Open season in the Mid-Suburban West
The Mid-Suburban West football race will be a wild ride.
With no clear-cut favorite and no real superstar individuals at this point, picking a conference favorite is like choosing lottery numbers.
"I believe this year it is especially wide open," said Barrington coach Joe Sanchez, whose Broncos went 5-0 last year in conference play. "Every team has players, and every team has guys that are unproven. There is great parity. It will come down to who stays healthy and who gets hot at the right time."
Every team has its strengths. But there has yet to a emerge a truly dominant talent such as Barrington quarterback Ray Niro, who graduated last year and was spectacular in his play for the Broncos.
Barrington and Hoffman Estates both lost double-digit starters to graduation, with Barrington at 16 and Hoffman at 18. But both teams could also make nice runs thanks to a group of solid backups who are now ready to take their turn.
Barrington has an rugged preseason schedule in which the Broncos face four playoff teams from last season in nonconference play. How Barrington comes through that meat grinder could determine their direction. They turn to junior quarterback Tommy Fitzpatrick to guide them this season.
Hoffman Estates is coming off a season that produced the deepest playoff run in school history, ending with a loss in the Class 6A semifinals to eventual state champ Prairie Ridge. This year, Hoffman is opposite of Barrington with its nonconference schedule and could be unbeaten heading into conference play.
Palatine also was hurt by graduation. The Pirates return just a handful of starters from last year's 7-4 team. But the Pirates easily have the deepest team in the conference with 77 players and they are planning to be a true two-platoon team throughout the season. Offensive tackle David Balanganayi (6-4, 300), who is a three-year starter, is garnering college interest.
Schaumburg has a terrific corps of very athletic skill players. The offensive line is unproven and will be a key to the Saxons' success. Heze Trotter, who as a senior this year, has been in the Saxons starting lineup since his freshman season in the state playoffs, and he leads that talented group.
Fremd is coming off its worst record (1-8) in nearly 25 years. However, the Vikings appear to be recharged with a new attitude and players buying into a system that stresses tradition. Nicky Rattin and Luke Bilek will be apair of two-way players for the Vikings that help change their fortunes this season.
Conant was also 1-8 a year ago and yet the Cougars felt that they were just a few plays away from being a playoff team. This year it's a senior-dominated group, with many of those players going both ways. Kevin Polaski is back at quarterback for the Cougars.
Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse says that based upon all that, the conference could end up in a 4-way tie.
"I think that it could be 4 teams with a 3-2 record, Heyse said. "I think that people are just going to be beating each other."
Last year the conference sent four teams to the playoffs. With stiff nonconference schedules which include two games each against the Central Suburban League, a stronger and deeper MSL East, and a balanced West, it may be difficult to repeat that feat. To do that, teams will need to stay healthy -- and get some luck along the way.
New fields at Fremd and Schaumburg will give a fresh look to the conference.
To look at the next big thing, travel to Barrington to get a look at the Broncos' new video scoreboard. It reportedly will be 373 square feet and high-definition, making it one of the largest video boards in the state.
Predicted order of finish: Palatine, Barrington, Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Fremd, Conant