Up for grabs.
That seems to be the consensus among coaches in the Big Northern Conference East Division as to who could walk away with what could be the division's penultimate title in October.
A majority of the teams in the BNC East have either committed to or are thinking about leaving the conference for the new Kishwaukee Valley Conference for the 2016-2017 school year.
But back to on-field matters.
Burlington Central, under the direction of coach Rich Crabel, is looking for its first league crown since 2006.
The Rockets' senior-laden defense features three-year starting linebackers Cole Roach (5-11, 225) and Craig Keim (6-1, 205).
Trevor Davison, on the varsity since 10th grade, and Brad Sorensen will see action out of the offensive backfield. Junior Robert Doubek will start at quarterback after missing his sophomore season due to a shoulder injury. They will be protected by a veteran offensive line that features returning starters Joe Vitraelli (5-8, 250), Zach Garbacz (6-2, 210), Matt Overstreet (5-11, 235) and Esteban Escobar (5-10, 240).
"Overall, it might be the most weapons we've had in four years," said Crabel. "I believe we're going to be pretty dang productive offensively. If we can keep some of these great skill kids on the field, it'll give our defense a little more time to figure things out."
Of note on Central's schedule is a Week 2 matchup at Dixon, which is coached by former Rockets head man Dave Smith. Dixon joined the Big Northern West Division this season.
Defending division champion Harvard (11-1 overall in 2013) has a new coach for the first time in a long time as Sean Saylor takes the controls from retired Hall-of-Famer Tim Haak. Saylor most recently was the defensive coordinator at East Peoria and was the head coach at Limestone.
The Hornets return only 2 starters on offense and one on defense. However, one of those returners is senior quarterback Peyton Schneider who threw for 1,103 yards and 11 scores last year and also booted 39 extra points. Senior Christian Kramer also will help. He ran for 1,286 yards (7.0 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns last year. He'll also play outside linebacker. Junior Zack Martin is a key presence on both lines. He made 118 tackles and had 5 sacks as a sophomore.
"To be successful we need to quickly mature as a team," Saylor said. "We have many opportunities to fill roles and we will know if the right person is in the right spot in the first quarters of the season."
Genoa-Kingston took second in the league a year ago at 5-1 and qualified for the state playoffs. The Cogs only East lost was a 22-21 setback at home to Harvard. The two teams square off in Week 8 in Harvard.
Fourth-year coach Travis Frederick returns seniors Jesse Bade (RB-LB), Will Beach (RB-DL), Tyler Bennett (OL-DL), Keegan Cline (End, LB), Nathan Dwyer (OL-DL), Marcus Holley (End, LB), Anthony Lacko (OL-LB), Griffin McNeal (QB-DL), Joe Murray (OL-DL), Hunter Rogers (RB-DB).
"We have plenty of depth and talent," said Frederick. "We've had plenty of success at the lower levels, but that needs to translate to the varsity level. Our guys have a big chip on their shoulder after missing out on the conference title by a point to Harvard."
The BNC East now features 8 teams with Johnsburg's return to the loop from the Fox Valley Conference. The Skyhawks have 6 starters back on offense and 4 on defense.
The offense is headlined by Nick Brengman (QB/CB/P), Bailey Stefka (RB-LB), John Conroy (OL-DL) and Haden Franzen (WR-LB).
Eric Wagner (RB-E), Conroy, Stefka, Zach MacKenzie (FB-LB) and Brenden Peshek (LB-RB) lead the defense.
Conroy and Brengman were all-FVC Fox Division selections last year.
"Our strength lies in the number of starters returning for their third season," Skyhawks coach Michael Maloney said. "We have excellent leadership and have put the time and work in throughout the offseason. To compete for a division championship, we need to limit turnovers and play physical for four quarters."
Maloney feels his team can be in the mix for the division title.
"We feel we can be one of the top teams along with Genoa-Kingston, Richmond and Burlington Central," he said.
Richmond-Burton graduated 16 starters from last year's 5-5 playoff team.
Back for the Rockets are seniors Brad Boelkow (RB-LB), Luke Brinkmann (RB-DB), Alex Petersen (C-DT), Marcus Duha (TE-DE), John Stasieczek (T-DT), Chad Autschbach (G-DT), Tyler Talatian (FB-LB), Steve Coutteau (RB-LB), Brandon Kilcoyne (RB-DB), Codey Blanton (QB-DB), John Nelson (T-DT), Ethan Sheedlo (G-DT) and Dustin Spence (G-DT).
"We will be a team that needs to gain experience throughout the year," said Rockets ninth-year coach Pat Elder. "Many seniors did see action in games last year and will be asked to fill roles crucial to our success. We hope to progress as the season goes on."
Elder also sees a competitive East Division race. "Our league will be very tough top to bottom," he noted. "Any team that comes out of it should have an opportunity to do well in the postseason. Harvard, Genoa-Kingston and Burlington Central are the likely favorites with many teams throughout the league being evenly matched."
Marengo returns 7 starters on both sides of the ball. Ethan Walsweer (QB), Jarrell Jackson (RB), Kwinn Velasquez (OL), Craiton Nice (WR) and Derek Caskey (OL) headline the offense, while Kyle Gara (LB), Brandon Temple (DB), Erik Johns (DL), Dillon Csanda (LB), Jake Behnke (LB) and Ben Ryan are back on defense for the Indians.
North Boone, which went 4-5 a year ago, returns seniors Brandon Briggs (WR-DB), Braden Endecott (RB-LB), Kendrick Junod (WR-DB), Mitch McCormick (WR-DB), Eric Nino (OL-DL), Brandon Rodriguez (WR-DB) and Zach Underwood (WR-DB), along with juniors Brad Buchner (RB-LB), Cole Johnson (OL-DL), Nick Krawczyk (OL-DE) and Nate Montemayor (RB-LB).
"We return 11 players that saw quite a bit of playing time at the varsity level and we return three starters from the offensive line," said Vikings coach Aaron Sullivan. "We're young. We will play seven or eight juniors on both sides of the ball."
Sullivan feels there is plenty of parity throughout the division. "Genoa returns a lot of kids from last year's playoff team," he said. "I think they are the team to beat."
Rockford Christian went 0-9 last year.