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A matchup of two teams who finished at the bottom of their Mid-Suburban League division standings would not appear to be intriguing or compelling.
But one of the MSL crossovers worth watching Sept. 16 could be Hersey's visit to Conant.
Yes, they come into this season on a combined 12-game losing streak. No one is suggesting epic turnarounds similar to Hersey's 1-8 to best in state in 1987 or Schaumburg's 2-7 to state runner-up in 1999.
But coaches do believe the Huskies and Cougars are teams to watch closely this year in a balanced league.
Conant went from a 2-0 start to losing its last seven games a year ago. But key players who went through those tough times, including quarterback Matt Cullen, Toledo-bound offensive lineman Paul Perschon, running back Cordell Smith and middle linebacker John Maevski, are back.
Even Conant coach Bill Modelski seems more optimistic about his team's outlook.
"I'd like to say we're a sleeper, but outside of us Conant is a team to keep an eye on," said Hoffman Estates coach Bill Helzer.
Hersey also rode an early wave of optimism last year to a 3-1 start before miscues on and off the field led to a winless finish in the MSL East.
But second-year head coach Dragan Teonic's enthusiasm is becoming contagious with 190 players now getting with the Huskies' program.
It's also spread elsewhere in the division as the Huskies' top returnees include quarterback Brad Zaucha, third-year varsity starter Erik Stoltzner at defensive end and offensive linemen Jackson Smith and Zavier Henry to a team Teonic said is stronger and faster.
"Hersey is probably the team to beat in our conference," said Prospect coach Mike Sebestyen. "Dragan has done a nice job and they have a very good offense.
"It's great to see those guys back on the upswing. Technically they're very sound and they've got the inside track in a lot of ways."
But the consensus on either side of the league is there really is no consensus on who is the team to beat.
"Everybody is beatable in the whole MSL," said Fremd's Mike Donatucci, the winningest coach in league history who is retiring after this year.
"It's wide open with a lot of changes and some uncertainty," said Elk Grove coach Brian Doll of the East.
How will head coaching transitions with Sebestyen taking over at Prospect and Matt Mishler stepping up at Rolling Meadows affect two programs that have traditionally been vying for the East title since 1999?
Two-way standouts Sam Frasco, Austin Tixier, Mike Etchingham and Devin O'Hara lead Prospect's title defense. Meadows has a lot of skill with quarterback Jack Milas, receivers Artie Checchin and Ryan Gundersen and running back Garrett Peterson.
There is also a lot of excitement at Wheeling with third-year starting quarterback Tyler Brady and a new turf field in Dave Dunbar's final year as head coach.
Elk Grove lost a talented group that led consecutive 7-win seasons but looks to stay in the mix with quarterback-linebacker Dejan Basara. Buffalo Grove hopes to end a seven-year playoff drought with quarterback Richie Zirngibl and linebacker Mike Catino.
"The exciting thing is if we do our job it's ours for the taking," Mishler said, "and every team could probably say the same thing."
In the West, Fremd proved once again last year it can't be counted out no matter how down things may look.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Beutler returns from a team that rallied from a 1-4 start to win a share of the West and extend its MSL-record streaks of division titles to eight and playoff appearances to 16 under Donatucci.
"I've said it over and over, Fremd is still the top dog until somebody knocks them off," said Barrington coach Joe Sanchez. "To me, you still say they're the team to beat."
Fremd has been a roadblock for Barrington with 10 wins in their last 11 meetings. But the Broncos hope Wisconsin-bound offensive lineman Dan Voltz and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Chase Murdock, who will also play linebacker, can pave the way to the top after they started 7-0 a year ago but lost their last three games.
Youthful Palatine and Schaumburg took some major hits to graduation but they also have critical experience on the offensive line.
The Pirates have hard-hitting junior Jesse Bobbit back on a much more experienced defense from last year's Class 8A quarterfinal run. The Saxons return third-year starters Josh Marchok and Dru Richardson from last year's West co-championship.
Hoffman Estates also expects to be a bigger challenge with multidimensional quarterback Jordan Hudak and a 6-5 target in Eric Saubert.
"I don't know the answer," Modelski said of a clear favorite. "I think Palatine has a pretty good group … but I guess it's up for grabs."
With Hersey and Conant among those hoping a division title is within their grasp.
Team All Conf.
Prospect 9-2 5-0
Elk Grove 7-3 4-1
Buffalo Grove 4-5 2-3
Rolling Meadows 4-5 2-3
Wheeling 3-6 2-3
Hersey 3-6 0-5
2011 predicted order of finish: 1. Elk Grove, 2. Hersey, 3. Wheeling, 4. Rolling Meadows, 5. Prospect, 6. Buffalo Grove.
Team All Conf.
Schaumburg 8-3 4-1
Fremd 6-5 4-1
Barrington 7-3 3-2
Palatine 7-5 3-2
Hoffman Estates 1-8 1-4
Conant 2-7 0-5
2011 predicted order of finish: 1. Barrington, 2. Palatine, 3. Schaumburg, 4. Fremd, 5. Conant, 6. Hoffman Estates.
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