The Mid-Suburban West should be wild again this football season.
With five teams coming off of playoff-qualifying seasons and a sixth team coming off its best season in 10 years, there could be a logjam at the top this year. Especially considering the West will have just one crossover game with their MSL East rivals, a series the West dominated with a 15-3 record last year.
Replacing those East teams will be much more difficult tasks in Central Suburban League opponents like Maine South, New Trier, Evanston and Glenbrook South.
"We like the more difficult schedule," said Barrington coach Joe Sanchez, whose Broncos open the season with Glenbrook South and will play Evanston and Maine South. "We think that a schedule like this will prepare us for conference and the playoffs much better."
With that more difficult schedule, teams can hopefully answer the preseason questions that could take them from being average teams to state playoff contenders.
Palatine, which has won the MSL West title the past two seasons, won't be sneaking up anyone this season.
The Pirates have Zach Oles, the Daily Herald's Northwest all-area team captain, returning at quarterback. They also have arguably the best skill players in the area returning in Josh Turner along with wide receivers Jack Grochowski and Johnny O'Shea.
But Palatine returns just four starters from its stellar defensive unit last season. They will need those players along with newcomers in their lineup to extend the tradition of the Pirates' bend-but-don't-break defense.
Barrington has four Division I players in defensive end Jackson Perkins, linebacker Blake Holley, tight end Josh Babicz and offensive tackle Nick Bart. Barrington will look to grind its opponents down with three starters returning on their offensive line in Bart (6-3, 290), John Stefan (6-4, 295) and Mark Bach (6-0, 235).
But Barrington needs to replace two-time all area quarterback Johnny Davidson. Ray Niro, a 5-11, 175-pound junior, has been tabbed by Sanchez as the heir.
Fremd finished last in the MSL West a season ago, its lowest finish in recent memory. But the Vikings were able to win all of their nonconference games to head back to state tournament.
This season the Vikings and coach Lou Sponsel vowed to go back to basic football. Fremd has another huge offensive line led by Ethan Hanson (6-3, 300), Matt Payne (6-3, 265) and Max Carver (5-9, 244) and Zack Nemec (6-3, 275).
The Vikings have an untested backfield, though. They will need Alec Honickel, Joe Schneider and Jake Haas to step up to replace all area running back Charlie Kaye.
Schaumburg rallied down the stretch last year to claim a playoff spot with a team that was loaded with juniors. The Saxons return eight starters on a very athletic defense, including six of seven in their defensive backfield.
And with starting quarterback Justin Perez back, Schaumburg look poised to move up even further this year. But they lost their top two running backs after they left school, so Jordan Salgado, who stepped in at Week 9 last year and gained 84 yards, will get most of those carries this season.
Graduation took a huge toll on Conant, which graduated all 22 of their starters. And to add insult, the Cougars lost their top returning player, Tyler Jackson, to an ACL injury.
Coach Bill Modelski, in his final season at Conant, switched from the spread to an option offense. It will feature Jack Rieger, a junior, at fullback.
Also losing a ton of talent from last year is Hoffman Estates, which graduated its top three skill players. Coach Mike Donatucci has just nine seniors, all of which have been with him for three years. He's also got 62 players on his roster, which will give the Hawks some depth.
Austin Coalson, a junior, takes over the reins at quarterback for a team hungry for a playoff spot.
Predicted finish: 1. Palatine 2. Barrington 3. Fremd 4. Schaumburg 5. Conant 6. Hoffman Estates