GAINESVILLE — The top of The Prep Zone Power Poll preseason football rankings may look familiar. That’s because the top five teams coming into 2016 are the exact top five from the final power poll of the 2015 season.
Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) finished 2015 with an undefeated 14-0 record, and set a Duval County record with its third consecutive state title. The Conquerors rolled through their four 3A playoff opponents by a combined score of 177-20 last season, and they have carried that momentum into 2016.
They received seven of the nine first place votes in the preseason voting to begin the season on top of The Prep Zone Power Poll powered by Anytime Fitness of Gainesville. The Conquerors get a major test from the start as they travel to state-ranked 4A Cocoa on Sunday for a nationally-televised season opener for both teams.
Following Trinity Christian is Mainland (Daytona Beach) at No. 2.
The Bucs finished last season as the runner-up in the regional rankings after once again being eliminated in the 6A region final by Central (Miami), which tied a state record with its fourth straight state title. Mainland, which is ranked third in 6A in the Associated Press preseason rankings, is expected to be among the favorites once again statewide in 6A, but will once again have to deal with Central.
Columbia (Lake City) is ranked third. The Tigers advanced to their first state semifinal since 2003 a year ago, losing at home to eventual 7A state runner-up Viera. Columbia received the other two first place votes in this preseason poll.
Next up at #4 is last year’s 4A state runner-up Raines (Jacksonville). The Vikings lost in Orlando last December to Booker T. Washington (Miami), which also tied a state record with its fourth consecutive state championship in 2015. This was Raines’ first appearance in the state championship game since winning its only state title in 1997.
Rounding out the top five is defending 1A state champion Trenton. The Tigers were one of the most dominant teams in the state a year ago, outscoring their opponents 686-143 en route to a second state title in three seasons. Bill Wiles came over from Santa Fe (Alachua) to become the head coach at Trenton this offseason, replacing Andrew Thomas, who moved on to coach in Alabama after compiling a 60-5 record with the two state championships in five years as the Tigers’ head coach.
Vanguard (Ocala) is at the top of the second five. The Knights are expected to be another contender in 6A led by quarterback N’Kosi Perry, a University of Miami commit.
Bolles (Jacksonville) and Clay (Green Cove Springs) are tied for 7th, while defending 2A state champion University Christian (Jacksonville) comes in 9th. The Christians were also dominating in winning the school’s 8th state title in 2015, outscoring their four playoff opponents 189-52. They are a heavy favorite to win another 2A state title this season.
Rounding out the top 10 is Mandarin (Jacksonville).
The Mustangs finished last season 12-1 with a run to the 8A regional final, but they have a new head coach as Quinn Gray replaces Brian Braddock, who is now the head coach at St. Augustine.
Highlighting the second 10 is #13 Dunnellon, which was 11-1 in 2015.
The Tigers are followed by North Marion (Citra) at No. 14 and Buchholz (Gainesville), which is ranked 15th. Buchholz is coming off its first district title and playoff win in 10 years last season, but must replace quarterback Jackson White, who has graduated and signed with Marshall.
St. Augustine rounds out the poll as Braddock takes over the Yellow Jackets program from Joey Wiles, who after 20 years and one state title has moved on to be the associate athletic director at Flagler College.
Twelve other teams received votes led by Santa Fe (Alachua). The Raiders advanced to the 4A state semifinals a year ago, being eliminated by eventual state runner-up Raines. Cliff Harrell, formerly an assistant coach at Williston and Oakleaf (Orange Park), has taken over for Wiles as the head coach in Alachua.
Gainesville, which opens with Columbia on Thursday night at Citizens Field, is also receiving votes despite having to replace 29 seniors from a team that went 8-5 but advanced to the 6A region final in 2015.
The Prep Zone Power Poll ranks the top 20 high school football, basketball, baseball & softball teams (regardless of FHSAA classification) across 26 counties in North Florida (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Madison, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, Sumter, St. Johns, Suwannee, Taylor, Union & Volusia counties). It is voted on weekly by sportswriters and sportscasters.
The Prep Zone Power Poll – 2016 Football Poll #1 (PRESEASON RANKINGS)
(School, followed by classification, first-place votes, and total voting points)
1. Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) (3A) (7) – 198
2. Mainland (Daytona Beach) (6A) – 182
3. Columbia (Lake City) (7A) (2) – 175
4. Raines (Jacksonville) (4A) – 150
5. Trenton (1A) – 131
6. Vanguard (Ocala) (6A) – 125
7t Bolles (Jacksonville) (4A) – 118
7t Clay (Green Cove Springs) (5A) – 118
9. University Christian (Jacksonville) (2A) – 117
10. Mandarin (Jacksonville) (8A) – 109
11. Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (7A) – 91
12. University (Orange City) (8A) – 77
13. Dunnellon (4A) – 76
14. North Marion (Citra) (5A) – 74
15. Buchholz (Gainesville) (7A) – 65
16. Madison County (1A) – 45
17. Oakleaf (Orange Park) (7A) – 44
18. Suwannee (Live Oak) (5A) – 32
19. Sandalwood (Jacksonville) (8A) – 31
20. St. Augustine (6A) – 27
Also receiving votes: Santa Fe (Alachua) (4A) – 26, Nature Coast (Brooksville) (5A) – 21, Ponte Vedra (5A) – 12, Gainesville (6A) – 11, Ribault (Jacksonville) (5A) – 11, Matanzas (Palm Coast) (6A) – 9, South Sumter (Bushnell) (4A) -6, Spruce Creek (Port Orange) (8A) – 6, Lee (Jacksonville) – 6, Nease (Ponte Vedra) (6A) – 3, Union County (Lake Butler) (1A) – 2, Fort White (1A) – 2.