The nature of the schools in the Northeastern Athletic Conference can make it a challenge to predict what's ahead.
They are smaller schools spread out from Chicago's South Side to Rockford and Ottawa. But last year's top two teams, Mooseheart and North Shore Country Day, figure to be battling for the title again.
Both won playoff games last year and Mooseheart (10-1, 9-0) has senior captain and quarterback Jon Hart, receiver-linebacker Sahr Mahoney, lineman-linebacker Chris Gustafson and WR-SS Oumaru Abdulahi back as starters.
North Shore (9-2, 8-1) lost QB Steve Smith from a prolific offense that averaged 40 points a game but only lost six seniors.
CICS/Longwood (7-3, 7-2) and Hope Academy (6-4, 6-3) also figure to be in the running for a return to the playoffs.
Rockford Christian Life (3-6, 3-6) is light on experience but heavy on speed and quickness. Senior Austin Forrester is a fourth-year starter at center and also starts at defensive end and Ryan Gowins is a key at defensive tackle.
"Our goal is to compete in every game and if we do that," said Christian Life coach Tony Ambrogio, "as a coaching staff we believe we can be one of the top teams in the conference and compete for a playoff spot."
Alden-Hebron (4-5, 4-5) is trying to rebound from missing the playoffs. Ottawa Marquette (2-7) is the real unknown in its first year in the NAC as the replacement for Rockford Christian.
Junior quarterback Patrick Killelea is one of five third-year varsity players for Marquette.
"I don't know enough about the conference to say much about how we fit in to the mix," said Marquette coach Tom Jobst. "I assume that the four playoff teams from last year will be solid again this year. Our hope is that we can be competitive with them."
Luther North (2-7, 2-7) is looking to get in potential playoff position with fourth-year starting defensive tackle Nick Shores, a two-time all-NAC pick. Linebacker Jeremy Jensen is a third-year starter and sophomore lineman Felix Loja was leading the team in tackles for losses and sacks last year before he was injured in Week 4.
"If we can stay healthy we should be competitive and we have a lot of team quickness on defense," said Luther North coach Ricky Ludwig. "Our offense hopes to open things up a little more than last season."
Christian Liberty (1-8, 1-8) is also hoping for more production offensively in its fourth full year as a varsity program. Seniors Dan Glad, Marcus Silva and Shawn Andersen and junior quarterback Gabe Grob will play vital roles and health is also crucial with a small roster.