Consider 2011 the Year of the Shake-up.
The upcoming prep football season features new district alignments, new opponents and new paths to the postseason.
And of course, new schedules.
So here is a look at 10 games to watch this season, listed chronologically.
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The list comes with one caveat -- the game has to take place in the area. So while Manatee’s contest in Maryland on Sept. 2 against Our Lady of Good Counsel should be a good one, it’s a little too far away from the Shake Pit to make the cut.
1. Lakewood Ranch at Braden River, Sept. 2 -- Rivalry games are always fun, and while this East Manatee matchup hasn’t yet reached the heights of Southeast-Manatee, it means a little more with each passing year, including last year, when the Mustangs beat the Pirates for the first time.
2. Riverview at Manatee, Sept. 9 -- This is no longer a district game, but it will be interesting to see someone other than John Sprague lead the Rams into Hawkins Stadium. In his place will be Riverview alum and former NFL player Todd Johnson, who was hired when Sprague stepped down after 30 years.
3. Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) at Manatee, Sept. 16 -- Based out of Ramsey, N.J., Bosco has won 35 straight games and has been named a preseason No. 1 by MaxPreps and ESPNRise. The Ironmen are expected to boast a killer defensive backfield, so watching them go up against Canes quarterback Cord Sandberg will be a game within a game. Side note: this is the first of a doubleheader, with Tampa Plant and another Jersey powerhouse, Bergen Catholic, scheduled to play in Game 2.
4. Sarasota at Southeast, Sept. 23 -- There are no playoff implications here -- Sarasota is a Class 7A school, Southeast is a Class 5A school -- but this is a big week for the Noles, who head to Manatee the following Friday and then open district play the next week against Arcadia DeSoto. Games like this help further momentum for bigger weeks to come.
5. Southeast at Manatee, Sept. 30 -- The Noles were up 17 points at the half last year, poised to beat their biggest rivals for the first time since 2006. That didn’t happen, as the Hurricanes scored 24 unanswered points and took a 15-14 lead in the series. So maybe the area’s greatest rivalry didn’t need any more steam, but it got it. And this year’s contest will have plenty to live up to.
6. Palmetto at Bayshore, Oct. 7 -- It’s always special when two Manatee County teams go at it, and this one gets a lift from the reclassification, as the Tigers and Bruins will be jockeying for position in Class 5A-District 10 this season. Palmetto is looking to get back to the postseason after last year’s second-half surge, while Bayshore hasn’t been there since 2005.
7. Weston Cypress Bay at Manatee, Oct. 14 -- Perhaps Manatee coach Joe Kinnan’s decision to stay in a four-team district was made easier by the opportunnity to fill seven open dates. Kinnan wasted little time scheduling national powers from Maryland (Our Lady of Good Counsel) and New Jersey (Don Bosco), but stayed in state when he chose Cypress Bay, a Class 8A school that reached the Class 6A state semifinals last year.
8. Venice at Manatee, Oct. 21 -- Some things never change, and that includes the Indians and Hurricanes playing for a district championship. They have done it nearly every year since Kinnan returned to the sideline in 2005, and seeing as how this game will likely decide the Class 7A-District 10 champ, they will do so again this fall.
9. Wauchula Hardee at Palmetto, Oct. 21 -- It’s one of the state’s oldest and grandest rivalries, and thanks to Palmetto’s successfully appealing its original classification (the Tigers were initially placed into Class 6A-District 10), it means more now that both teams are 5A-10 players.
10. Palmetto at Southeast, Nov. 4 -- Aside from Southeast-Manatee, this will be the most anticipated county game of the year. On the line here will be the 5A-District 10 title and a first-round home playoff game. What a great way to cap the district portion of play.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2097.