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June 20, 2012

Rivals Challenge: Who's your pick?

MORE: #RivalsChallenge: Schools to watch | Challenge details

An important aspect of the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge is the competition between the four regions of the country. This weekend's roster includes 25 players from the North, Southeast, Southwest and West.

Sunday's action consists of the Big Man Challenge, pitting the eight linemen from each region in competition, with the remaining 17 skill position prospects from each region taking part in a round-robin 7-on-7 tournament. The combined winners of the Big Man Challenge and 7-on-7 tournament will be crowned champion region of the inaugural Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.

With the nation's best skill position prospects descending on Atlanta this week to represent their regions, the 7-on-7 tournament will feature high level competition. Here is a breakdown of what each region brings to the field:

NORTH

Strengths: The nation's No. 1 cornerback, Olney (Md.) Good Counsel's Kendall Fuller, leads probably the most talented secondary at the event. Fuller will be joined by Ohio State commit Eli Woodard and Michigan commit Jourdan Lewis at the cornerback position. Class of 2014 safeties Quin Blanding and Jalen Tabor are young, but could prove to be as good as any safety tandem at the event. On offense, the North has a great mix of big, downfield receivers and quick, slot receivers led by Marquez North and Laquon Treadwell, the nation's No. 3 and No. 5 ranked receivers, respectively.

Weaknesses: The loss of the nation's top tight end, Camp Hill (Pa.) Cedar Cliff's Adam Breneman, who tore an ACL last week, certainly hurts, but in Durham (N.C.) Hillside four-star Josh McNeil, they have found a more than capable replacement. Richmond (Va.) Heritage's Derrick Green is the nation's top-ranked running back, though he is not particularly known as a major threat in the passing game.

SOUTHEAST

Strengths: The Southeast squad boasts the top-ranked tight end at the event in Autauga (Ala.) Academy's O.J. Howard, and the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder is expected to be a force. He will be catching passes from the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback nationally, Vanderbilt commit Johnathan McCrary, who has the arm strength to touch all points on the field. Defensively, the Southeast features the nation's top-ranked linebacker and No. 2 overall player, Reuben Foster of Auburn, Ala. He will be joined by future rival, Auburn commit Trey Johnson and a pair of athletic rising juniors in Raekwon McMillan and Kevin Crosby.

Weaknesses: Surprisingly, the Southeast squad does not have a ton of star power at the wide receiver and defensive back spots, with just one top-50 prospect in the two positions, but the group will definitely bring plenty of speed. Foster and Johnson are the top two rated inside linebackers in the country, but will that elite talent translate to 7-on-7 play?

SOUTHWEST

Strengths: Lead by the nation's top-ranked wide receiver, Sealy, Texas' Ricky Seals-Jones, the Southwest team has a strong argument for boasting the top group of pass-catchers at the event. He will be joined by USC commit Eldridge Massington, LSU commit John Diarse, Oklahoma commit Stanvon Taylor and the nation's No. 5 ranked athlete, Rickey Jefferson of Destrehan, La. DeSean Smith, the nation's No. 3 ranked tight end, and explosive class of 2014 running back Leonard Fournette round out the cast of targets for five-star quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

Weaknesses: Swoopes has all the tools to be a Vince Young- or Terrelle Pryor-type force in college, but he still has a ways to go to be on that level as a passer. Swoopes will have a strong collection of talent to throw the ball to, but success in 7-on-7 is heavily predicated on the play of the quarterback. Defensively, the Southwest will not have the highest-rated bunch, but their linebackers are athletic and their defensive backs are big and physical.

WEST

Strengths: The West has the nation's top-rated player at the position of greatest importance in 7-on-7 play. Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline five-star Max Browne gives the West a big advantage coming out, and he'll be throwing to a wide receiver corps with plenty of speed, headlined by four-star Steven Mitchell. USC commit Justin Davis is also the ideal running back for 7-on-7 play. The West Coast is known for producing elite defensive backs, and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Rivals100 cornerback Chris Hawkins leads a strong group in the secondary.

Weaknesses: There are a lot of question marks for the West team at linebacker. Tahaan Goodman is ultra-talented, but he will be moving up from the safety position to play in the linebacker corps. There is a lot of inexperience around him, so teams will be looking to test that group early. With the other three teams fielding top-end talent at tight end, the pressure will be on Spokane (Wash.) Mead's Danny Mattingly to perform at a high level on Sunday.

ANALYST PREDICTIONS

National Analyst Mike Farrell -- I like the North team. They have a top quarterback, tremendous secondary -- which is always key to these events -- and a few players I think will surprise such as Josh McNeil and Tyler Boyd. They will be the underdog going in, but they should have the best defense overall and have some amazing playmakers.

West Coast Analyst Adam Gorney -- In this setting, I think the North team has some major advantages. It has an outstanding quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and a phenomenal group of receivers. Losing Adam Breneman might hurt a little bit, but the North also has a strong group of cornerbacks led by five-star Kendall Fuller. Don't count out the West though, because Max Browne can keep any team in any game and the defensive backs are solid as well.

Southeast Analyst Chris Nee -- The Southeast squad has some really good talent and should be able to compete with anybody. Johnathan McCrary is a talented signal-caller with a big arm. The wide receiver group has great speed in Reggie Davis but a ton of size -- Earnest Robinson, Isaiah Jones, Taj Williams -- and then you mix in two very versatile hybrid-types in Bo Scarbrough and O.J. Howard. Greg Bryant is a capable receiver out of the backfield. Much has been made of the teams loaded linebacker group, led by Reuben Foster, but the secondary is dangerous with Shaq Wiggins, Leon McQuay III, Antonio Conner, and Marcell Harris.

Southwest Analyst Brian Perroni -- I think the Southwest has a good chance of winning it because of the size mismatches they will present on both offense and defense. Ricky Seals-Jones and Eldridge Massington are big receivers while defensive backs Kameron Miles and Laurence Jones are bigger than most of the receivers they will be matched against.

Midwest Analyst Josh Helmholdt -- The key to success in 7-on-7 is the quarterback, and with five-star Max Browne leading the way, I think the West comes out on top at the end of the weekend. The West does not have as many big names at wide receiver, defensive back and linebacker as some of the other regions, but the group is well-suited for 7-on-7 play. The North also has a nice mix of talent for 7-on-7 play, while the Southeast will bring a ton of speed and the Southwest a ton of size. In the end, though, Brown gives the West a big advantage from the quarterback spot.



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