MDVarsity.com continues its countdown toward No. 1 with teams ranked No. 10 to No. 6. Each day, MDVarsity will list five more teams until unveiling its top five Friday.
The annual MDVarsity preseason Top 25 often serves as the guide for the official Maryland State Poll, which will release its preseason ranking Aug. 25, followed by week-to-week rankings throughout the regular season and a final postseason poll.
Two state semifinalists and an undefeated private school from 2008 highlight the next five in the countdown toward No. 1. Thursday's list includes the three primary contenders for the Class 4A state title: Arundel, Suitland and Henry Wise. The other featured teams are Loyola, which is coming off an 11-0 season and a third straight league title, and perennial public school state power Damascus.
In sizing up the preseason Top 25, the following factors are heavily weighed: quality of returning players, strength of schedule and reasonable season expectation and recent history.
The countdown continues:
10. Damascus (7-4 in 2008)
With budding stars at quarterback, running back and receiver, Damascus appears to be one of the teams to beat in 3A West this season. Quarterback Connor Frazier returns for his junior year after leading the Hornets to the playoffs in his first season. Running back Brian Lucas may be the one player in Montgomery County every opponent fears. Receiver Brandon Phelps had one of his best games in Damascus' biggest game of the year against Paint Branch. In a loaded region, Damascus looks to be one of two locks (Linganore being the other) to still be playing in late November.
Key Game: vs. Quince Orchard, Sept. 11
9. Henry Wise (9-4)
Who could have predicted it? The Pumas had to win their final game of the year against Oxon Hill to make the playoffs, then rolled off wins against Eleanor Roosevelt and C.H. Flowers to make the Class 4A state semifinals. Fifteen starters return, including University of Maryland commit Titus Till. Wise has become a recruiting hotbed this season, with both of its defensive ends receiving multiple Football Championship Subdivision offers. If head coach DaLawn Parrish can translate his late-season success into a full year, Wise has to be considered a serious threat to win the 4A crown.
Key Game: vs. Suitland, Sept. 5 (Nick Lynch Kickoff Classic)
8. Loyola (11-0)
The Dons are the three-time defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A conference champions, but this year's team will look drastically different. Three-year starting quarterback Leon Kinnard and starting running back Terence Garvin graduated and signed with Football Bowl Subdivision colleges. The Dons will be young, but do not expect much falloff. Head coach Brian Abbott has no worries at quarterback; Connor Bruns proved he could play in the MIAA when Kinnard went down with injury late last year. Vince Snarski steps into Garvin's role after backing him up last year.
Key Game: vs. Gilman, Oct. 17
It speaks volumes about Suitland's talent level that the Rams are still considered the early-season favorite in Prince George's County even after the tragic death of Nick Lynch, the program's longtime head coach. Jeremiah Johnson is committed to Maryland; the Rams have two talented running backs in Keith Brown and Dontrewell Kelley; and Devonte Lindsey returns at quarterback. Longtime assistant coach Ed Shields takes over as head coach. Shields coached at Northwestern-P.G., building a 45-26 record and taking the Wildcats to a 1998 Class 4A state semifinal berth. The players are talented, as well as focused on winning in Lynch's memory -- a dangerous combination for the other teams in 4A.
Key Game: vs. Wise, Sept. 5 (Nick Lynch Kickoff Classic)
6. Arundel (11-2)
Arundel has had the offense to win the past two Class 4A state championships. The one thing lacking was a defense. Coach Chuck Markiewicz seems to have it all this season. Markiewicz is known as an offensive genius, yet his only state title came at North County with a stellar defense. Considering this year's Arundel team has all four linebackers -- including FCS recruit Bobby Partilla -- returning from last year's state semifinalist team, plus a pair of key transfers, the Wildcats might have all the pieces for a run at the 4A state crown. Most of the attention this year will be on senior quarterback Billy Cosh, the state record-setting signal-caller who has committed to Kansas State. Cosh passed for more than 3,900 yards last season. His primary target will be senior R.J. Harris.