For the past two seasons, Palatine has dominated play in the Mid-Suburban West. The Pirates went unbeaten during that span in conference play and advanced to the state quarterfinals each season.
But with just three starters back, it will be difficult for the Pirates to be so dominant.
"We lost a lot of seniors," said Palatine coach Rick Splitt, who takes over for Tyler Donnelly, who resigned due to health concerns. "We were so senior-dominated last year. We just have lots of guys who did not get on the field that much last year."
Splitt will not be the only new head coach in the West. Mike Donatucci, who roamed the sidelines for 19 years as head coach of Fremd, returns. He takes over a Hoffman Estates program that has won just one game in each of the last 4 years.
"It is exciting to be a head coach again," Donatucci said.
Fremd looks to have the edge in what should be a tight conference race. The Vikings, who have not won more than 6 games the past three seasons, return 16 starters, 9 on offense and 7 on defense.
Fremd's offense line is mammoth, averaging 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds. They will be led by Brad Ruehrdanz and junior Dominick Lombard. Quarterback Sam Beutler, who is a four-year starter, and running back Jeff McGlade, who rushed for over 900 yards last fall, will be factors in the Vikings' single-wing offense.
"We are very physical up front," Fremd coach Lou Sponsel said. "And we are experienced on defense as well."
Schaumburg, with its athletic backfield of quarterback Stacy Smith and running back Sadarriss Patterson, who scored 14 touchdowns last season, will give defensive coordinators fits all season. Four-year starter Matt Zolper anchors an experienced offensive line.
"Our strength really is our backfield," said Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling, who returns 12 starters.
Barrington, which also returns 12 starters from last year, looks to rebound from a disappointing 3-6 campaign last year. Matt Kubiuk returns to quarterback the Broncos. He will have Michael Carbonara back as a slot receiver after missing the final 6 games of the season with a foot injury.
"That really was a key injury for us," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. "We had to shuffle lots of players around to fill the void he left."
Conant will have a huge void to fill after losing one of the area's top receivers in Tim Manczko. Still, the Cougars return three of their top four receivers in Mike Kos, DeAngelo McBride and Elias Gardener.
Conant also returns quarterback Danny Modelski, one of the most prolific passers in Conant history. Last season, Modelski threw for over 2,500 yards including 24 touchdowns passes as the Cougars advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
"I like what our guys have shown so far," Conant coach Bill Modelski said. "We are looking to build off of last season's success.
The MSL West sent four teams to the state playoffs last year. With as tight as the conference race should be this season, it would figure that the conference will repeat that feat this season.
Fremd, Schaumburg, Barrington, Conant, Palatine, Hoffman Estates.