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South Florida high school football top 20 poll: 16-20

The debate has already begun as to who the best high school football teams in South Florida will be in 2013.

Miami Central and Miami Booker T. Washington have been ranked the country’s top two teams by a few national polls.

Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and Fort Lauderdale University are also nationally-ranked.

Over the next couple of weeks leading up to the start of the regular season, the Miami Herald will begin to unveil its first official South Florida Top 20 poll of the season.

We start with a look at Nos. 20 through 16:

20. Coral Reef (6-4 last season)

Outlook: Coral Reef returns 20 of 22 starters from a group that finished third in tough District 16-8A last season. Add to that the Barracudas adding two former head coaches – Lamont Green and Billy Rolle – to its staff and coach Chevas Clements’ squad looks poised to challenge South Dade and Killian for the district crown. Coral Reef last made the playoffs in 2011.

Starting quarterback Nicodem Pierre (6-2, 185 pounds), the No. 23 prospect in Miami-Dade by The Miami Herald, and wide receiver Jacob McCrary (6-0, 175), ranked No. 19, return on an offense that returns nine starters.

The defense returns intact and should be improved under Green’s tutelage and the on-field leadership of defensive back Marcus Leslie and defensive lineman Joe Suarez.

Key games: Sept. 12, Central; Sept. 20, Killian; Nov. 2, South Dade.

19. Cardinal Gibbons (7-3)

Outlook: An offense that averaged 32.4 points per game should still be among the most potent in Broward with senior quarterback Peyton Bender (No. 11 in Broward by The Miami Herald) and wide receiver Trevon Lee (No. 9 in Broward by The Miami Herald) making big plays and senior Kadeem Smith anchoring the offensive line.

The challenge against a tough district that includes Class 5A state championship contenders Miami Jackson and Plantation American Heritage is going to be on defense. But if those two factors can come together, expect a strong challenge from the Chiefs.

Key games: Sept. 20, Boyd Anderson; Oct. 19, at Jackson; Oct. 25, Blanche Ely; Nov. 1, American Heritage.

18. Carol City (7-3)

Outlook: Coming off a great summer that included a victory at the Miami Dolphins 7-on-7 tournament, the Chiefs still have one of the most skilled teams in Dade. Former University of Miami and Florida assistant Aubrey Hill takes over a squad that lost a tiebreaker with Northwestern last season denying them a playoff berth in spite of a 7-3 season. Senior quarterback Trayon Gray (No. 22 in Miami-Dade by The Miami Herald) is one of South Florida’s best and could be the weapon the Chiefs need to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009 if it can score a couple of key victories against its brutal District 16-6A schedule.

Key games: Sept. 11, Booker T.; Sept. 20, Northwestern; Oct. 10, NMB; Oct. 25, Central; Nov. 1, Norland.

17. Blanche Ely (5-5)

Outlook: Senior linebacker Terry McCray (No. 21 prospect in Broward by The Miami Herald), a University of Miami commitment, will anchor a defense that returns seven starters and will try to get the Tigers back in the playoffs after they fell short for the first time in four seasons. Coach Charles Hafley, Jr.’s team faces a beefed up schedule, however, that includes Deerfield Beach, Belle Glade Glades Central, Northwestern, Plantation, Boyd Anderson, Cardinal Gibbons and Dillard.

Key games: Sept. 27, Northwestern; Oct. 18, Boyd Anderson; Nov. 1, Northeast; Nov. 9, Dillard.

16. Dillard (6-6)

Outlook: The Panthers made it back to the playoffs after a four-year absence last year before losing a tough first-round game to Miami Norland. A year later, Dillard looks experienced enough to win District 15-6A.

Senior quarterback Bud Martin threw for over 1,500 yards last season and 15 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Dennis Turner (No. 23 prospect in Broward by The Herald) was one of his top targets (42 catches, 781 yards, 9 TDs). On defense, the Panthers look strong as well with senior cornerback Randy Ramsey (No. 24 in Broward by The Herald) and senior linebacker Terrance Grant leading the way.

Key games: Aug. 30, Plantation; Oct. 18, Hallandale; Nov. 9, Blanche Ely.

On the cusp:

Killian, Homestead, Coral Gables, Chaminade, Westminster Christian

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