BRADENTON -- The quality of opponent has become consistent.
This year's twist, however, has everything to do with timing.
Since 2010, Manatee has attempted to cram its non-district football schedule with national powers, a trend that continues Friday night when the Hurricanes host Fort Lauderdale University.
Rather than meeting such a formidable foe early -- Manatee hosted New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep in Week 3 of the 2011 season, for example -- this time the matchup comes in Week 9, with the Canes having already wrapped up a district title and first-round home game when the Class 8A-Region 2 playoffs open Nov. 15.
"Before, we had Venice in our district, which we usually thought would be one that would test us," said Manatee coach Joe Kinnan, whose team hosted the Indians in a non-district game Week 2, "close to that place, Week 8, Week 10, somewhere around there. We felt we needed to bring as good a team in as we could."
After running into University's coaches last March during the Nike Clinic in Orlando, Kinnan worked out Friday's game with the Suns, who won the Class 3A state championship last season.
University (7-0) has won 20 straight games, has never had a losing season since playing its first game in 2006 and is ranked nationally by MaxPreps (13th), Rivals (13th) and USA Today (19th).
Suns quarterback Sean White (1,547 passing yards, 23 touchdowns) has committed to Auburn, and defensive back Quincy Wilson (three interceptions) is headed to Florida, two of seven University players to make Di
vision I commits.
"Our schedule this season consists of teams with strong traditions, and Manatee definitely adds strength and credibility," said Suns coach Roger Harriott, whose team defeated Class 8A state runner-up Weston Cypress Bay this year and closes the regular season against Miami Central, another national powerhouse. "(The Hurricanes) possess a formidable reputation and are recognized as one of the most prominent football programs in the country."
Ranked 17th by MaxPreps, 16th by Rivals and 23rd by USA Today, Manatee (8-0) is shooting for a long run through the Class 8A playoffs. And Kinnan said the Class 4A Suns possess the same sort of talent as teams such as Miramar and Apopka, whom the Canes will probably have to run through in order to win their sixth state title.
The Suns are in the same boat. They'll most likely face Miami Booker T. Washington, ranked No. 1 nationally in three different polls, during the second round of the playoffs.
"This matchup, for us," Harriott said, "is the optimal playoff preparation in our pursuit to win another state championship."
A playoff berth already secured, the Hurricanes hope the stiff challenge presented by the Suns keeps them sharp during a season-ending two-game stretch that cannot either help or harm their championship hopes.
Manatee closes its regular-season slate next week against Palm Harbor University and has an open date prior to the start of the postseason.
"I'm personally really excited about this game," said offensive lineman Jake Stickler, "especially since it's such a good team that we're playing. I just love playing teams that are ranked very high, and I like the games that we have to grind out, that we have to stay in, that we have to really work for. ... It's even better that it's this late in the season because we're more prepared for it and it helps us prepare for the playoffs. This is the caliber of team we'll be seeing in the playoffs."
Consequently, the timing couldn't have worked out better for either team.
"It has nothing to do with the playoffs," Kinnan said. "But you would sure like to keep up your winning."