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August 23, 2011

Rival regions: N. Alabama vs. S. Alabama

MORE NIEBUHR: Memphis vs. Nashville | Weekend best

In this two-week series, Rivals.com is taking a look at the high school football talent in rival regions - breaking down the best prospects, best teams and giving our vote for which area is superior.

TODAY'S MATCHUP: North Alabama vs. South Alabama


The Case for North Alabama

North Alabama, which for the purposes of this breakdown, includes everything north of Clanton (the state's geographic center), just happens to have a player some believe is the country's top quarterback - Jameis Winston, a Florida State commit from Hueytown. All he did in 2010 was pass for 2,342 yards and 17 TDs while rushing for 870 more yards.

At Oxford, we find three of the best players in the state. Linebacker Kwon Alexander is a Rivals100 prospect, safety Trae Elston is a four-star recruit and offensive guard Michael Flint is an Under Armour All-American.

At linebacker, this area includes Reggie Ragland of Madison Bob Jones, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound inside backer, Alabama commit and member of the Rivals250. The Birmingham area features two four-star outside backers in Cassanova McKinzy of Birmingham Woodlawn and Javiere Mitchell from Leeds. The athletically gifted McKinzy, who recorded 19 tackles for loss in 2010, is an Auburn commit.

Receiver Alex Taylor of Lester West Limestone is another four-star recruit. For good measure, North Alabama also has three-star athlete Beniquez Brown of Florence, who is likely to play outside linebacker or safety in college and is being pursued by several SEC programs.

From the class of 2013, the North has Alabama offensive line commit Bradley Bozeman of Roanoke Handley, Auburn defensive tackle commit Dee Liner of Muscle Shoals, Drake Grisham, a Clemson receiver commit from Spain Park, and receiver James Cox of Tuscaloosa Northridge, who has several early offers after a productive summer.


The Case for South Alabama

The area of Alabama south of Clanton (a town about halfway between Birmingham and Montgomery), is headlined by Rivals 100 and U.S. Army All-American running back T.J. Yeldon of Daphne, a standout who could play either tailback or receiver (and maybe both) at the next level. He's the No. 2 player in the state and an Auburn commit.

Two four-star defensive linemen also call this area home - Chris Casher of Mobile Davidson and Justin Shanks of Prattville. Casher is in the Rivals 100; Shanks is just outside of it. Both of these players are committed to Florida State.

Another Prattville player, athlete Justin Thomas, is the final four-star from this area. Though he plays quarterback for the country's No. 1 team, the speedy Thomas very well could end up at receiver in college. Currently, he's committed to Alabama.

Athlete Tyler Hayes of Thomasville, gives the region one of the state's most versatile players. He is both a standout at running back and outside linebacker, the latter being where the Alabama commit likely will end up in college. The top offensive lineman in this area is FSU commit Alphonse Taylor of Mobile Davidson, who is 6-6, 340 pounds.

One strength for this region is the defensive line. There, you find players such as Auburn commit Tyler Nero of Escambia County, defensive tackle Darius Philon of Prichard Vigor and defensive end/linebacker Ryan Anderson of Daphne.

The top quarterback is Jonathan Wallace of Phenix City Central, who recently committed to Southern Miss.

For 2013, the big names are offensive lineman Austin Golson of Prattville, an FSU commit, and Crimson Tide receiver commit O.J. Howard of Autauga Autauga Academy.


Bottom line

While the northern part of the state has slightly more talent at the very top, the southern region appears to have more overall talent. Among the top 40 players in Alabama, 26 hail from the state's geographic southern half. Also, that region has a terrific balance of skill and interior players on each side of the football. There are excellent players in both areas, but the nod goes to the South.


Team matchup

For the first time in a long time, this is a clear-cut case: The power in Alabama for 2011 is in the southern part of the state. Sure the northern portion has Madison (Ala.) Bob Jones, Hoover (Ala.) High and Hoover (Ala.) Spain Park at its highest level but the cumulative effect of Birmingham, Madison, Huntsville, and Gadsden will not keep up with Prattville (Ala.) High, and some other Montgomery area teams, combining with Daphne (Ala.) High and the rest of the Mobile area. The top five teams come season's end could all be from South Alabama despite the obligatory northern team in the state finals. Even in the lower levels, the Gulf area has rebounded nicely and will control the state this season.

- Dallas Jackson


Series Schedule
AUG. 23: North Alabama vs. South Alabama | Arizona/New Mexico vs. Colorado/Utah
AUG. 24: Atlanta vs. New Orleans
AUG. 25: Indianapolis vs. Cincinnati | Chicago vs. Detroit
AUG. 26: Southern California vs. Northern California



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