|SM West's Andre Maloney. KC Star.|
2. Lawrence Free State (0-0): The Firebirds have been hit with the injury bug as hard as any team in the league. Fred Wyatt's ACL tear, in addition to several other nagging injuries to key players could be sabotaging things early on. That being said, they face teams ranked #12 and #11 in the Power Rankings in the first two weeks of the season, so they have time to heal before their tough stretch begins in week three.
3. Olathe North (0-0): Expectations are high for this group of Eagles, young as they are. Will they rise to the occasion? Or will their fans and alumni be left waiting another year? With a roster that's stockpiled with talent, a schedule that doesn't exactly feature a true rough stretch and Gene Wier at the helm, Olathe North seems justified starting the season in the #3 slot.
4. Olathe East (0-0): There's no doubt Olathe East has been the league's most consistent program over the past decade. We know they'll be good, we know they'll win the games they're supposed to win, and we know they'll be in the playoffs. The question mark remains, when will they finally break through and win a state title? This year's team isn't the most talented they've ever returned, but they have a solid base to build around and plenty of talent and speed at the skill positions.
5. SM East (0-0): The Dustin Delaney era kicks off with road games to Leavenworth and Lawrence. We should have a good feel for how well they'll be able to run the flexbone offense after those two games. If the Lancers have a smooth transition and do well, the sky's the limit. If it's a rough start, games against Olathe North, Free State and SM West in the final six games could rough up the Lancers.
6. SM South (0-0): On paper SM South looks to have all the components necessary for a winning season. They have tons of athletes at the skill positions, bulk up front, and most importantly they return quality experience throughout their roster. The folks in the SM South community are quietly optimistic about the team's potential this fall, as they should be. The first two games are going to be tough (SM West and Olathe North), but the seven that follow all appear winnable.
7. Olathe South (0-0): The Falcons have been a hard team to get a read on the past couple season. In that time span they've gone 17-5, with a state title to boot. When they looked inexperienced in 2011, they went 12-1 and won a state championship. When they looked seasoned and primed to dominate in 2012, they went 5-4. This year's team is very low on experience (hence the #7 ranking) but don't be shocked if they climb the rankings.
8. Olathe Northwest (0-0): Olathe Northwest might be the most compelling program to watch this upcoming fall. Chip Sherman is now at the helm, and every program he's ever been associated with has been successful. You know the wins are going to come, it's just a matter of when that will start. It took him about six games to get things rolling at SM East, with a roster that was less talented than what he's inheriting at Olathe Northwest. Success could come early at the crossroads of K-7 and K-10.
9. Lawrence (0-0): It's been three years and thirty games since the Lawrence program didn't have the luxury of dynamic quarterback Brad Strauss on their roster. How will life be without Strauss? That remains to be seen. Remember, Strauss took over in 2010, one season after the LHS program had their worst season ever going 1-8. Strauss, along with a tremendous class of 2013, helped the program steadily improve to one of the league's best in the course of three years. Can the Chesty Lions keep the momentum going? They're thin on returning experience but they've tasted success and have a foundation to build on.
10. Leavenworth (0-0): The Pioneers are the sexy dark horse pick this fall. And they should be. They lost their coach Kevin Kopecky to Eudora, but they replaced him with Sunflower League veteran Mark Litrell -- in my book that coaching change was a wash. Leavenworth has always had an underrated talent pool of athleticism, and I wouldn't surprised if they finished above .500 and in the playoffs.
11. SM Northwest (0-0): There's been quite a bit of chatter surrounding the Cougars this offseason, especially considering they only went 2-7 last fall, but talk is cheap and they'll need to prove themselves to climb out of the lower tier of the Power Rankings. One thing I have noticed: SM Northwest is a strangely cyclical program. Their yearly success has flowed evenly in peaks and troughs since the late 1990s. Assuming they bottomed out in 2012, they should be in for an improved year two under Linn Hibbs.
12. SM North (0-0): The Indian's early schedule doesn't do them any favors. Save a major upset, I don't expect them to climb out of the cellar any time soon. Right now the program is riding a 10-game losing streak. These are awfully low expectations, but ending that streak before district play would be marked improvement for the program, in my book.