John Curtis begins difficult schedule with Bergen Catholic of New Jersey

John Curtis coach J.T. Curtis chuckled when asked the question.

Who in the world made your schedule?

He then quickly passed the blame to his son, Johnny, one of his assistants.

“I asked him if he was trying to kill me or run me out of the business,” said the Patriots longtime head coach with a laugh.

John Curtis begins its rugged schedule Friday when it plays Bergen Catholic, a perennial power from New Jersey ranked 48th nationally by USA Today. Kickoff at Joe Yenni stadium is set for 6 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1.

It’s the first of a schedule that is frontloaded with powerhouses. Curtis plays Florida juggernaut St. Thomas Aquinas in Week 2 in a much-anticipated showdown in the Superdome. The Patriots follow that with a game against East St. John. Those will be followed by battles against local powers Karr (Sept. 26) and St. Augustine (Oct. 4). Bergen, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Karr and St. Augustine are all ranked nationally by at least one website.

“Overall, games 1-10, it’s probably the toughest schedule we have ever had,” said Curtis. “When we were in 4A, we were in a tough district. But as far as predistrict, this is as competitive as we have had. Our first six games are as good as anybody in the state.”

Or perhaps tougher than anyone in the country.

“I would say it’s in the top 10 certainly,” said Jim Halley, who compiles USA Today’s national high school rankings.

That schedule, coupled with the Patriots’ success last season, is one of the reasons Halley ranks Curtis No. 2 nationally in his preseason rankings. Curtis went 14-0 in 2012 on its way to claiming the Class 2A state championship and being named the country’s national champions by at least five publications.

“We look at what a team did last year, what they have coming back and their schedule,” Halley said. “When a team plays a schedule like that, and they win out, I know my rankings are justified. And if they lose, of course they get knocked out. I know they have to do some rebuilding on the line, but they have a lot of skill players back and we all know about the coaching ability there.”

Halley points to one major benefit from playing such a tough schedule.

“When you play those out-of state schools and lose, it may hurt you in the national rankings, but it can only help you down the line in the playoffs,” Halley said.

And that was the reason Curtis and his son scheduled such a tough slate in their quest to leading the school to its 26th state championship.

“It is a competitive schedule, but we have always played a competitive schedule,” said Curtis. “One of the things we believe is that we need to find out early what it is we need to do to get this team ready to compete for a state championship. That’s the highest honor this state offers so we want to give our kids a chance to compete.”

Making the schedule even tougher is three of the Patriots’ games will be televised.

“Bergen Catholic is a nationally ranked team, and they play a very national competitive schedule and it will be a great test for us,” said Curtis. “And when you talk about playing on national television, that added pressure will be a good situation for us to have to deal with.”

Television has made the inter-state games popular.

“The networks are always looking for good games, and the coaches are starting to want to do it more,” said Halley. “It’s a good experience for the kids because they get to go to places they normally wouldn’t visit and for some it’s their first time ever flying. You have really seen these games pick up since 2005.

“At first you saw a handful, but now you see games where you see teams go several states away.”

And it has helped Halley and others when it comes to trying to crown a “national champion” at season’s end.

“When you are trying to pick the best team from 20,000 high schools, you have to have some type of shortcut,” said Halley. “It’s early, and we don’t know how good teams are, but when you play a schedule like Curtis, we’ll know where they should be ranked.”