The Mid-Suburban West football race will be a wild one again this fall.
"Until someone dethrones Palatine, they are the champions," Barrington coach Joe Sanchez said. "But there is great parity in the league this season. Take a look across the league -- anyone is capable of winning it."
The conference title has belonged to Palatine for the past three seasons. And the Pirates are the favorites again this season.
But if there's to be an overthrow, it could come from Barrington.
The Broncos return the conference's most exciting player in Ray Niro. The senior quarterback did it all for the Broncos in 2016, rushing for 1,402 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He will have a plethora of quality receivers, including Luis Cossio, the state 400-meter champion. Barrington has gone 38-6 over the past 4 seasons and looked poised to be on that track again this year.
Then again, it could be Conant.
Even though the Cougars are coming off of a 0-9 season, there are still reasons to fear them. Conant has a new coach in Bryan Stortz, who won a state title when he coached at Lake Zurich and knows how to build a winner quickly. Conant also has one of the area's best two-way players in running back/middle linebacker Jack Rieger.
How about Fremd?
The Vikings are coming off a terrific season which inlcuded a win at Brother Rice in the opening round of the state playoffs. The Vikings return Western-Michigan bound Will McCabe, who will be a force on the defensive line and will help anchor another huge offensive line that averages 229 pounds. And Fremd also added Brent Pearlman to coach the defense this season.
It certainly could be Hoffman Estates' year.
The Hawks took huge strides last year, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Hoffman has not been in the conference crown conversation since winning the title in 1993; back then, the Mid Suburban League was broken up into North and South Divisions.
"I still think everyone is chasing Palatine until they give it up," Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse said. "If the cards play right, I think we can give them a run for their money."
Hoffman Estates returns 18 starters, including the entire backfield and offensive line, so the Hawks could be a nightmare to defend. Quarterback Austin Coalson threw for nearly 2,000 yards last year and has top-notch receiving targets in Jaylan Alexander and Jayvon Blissett.
Schaumburg looks really good, too.
The Saxons, who were 4-5 last year and just missed the playoffs, are very, very athletic this year. Jordan Salgado is back. He rushed for 910 yards a year ago and he has nearly the same senior-dominated offensive line to work with, led by David Drs. Also watch out for junior wide receiver Heze Trotter, who is dangerous both running and catching the ball.
But until someone proves otherwise, Palatine remains king, having won the West the last three years. And the Pirates certainly have the kind of talent to win it again.
Palatine will feature a contingent of D-I players led by Cortez Hogans, who has committed to Northern Illinois, along with Bryant Smith, Johnny O'Shea, Jake Moertl and junior offensive lineman Basa Balanganayi to lead a nice batch of experienced talent.
DJ Angelaccio, who stepped in nicely last year at quarterback when Zach Oles was injured in the playoffs, is back for a full season to operate the Pirates' high-powered offense.
"I have a lot of respect for the MSL West," said first-year Palatine head coach Corey Olson. "It is always a battle, and nothing is ever handed to you. Have to be ready to play week in and week out in the MSL West."
The West teams will again have difficult matchups in Weeks 3 and 4 when they play teams from the Central Suburban South, which includes defending state champion Maine South and preseason state-ranked New Trier. Despite that, as many as five West teams could be playoff bound this year.
Predicted finish: Palatine, Hoffman Estates, Barrington, Fremd, Schaumburg, Conant