High school football: Miners voted preseason No. 1; repeats forecast in other classes
Tom Smart, Deseret News
It's not uncommon to have a high school football team in Utah run the table on a perfect season. In fact, in the past 23 years, there's been at least one undefeated team every season except 2005.
In 10 of those seasons there were multiple undefeated teams, but the dominance last year was unlike anything the Beehive State has ever seen with Lone Peak, Logan, Hurricane and Duchesne all capping undefeated seasons.
The start of the 2012 season is exactly a month away, and all four of those programs are expected to challenge for state titles again this year.
In the Deseret News' annual coaches' preseason rankings, four of last year's five state champions — Logan, Hurricane, Manti and Duchesne — were all pegged to repeat. Only Lone Peak wasn't projected to repeat, as it was edged by Bingham in the 5A preseason rankings.
Many coaches simply pencil in last year's state champs as the preseason No. 1, so having four teams predicted to repeat isn't necessarily surprisingly.
It's hard to argue with the coaches' championship predictions, though.
Even though Bingham was knocked out in the 5A quarterfinals last year, it returns five defensive starters and four offensive starters. Following a year in which there was a slight drop-off in talent by Bingham High standards, five players already have Division I offers in 2012 and it's looking like the Miners are the team to beat in 5A.
Voting for the preseason No. 1 spot in 4A was extremely tight, with Logan narrowly edging East. With both teams loaded with returning talent, it's only appropriate that Logan gets top billing after beating East in the final seconds of last year's championship game.
Following its dominant run to last year's 3A state championship, Hurricane looks to start a dynasty of its own, and the pieces are in place with five defensive starters and three offensive starters returning.
In 2A, Manti only returns one player on the offensive and defensive lines with any varsity experience, but returning starters at numerous other positions makes the Templars the team to beat.
Duchesne is the only defending state champ that had a coaching change in the offseason, but it shouldn't matter. Jerry Cowan is a former head coach at Duchesne and was an assistant the past couple of years.
Of all the preseason No. 1s, Bingham faces the toughest road ahead in what should be another top-heavy 5A field.
For the Miners, the competition starts in their own backyard with region foe Lone Peak. Even though the Knights no longer have the luxury of Mr. Football, quarterback Chase Hansen, guiding their offense, they're still one of the teams to beat in 5A.
Austin Kafentzis is back for his sophomore season at Jordan, and the Beetdiggers' offense should be even better this year following a summer of fine-tuning. Alta should be good as always, and it will find out how good in the annual Black & Blue Classic with Bingham at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Week 2 of the season.
Region 1 teams always seem to be overlooked, but the reality is a Northern Utah team has advanced to three straight 5A title games.
Even though Logan and East are the class of 4A this preseason, one coach said the competition in 4A is better than it has ever been.
Mountain Crest is improved in Region 5, while Bountiful, Highland and Woods Cross will give East a run for its money in a very tough Region 6. Herriman, Skyline and Olympus will battle in Region 7, with Orem challenging Timpview for Region 8 supremacy.
In 3A, the state title no longer goes through Juan Diego but Region 9 instead. Defending state champion Hurricane is the favorite in both Region 9 and 3A, but Dixie and Pine View are expected to challenge the Tigers on both fronts. Juan Diego should be a contender as always, and Spanish Fork and Stansbury can't be overlooked.
Expect a four-team race in 2A for the state championship, with San Juan, Millard and South Summit all expected to challenge Manti.
As for the state's smallest classification, another Duchesne state championship isn't a foregone conclusion. Make no mistake about it, the Eagles are still the team to beat, but they're not as dominant.
That's great news for Rich and Monticello, who are both expected to be better, not to mention Layton Christian, which was a surprise participant in the championship game.