It seems like forever since Buffalo Grove won a Mid-Suburban East football title.
And to the Bison, those 15 years seem like an eternity.
The current crop of Buffalo Grove juniors and seniors were just toddlers when Tommy Zbikowski led BG to a conference title. Also at that time, current Bison coach Jeff Vlk was playing college football at Valparaiso.
But this could be the year that the Bison grow up, thanks to 10 returning starters. They're a solid mix of seniors, along with a pair of juniors who started last season and were huge contributors.
Vlk is cautiously optimistic.
"I think it is up in the air," Vlk said. "The kids have worked hard and I like where we are. But the rubber hits road in week one."
With quarterback Connor Adams returning along with his over 2,100 passing yards from last season, the Bison offense looks solid. It may have become even more structurally sound when Vlk moved Tom Treib (6-2, 215) to running back to run behind an offensive line that returns three starters. The Bison defense is led by three-year starter Justin Gold.
Vlk points to five-time defending MSL champion Rolling Meadows as the kind of standard to which the rest of the division should aspire.
"Rolling Meadows is a model of consistency," Vlk said. "They just do everything right there."
And Meadows will again challenge for the title despite graduating 18 seniors. Mustangs coach Matt Mishler knows that because of that, there is a target on his team's back.
"I am sure that is how everyone feels," Mishler said. "Our goal is to win the conference, and we set out to do every year. It will be tougher this year. A lot of teams are getting better and we are younger than we have been in the past. It makes it tougher, but I think our kids are up to it."
Rolling Meadows may have the best and biggest offensive line in the East. Led by seniors Andrew Neville, Patrick Crilly and Will Rezny, they average 258 pounds across the front.
Hersey shared the MSL East title with Rolling Meadows as recently as 2014. The Huskies have 13 starters back this season, including one of the area's top quarterbacks, so they should also be in the conference title hunt. Owen Goldsberry whose combined passing and rushing gave him over 2,000 yards, has attracted the attention of seven FCS schools.
"We are still holding our breath because we don't know what we are going to see," Hersey coach Joe Pardun said. "It is a mature group. They know what we expect from them and they have been acting it. I feel like they are ready."
The Huskies defense also got a boost with the hiring of Mike Donatucci as defensive coordinator.
Wheeling qualified for the playoffs last year for the first time in 8 seasons. The Wildcats lost their backfield to graduation and are looking to rebuild under new coach Brian Hauck, who came over from Rolling Meadows to take the reins at Wheeling.
Elk Grove, which has won just one game in the last two seasons also has a new head coach in former Prospect star Miles Osei. The Grenadiers return running back Genio Hyppolite, who should blossom even more in Osei's spread offense.
Running back again will be the key to Prospect's offense and the Knights have a good one returning in Michael Shafis (6-2, 176). However, Shafis is just one of four starters returning for Prospect.
Thanks to the new crossover system with the Central Suburban League, the MSL East had two teams qualify for the playoffs last season. It was the first time that many teams from the division had qualified in three years.
With similar schedules this year, the East could send as many as three teams to the playoffs.
Predicted finish: Buffalo Grove, Rolling Meadows, Hersey, Elk Grove, Prospect, Wheeling.