The Mid-Suburban East should be on the rise this football season.
That's thanks to a new schedule of nonconference games that cuts the MSL crossover games from three to one. Along with that, there figures to be better competitive balance in the games featuring the MSL East teams matching up with teams from the Central Suburban League based upon enrollment figures.
What this all could mean is more playoff contenders from the MSL East, which sent just 1 team last season and 2 the year before.
Last year, Wheeling went 4-5 last and counted losses to Barrington, Palatine and Conant. This year, in place of those MSL West powers on Wheeling's schedule are Vernon Hills, Deerfield and Schaumburg.
"I think everyone likes this set-up much better," Wheeling coach Brent Pearlman said. "It puts us all on much better ground here. It is not that these new teams are any easier, but at least they are nearly the same size as we are."
Rolling Meadows, which has gone 4-1 in conference play the last four seasons and has won or shared the MSL East conference title during that span, is positioned to make it five in a row this season. The Mustangs return 13 starters from last year's team including co-offensive player of the year Asher O'Hara, who threw just 2 interceptions all last season. Kevin Lacosse and Nick Delporte shoud get most of the carries for Meadows.
"It will be a challenge because everyone is better," Rolling Meadows coach Matt Mishler said. "We are just hoping that our guys get better each week."
Wheeling comes into the season with a 4-game winning streak. The Wildcats will be looking to keep that streak going as they hope to earn their first playoff berth since 2008.
Wheeling, which averaged 37 points in conference play last season, has co-offensive player of the year quarterback Jalen Dennis coming back again this season to lead the Cats. The offense should be exciting again this fall if the offensive line, which has just one starter back, can jell.
Prospect has been on a slow climb in attempting to regain prominence after last qualifying for the playoffs in 2012. The Knights, who won three games last year, bring back 18 players that saw action on that team.
Andrew Shafis moves from running back to quarterback to replace three-year starter Matt Drew. He will get to run behind a monster-size offensive line that includes Billy Matzek (6-3, 260), Alex Palczewski (6-7, 260) and Vince Shields (6-6, 272). The Knights, who have just 37 players on the roster, will need to stay healthy if they want to make a deep run.
Hersey will be on a gold rush this year with quarterback Owen Goldsberry taking over all the duties as a signal-caller. Goldsberry, who is a junior, shared time with Tommy Jackson last year, and was more of a runner than a thrower. This season he will need to morph into both if the Huskies hope to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
The Huskies have limited experience on an athletic but smaller-sized offensive line. Defensively, the Huskies' 3-5-3 scheme has given opponents some trouble and they have been the least scored-upon unit in the conference the last two years.
Buffalo Grove welcomes a familiar face as its new head coach. Jeff Vlk, who has been the team's defensive coordinator, takes over for Mike DiMatteo. Vlk hopes to turn things around for the Bison, who lost their final eight games of the season last year and have not qualified for the playoffs since 2003.
Vlk's first task will be to settle on a quarterback to replace three-year starter Trey Cervantes. Matt Majeski and Connor Adams are locked in a battle and it may come down to two-QB system. The Bison do boast a plethora of talent at wide receiver, which should help either player.
Elk Grove is in a numbers crunch. The Grens have 14 seniors and 14 juniors on their 47-man roster. What Elk Grove has in depth, it lacks in experience.
Still, the Grens should improve on their 1-8 finish from a year ago, running the football with Genio Hyppolite, Brandon Paeng and Connor Cloherty while Tyler Selvig steps in at quarterback.
Predicted finish: 1. Rolling Meadows 2. Wheeling 3. Prospect 4. Hersey 5. Buffalo Grove 6. Elk Grove.