Below you can find preseason rankings for class 3A and smaller. Stay tuned over the next few days for 4, 5, and 6A rankings.
1. Silver Lake
4. Scott City
Also considered: Caney Valley, Centralia, Colgan
Rossville could push for the No. 2 spot with QB Tucker Horak back. OL/DL Joey Ferron is a D1 recruit for Centralia, but the Panthers graduated a lot. Kind of reminds me when Smith Center went 3A. I could see 8-10 wins from Centralia, likely short of a state title run.
1. La Crosse
I think La Crosse and Sedgwick are definitely the head of this class. While the La Crosse Big 3 of Garcia, Schmidt, and Jay gets a lot of attention, the secondary players, especially OL Cole Kershner, WR Clayton Herdman and OL/LB Jasey Woods, are very good. La Crosse probably overachieved last season and returns a lot of experience. The only major question is whether Sr. Andrew Jay can be an every down back, but I think La Crosse will probably split carries a lot and give the starters rest in blowouts, which the Leopards have done often during the years. Sedgwick is going to score a lot of points and QB Brylie Ware is going to throw for huge yardage, but with the loss of RB Dalton Brandt, I worry about the running game. I think La Crosse is a little better defensively. Oakley, Marion, Meade, Sacred Heart and Phillipsburg all had significant graduation losses, though I believe Oakley has the best defense in all of 2-1A with OL/DL Ryan Kuhn and LB Dylan Gassmann. Meade’s schedule will help them grow and probably produce a 9-0/8-1 regular season. Marion is so solid and always really good defensively. Phillipsburg has a lot of team speed with the 3A track title, but lost virtually everyone except OL/DL Luke Jacobs and return man Stuart Lennemann. Elkhart will be strong offensively again. I was impressed with them against Oakley in the playoffs last year and they played closer than the score indicated.
Eight-Man, Division I
2. Central Plains
Also considered: Hanover, Solomon, Rural Vista, Oberlin
The bottom three classes are really interesting this year. I think Madison is the clear-cut No. 1 with RB Owen Reed and other studs back. If they had been healthy and gotten Osborne at home, it could have been their title last year. But Osborne was outstanding, too. Central Plains basically lost just two players and QB Braedan Crites and WR Layne Bieberle are pretty much unstoppable. Spearville returns everyone from a team that narrowly lost to Hoxie in the first round of the playoffs. Osborne is just ahead of Wakefield because of its returning talent and coaching. The Bulldogs lost a lot, but Coach Tiernan is one of the best around, and Jake Tiernan and Brandt Wolters are outstanding players. Parkes Wolters, who started at DB, is solid as well and will have a bigger role this season. I think Wakefield is my surprise team this season. Huge offensive numbers – I know Osborne thought Wakefield was going to be really good last year. This season, I could see Wakefield taking a big jump. Oberlin, I think should transition really well to eight-man. Lot of experience back, power running game, good coaching, and back-to-back playoff trips.
Eight-Man, Division II
2. Thunder Ridge
3. South Barber
Also considered: Wallace County, South Haven, Chetopa
Thoughts: You can make a strong case for the top four teams being in the No. 1 spot. I have thought about this for awhile and have talked with the coaches (except Kresin) and key players from BSJT and South Barber in the last several weeks. BSJT gets my vote at the top because it gets both Thunder Ridge and Victoria at home, and those three teams do an exceptional job of winning at home. BSJT defeated both Thunder Ridge and Victoria at home last season and is 12-0 at home the last two years. Victoria has won seven straight home games and Thunder Ridge is 19-1 at home in the last 20 home games. When comparing three pretty close teams, home field advantage plays a role. Plus, QB Trey Dubbert really makes a difference for BSJT.
Of all the positions, I think that’s the biggest difference. Thunder Ridge has some real questions under center as Dylan Bretton really had passing issues last year when he took over in midseason. Brady Dinkel is a solid runner, but struggled passing against the two toughest opponents (BSJT and Dighton) after he took over in Week 5 for Victoria. Both should be better, but Dubbert’s ability is much better than the other two. Thunder Ridge gets my vote over Victoria because of its massive, experienced line. Victoria has to replace two all-state linemen this year and will be significantly smaller this year. It’s just strange to say that Victoria won’t be a playoff team (longest current playoff run in 8-man at 12 years), but as of the preseason, I put them third. The fifth spot is up for grabs, but I give to Hoxie, which brings back all-state RB Connor Katt, has an experienced coach in Lance Baar, has developed a strong winning mentality with huge success in basically all sports, and a strong support cast. Yes, QB Chase Kennedy and NG Mitch Johnson will be missed, but Josh Heim, with his speed, is a great No. 2 back, and Tyler Ewers and Tanner Smith on the line are great athletes (also basketball starters) who are big.
South Barber goes third here mainly because of its huge defensive issues and small roster. QB Peyton Yandel/RB Dylan Allison are a great 1-2, but the defense (376 points allowed) was really poor last season. Coach Rector said this summer he has had some trouble with kids buying in to playing defense and will make some changes. But I do think South Barber is the best team in the east.
Wallace County – which will be good, but faces Hoxie early after losing a huge class – and Chase and Axtell are teams that should win at least 7-8 games, but not ranked squads. South Haven, which has beaten South Barber soundly the last couple of years, should be quality, too.