merrillville

DT Sheldon Day (6-2/286, Sr.)
DB Jordan Shine (6-0/185, Sr.)
RB Deonte Buckley (5-9/195, Sr.)
LB Jordan Wallace (6-1/218, Sr.)
DE Josh Posley (6-2/238, Sr.)
LB Tim Kimbrough (6-1/216, Jr.)
OL Dwayne Brown (6-4/320, Jr.)
When: Saturday, Aug. 20, 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: Aug. 20, 2010 - Warren Central won, 49-14
Rankings: Warren Central (0-0), No. 1 in Indiana
Merrillville (0-0), No. 29 in Indiana

WHY IT'S BIG: Warren Central has gained a major national reputation and a lofty ranking in the RivalsHigh 100 Top 5. It will open the year with a team that has improved without making too much noise. Getting off the bus, this game should not be much of a test, but Merrillville advanced further in the playoffs in 2010 than Warren Central. This could be a trap game, as Warren Central may already be looking ahead to tougher tests in Indianapolis Cathedral and Lawrence North the next two weeks.

BEST MATCHUP: Warren Central quarterback Kyle Faunce versus the Merrillville pass defense. Faunce transferred back to Indiana after spending a season in Arizona and this will be his first start with his new team. After developing a solid foundation over the summer passing season, Faunce will be tested immediately with a quality pass defense. Figure Warren Central coach John Hart to use a solid run attack to take pressure off Faunce, but Faunce will need to complete a solid percentage of his passes.

MERRILLVILLE WINS IF: Warren Central has been too wrapped up in reading its press this summer than preparing to win. This is a game that heavily favors Warren Central. Merrillville knows it needs to play a perfect game and get a little lucky. That said, Warren Central has shot itself in the foot before. Merrillville needs to be ready to capitalize if it does again.

WARREN CENTRAL WINS IF: It takes the game seriously. This game is so stacked in its favor in nearly every aspect that it makes it hard sometimes to motivate players to get up for it. Luckily for the Warriors, it is the opening game of the season. They are probably tired of hitting each other in practice and will be ready to knock some heads of opponents. This is a physical team that wants to hit and now it has its first chance of the season.

PREDICTION: Warren Central will have close to a dozen seniors committing to play Division I football by the end of the season - including five on the defensive line. And most all of them enjoy being physical and getting into the opponent. This is not quite the early-season test that some other ranked teams will face, but it is a decent enough game. - Warren Central 44, Merrillville 12

Weekend Watch
Alta v Timpview

DB Austin Lee (6-0/185, Sr.)
DB Rhett Sandlin (6-3/190, Sr.)
When: Friday, Aug. 19, 7:00 p.m.
Last Meeting: Sept. 3, 2010 - Timpview won, 41-27
Rankings: Timpview (0-0), No. 3 in Utah
Alta (0-0), No. 4 in Utah

WHY IT'S BIG: With no teams from Utah inside the RivalsHigh 100, this is a good separation game for two of the Top 5 in the state. Neither Timpview nor Alta is as it good as it was three or four seasons ago, but both have potential to make a case come mid-season for a ranking with how the pair opens the year with difficult schedules. For two powers to open the season against each other - and then travel in a few weeks to California to take on SoCal teams together - that makes for a fun dynamic as well.

BEST MATCHUP: Timpview receivers versus the Alta secondary. Timpview generally tries to have a balanced attack unless it can establish and exploit one area of the game. Alta's strength is in its secondary and being able to take the air attack away from a team. Going into a game knowing that it will need to rely on the run still puts pressure on the receivers to gain separation and not allow Alta to dictate how Timpview plays offense.

TIMPVIEW WINS IF: It can sustain the early attack of Alta and settle the crowd down. Going on the road to start the season is tough, but going to a rival school to open the year is another level. The intensity level will be high early as both teams want to establish themselves. Timpview does not have the high-level talent it is used to having so it will have to find that go-to player early.

ALTA WINS IF: It can control the offensive line. Head coach Bob Stephens has worked with the offensive line at Alta since coming to the school in 1998 and has a tremendous personal achievement list at the position. If he is able to get the most out of a group of linemen that have come into question against some of the better teams in Utah the last few years, it will go a long way toward winning the game.

PREDICTION: Alta has the home-field advantage and the talent edge entering this contest. Timpview has the past success and a slightly higher ranking entering the year. It should shape up to be a see-saw battle that may not be decided until late in the game. In a sloppy but entertaining game, Alta gets a slice of revenge from last year and takes a step in the right direction. - Alta 27, Timpview 23.

Weekend Watch
Other Predictions (2011: 0-0)
Game of the Week: Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman def. Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral, 31-23
No. 9 Trinity def. Brentwood Academy, 39-6
No. 42 Grayson def. Kell, 25-7
No. 46 Colquitt Co. def. Cook, 31-20
No. 66 Lowndes def. South Gwinnett, 22-10
No. 96 Maryville def. Webb, 30-13
Have your game picked next week: E-mail Dallas Jackson
Submit your picks: Play the Pick'Em contest
Game of the Week record: 0-0
2011 Record for all games picked: 0-0

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