Maryland high school football rankings: St. Frances sits atop; Wise the top public at No. 6

Even though I’m no longer running Maryland Sports Access, I’ll still be covering the state in high school football this season. Below, I’ve ranked the top 25 programs — private and public — in Maryland and even those from the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Remember: these are a rough reflection of what the football scene will look like and it’s not where you start, but where you finish.

You can follow me on Twitter for high school football news @k_fadd and email me at kfadd32@gmail.com.

Let the games begin:

1. St. Frances Academy Panthers (Last year’s record: 12-0)

Location and conference: Baltimore City, Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference

2017 finish: MIAA A Conference champions over McDonogh; GEICO State Champions Bowl Series winner over Bingham (Utah)

Four of the five MIAA A Conference teams refused to play St. Frances this season, so, because of a frenzy to fill the voids, the Panthers only play one Maryland-based team in 2018. But that won’t suppress the case for them as the state’s best. Behind mastermind Biff Poggi and an elite coaching staff, SFA returns another loaded roster this fall, highlighted by Alabama commits Shane Lee (ILB) and Darian Dalcourt (OG) and 5-star DE Chris Braswell. Offensively, 4-star RB Blake Corum and 3-star recruits Joachim Bangda (RB), WR Jordan Lakes (Indiana commit) and WR Kwesi Evans (Temple commit) lead the charge.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia) at Capital One Field

2. St. John’s College Cadets (D.C.) (9-2)

Location and conference: Washington, Washington Catholic Athletic Conference

2017 finish: WCAC champions over Gonzaga (D.C.)

The Cadets are coming off their first WCAC crown since 1989 and are primed to reign supreme yet again. Running back Keilan Robinson, an Alabama commit, returns to shoulder the load and Hawaiian star Sol-Jay Maiava (offers from Michigan and Oregon) has transferred in to fill the shoes of now-Arizona QB Kevin Doyle. Oh, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a better defensive rotation in the country than this: 5-star OLB Mekhail Sherman, 4-star CB Luke Hill, 4-star DT Tre Williams, 4-star DE Greg Hudgins, 3-star DE Tre’Mon Morris Bush, 3-star CB Aman Greenwood and 3-star S Quinten Johnson (Michigan commit).

Up next: Saturday vs. Johns Creek (Ga.)

3. Our Lady of Good Counsel Falcons (8-3)

Location and conference: Montgomery County, WCAC

2017 finish: lost to Gonzaga (D.C.) in the WCAC semifinals

In just his second year, Coach Andy Stefanelli has the Falcons back in the national ranks, looking to reach championship form for the first time since the legendary Bob Milloy won four straight from 2009-12. Dual-threat QB Kam Snell returns, as well as 3-star WR Cam Hart — a Notre Dame commit — 3-star ATH Mitchell Melton, and a pair of 3-star ILBs committed to JMU, Jalen Green and Julio Ayamel. They also have three of the nation’s best o-linemen paving the way — 6-6, 300-pound OT Landon Tangwell (20 Power 5 offers); 6-5, 305-pound OG Mason Lunsford; and 6-4, 300-pound OG Lucas Portes.

Up next: Friday at Marietta (Ga.)

4. Gonzaga College Eagles (D.C.) (8-4)

Location and conference: Washington, WCAC

2017 finish: lost to St. John’s (D.C.) in the WCAC final

Caleb Williams marched the Purple Eagles to the WCAC title game as a frosh gunslinger, and you can bet the sophomore QB is geared for an encore this fall. He’ll have his hands full, however, against loaded defenses like DeMatha, Good Counsel and St. John’s, but the supporting cast is stout: 4-star DE Joseph Wete (Oklahoma commit), 3-star TE Justin Ball (Purdue commit), 3-star OLB Hunter Stewart (Virginia commit), 3-star CB Dean Ingram (Wisconsin commit), 3-star OG Luke Petibon and OLB Sean Johns (JMU commit).

Up next: Friday vs. Gilman

5. DeMatha Catholic Stags (6-5)

Location and conference: Prince Georges County, WCAC

2017 finish: lost to St. John’s in the WCAC semifinals

The Stags’ dynasty of four straight WCAC titles came to a halt last year, as they failed to win more than six games for the first time since Elijah Brooks took over the program in 2011. But even Brooks will tell you, if 5-star RB Marshawn Lloyd didn’t suffer a season-ending broken wrist in Week 1, 2017 would be different. With Lloyd back healthy and the top two 2019 safeties — literally, Nos. 1 and 2 — in DeMarcco Hellams (Alabama commit) and Nick Cross patroling the secondary, DeMatha will be a tough out in the ultra-competitive WCAC.

Up next: Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) on ESPN2

6. Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. Pumas (14-0)

Location and conference: Prince Georges County, Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association Class 4A South

2017 finish: MPSSAA Class 4A state champions over Quince Orchard

These Pumas just keep rolling, fresh off a third straight 14-0, state-title campaign. Their 42-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest active stretch nationally with Damascus and that mark could potentially reach 56 by season’s end. Four-star WR Isaiah Hazel (WVU commit) and 3-star QB Quinton Williams (Morgan State commit) lead an offense that’s averaged 43.4 points per game the past three years. On defense, CB Dennis Stokes (offers from Morgan State and Toledo) and DT Khalil Gray (Towson commit) highlight a unit that’s given up just 5.8 points per contest over this 42-win stretch.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Camden (N.J.)

7. Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers (6-4)

Location and conference: Anne Arundel County, MIAA A Conference

2017 finish: missed the MIAA A Conference playoffs

The Cavs return 15 starters from a year ago, including 3-star CB Logic Hudgens, 3-star DT Jahmeer Carter (Virginia commit) and dual-threat QB Jayden Umbarger. Since St. Frances was already awarded the conference title, Spalding will have to wait until 2019 to make another playoff run.

Up next: Friday, August 31 at No. 3 Good Counsel

8. Bullis Bulldogs (8-2)

Location and conference: Montgomery County, Interstate Athletic Conference

2017 finish: third-place in the IAC

The Bulldogs retain 17 starters from their third-place finish in the IAC, namely do-it-all speedster Bryson Shaw, an Ohio State commit at safety who accounted for 981 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns, 30 total tackles and three interceptions last year. Leading-rusher Eric McKan III and leading-tackler Jordan Ligon are also back in the fold.

Up next: Saturday, Sept. 1 at Archbishop Carroll (D.C.)

9. Quince Orchard Cougars (12-2)

Location and conference: Montgomery County, MPSSAA Class 4A West

2017 finish: lost to Wise in the MPSSAA Class 4A final

Coach John Kelley has labeled this year as “championship or bust” and the Cougars have every right to believe that. They’ve lost in the 4A title game to Wise back-to-back years now but have a squad worthy of winning it all. QO returns 13 starters, including team captain Johnny Hodges, the quarterback of the defense at ILB, CB Aaron Green (Delaware commit) and leading-rusher Marquez Cooper. However, in order to reach championship caliber, they’ll have to replace Doc Bonner, a three-year starter under center.

Up next: Friday, August 31 at Bethesda-CC

10. Damascus Swarmin’ Hornets (14-0)

Location and conference: Montgomery County, MPSSAA Class 2A West

2017 finish: MPSSAA Class 2A state champions over Gwynn Park

Like Wise, Damascus rolled to its third straight 14-0, state-title season a year ago. The trio of linemen — Michael Jurgens (Wake Forest), Jordan Funk (Army) and Matthew Betterelli (Shepherd-Division II — who spearheaded this run are out the door, but enough returns to keep the dominance alive and well. Five-star DE Bryan Bresee, who also happens to be the top 2020 recruit in the nation, anchors another forceful Swarmin’ Hornets front and RB/S TD Ayo-Durojaiye (16 Division I offers) is set to assume the bulk of the carries in their signature smashmouth offense.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Blake

11. Mount St. Joseph Gaels (6-4)

Location and conference: Baltimore City, MIAA A Conference

2017 finish: missed the MIAA A Conference playoffs

The Gaels return 16 starters from a sub-par 2017 season, including one of the best ball-carriers in Maryland, 6-2, 225-pound tailback Marlowe Wax. Like every other MIAA A Conference team, MSJ will have to wait until 2019 to make another title run, since St. Frances was already awarded the conference title.

Up next: Saturday vs. No. 22 St. Mary’s Ryken

12. Oakdale Bears (9-2)

Location and conference: Frederick County, MPSSAA Class 2A West

2017 finish: lost to Walkersville in the MPSSAA 2A West semifinals

In just eight years, Coach Kurt Stein has turned the Bears from a winless program into one of the top public teams in Maryland. If they want to be considered among the best, though, they’ll have to finally get over the hump, as three of the past four seasons have ended in losses to the eventual state champion. With five Division I recruits and 17 starters back in the mix, including 3-star QB Collin Schlee (Kent State commit) — the state’s top-rated signal-caller by 247sports — this could, at last, be the year.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Digital Harbor

13. Linganore Lancers (12-2)

Location and conference: Frederick County, MPSSAA Class 3A West

2017 finish: MPSSAA Class 3A state champions over Milford Mill

The Lancers return 11 starters from their 19-point comeback win in the 3A title game, including dynamic receiver Joey Felton (Yale commit), leading rusher Davon Butler and 6-5, 225-pound QB Ryan Leyh. On defense, ILB Jackson Ambush (Albany commit) leads the way and OLB Cole Mitchell comes over from Mount St. Joseph. It’s also worth noting the core of this coaching staff under hall-of-fame coach Rick Conner has been together for 16 years and has three titles over that span.

Up next: Friday, August 31 at Archbishop Curley

14. Georgetown Prep Little Hoyas (8-2)

Location and conference: Montgomery County, IAC

2017 finish: IAC co-champions

The Little Hoyas look to rise above Bullis, Landon and the rest of the IAC this fall behind 3-star RB Jalen Hampton (three Power 5 offers).

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Woodberry Forest (Va.)

15. Milford Mill Millers (12-2)

Location and conference: Baltimore County, MPSSAA Class 3A North

2017 finish: lost to Linganore in the MPSSAA Class 3A final

The Millers have been training all summer with the distaste of blowing a 19-point lead in the 3A title game and you can bet they’re going to ride that ferocity for as long as possible this fall. Nine starters from the fast and physical defense are back, including leading-tacklers Kevin Neal and Jordan Neal at linebacker. Desmond Shell, who racked up 2,209 all-purpose yards, 20 touchdowns, 35 total tackles, six interceptions and three sacks last year will take on the lead-back role and round out one of the quickest front-sevens in Maryland.

Up next: Friday, August 31 at Tuscarora

16. McDonogh Eagles (6-5)

Location and conference: Baltimore County, MIAA A Conference

2017 finish: lost to St. Frances in the MIAA A Conference semifinals

The Eagles will have to replace QB DeJuan Ellis, who was an instrumental of the offense for two years is now at Virginia Tech. But they do return RB Jabriel Johnson (three Division I offers), 4-star WR Curtis Jacobs and 3-star DT D’Vron Ellies. Like every other MIAA A Conference team, McDonogh will have to wait until 2019 to make another title run, since St. Frances was already awarded the conference title.

Up next: Friday at Archbishop Wood (Pa.)

17. Northwest Jaguars (9-3)

Location and conference: Mongomery County, MPSSAA Class 4A West

2017 finish: lost to Quince Orchard in the 4A West final

No players are left from the 2014 state title team, and maybe that’s a good thing for Coach Michael Neubeiser and these Jaguars, so the drive to get back to championship form resonates from top to bottom. Eleven starters are back from a nine-win season, including 3-star Pitt commits, DE DeAndre Jules and ATH AJ Woods, as well as RB/ILB Isaiah Bishop (10 Division I offers).

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Wootton

18. Calvert Hall Cardinals (7-5)

Location and conference: Baltimore County, MIAA A Conference

2017 finish: lost to Gilman in the MIAA A Conference semifinals

QB Mike Campbell and RB Sean Tucker return for the Cardinals this season, aiming to build on the seven wins from 2017. Like every other MIAA A Conference team, Calvert Hall will have to wait until 2019 to make another title run, since St. Frances was already awarded the conference title.

Up next: Saturday at Silver Oak Academy

19. Landon Bears (9-1)

Location and conference: Montgomery County, IAC

2017 finish: IAC co-champions

Three-star SS Jalen Williams (Boston College commit) and three-star ATH Jelani Machen highlight the Bears’ roster this year as they look at repeat as IAC champs.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Whitman at Wootton High School

20. Dunbar Poets (12-1)

Location and conference: Baltimore City, MPSSAA Class 1A North

2017 finish: MPSSAA Class 1A state champions over Fort Hill

The Poets are lauded as the team to beat in Class 1A and on the Baltimore City public school scene once again.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Allegany

21. Paint Branch Panthers (10-2)

Location and conference: Montgomery County, MPSSAA Class 4A North

2017 finish: lost to Howard in the MPSSAA Class 4A North final

Behind three-year quarterback Norman Douglas, the Panthers return 10 starters on offense and a host of contributors on defense this season as they aim for their first state title in over 40 years.

Up next: Friday, August 31 at Northwood

22. St. Mary’s Ryken Knights (9-1)

Location and conference: St. Mary’s County, Independent

2017 finish: lost to Bullis to finish 9-1

The Knights return 12 starters from their breakout, nine-win season from a year ago.

Up next: Saturday at No. 12 Mount St. Joseph

23. Westminster Owls (10-2)

Location and conference: Carroll County, MPSSAA Class 3A West

2017 finish: lost to Linganore in the MPSSAA Class 3A West final

The Owls’ two losses both came to Linganore last year, but they showed vast strides from the first meeting (a 22-point loss) and the last (two-point loss), which came in the 3A West title game. With QB Christian Etchison back in the fold, Westminster will have another shot in Class 3A once again.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Urbana

24. Charles Herbert Flowers Jaguars (10-1)

Location and conference: Prince George’s County, MPSSAA Class 4A South

2017 finish: lost to Eleanor Roosevelt in the MPSSAA Class 4A South semifinals

The Jaguars return 18 starters from an unblemished regular season, including nine on a defense that allowed just 11.9 points per game.

Up next: Saturday, Sept. 1 vs. Patterson

25. Fort Hill Sentinels (13-1)

Location and conference: Allegany County, MPSSAA Class 1A West

2017 finish: lost to Dunbar in the MPSSAA Class 1A final

The Sentinels’ quest for a state record five titles in a row vanquished in the four-point loss to Dunbar in the 1A championship game last December. Almost every key player from that dominant run has graduated, meaning new faces will need to emerge if they want to keep up with Dunbar.

Up next: Friday, August 31 vs. Loyola Blakefield

On the bubble: Franklin (7-4), Gwynn Park (11-2), Gilman (5-7), Howard (12-1), Walkersville (11-1)