5A-I Preseason Rankings
If the intent of last year's realignment was to sic the 5A-I football powers on one another by lumping them in the same region, we think they have succeeded. Four of the five teams in the Tribune's preseason 5A-I football rankings reside in the Fiesta Region: top-ranked Chandler Hamilton, No. 2 Mesa Red Mountain, No. 3 Phoenix Brophy and No. 4 Chandler. Only fifth-ranked Mesa Mountain View crashes the Fiesta party.
While those top four teams might not end up 1-4 in our poll at the end of the year - a season of beating up on one another with big games every week tends to shuffle things - in our eyes they belong there now.
1. Hamilton: With the usual core of good athletes in tow for a shot at a repeat, will the gradual improvement and maturity week to week last season be the rule again?
2. Red Mountain:Mountain Lions weren't terribly ferocious last year but reached the state semifinals anyway. With more depth, the defense must step up to keep them among the elite.
3. Brophy: Running game and defense should be solid again. Will Broncos passing game be enough to keep opposition honest? If so they will contend again.
4. Chandler: Beating the elite - Hamilton, Brophy, Desert Vista, Mountain View - at playoff time is the only blemish on the Wolves' impressive resume. Chandler has only one playoff win over those four in the last six years.
5. Mountain View: Offense may be better than last year, but the Toros must replace their entire defensive unit. A tougher schedule top to bottom will make that task a bit tougher in the new Central.
5A-II Preseason Rankings
Little has changed the past couple of years. Peoria Centennial remains the team to beat, as the Coyotes continue to reload under coach Richard Taylor. Given its schedule, Centennial's 26-game winning streak could snap this season. The Coyotes play McQueen (Nev.), Chandler, Phoenix Brophy, Goodyear Millennium and Avondale Westview. The top five appear to stand above the remaining fray, but the likes of Phoenix Pinnacle and Scottsdale Desert Mountain are methodically moving up into the middle tier. Still, it's hard to imagine a championship game without at least one of these five:
1. Centennial: QB Dain McFarland and RB Anthony Hughes lead a powerful offense and senior-loaded squad.
2. Westview: Played Centennial close twice but lost in title tilt; returns dual-threat QB Jourdon Grandon.
3. Marcos de Niza: Legitimate state title contender with a stacked offense returning plus transfer Anthony Shivers (Tempe McClintock).
4. Millennium: RB/DB Marquis Flowers has offers from USC and several other Pac-10 schools, and QB Mike Massey (2,272 yards, 17 TD, 4 int) is back.
5. Chaparral: Move up from 4A-I but still considered favorites in the new Desert Valley Region.
4A-I Preseason Rankings
Unlike the past two seasons, there isn't a clear-cut favorite in 4A-I. Four of the final eight teams standing last year - Scottsdale Chaparral, Goodyear Millennium, Glendale Cactus and Paradise Valley - have moved out of the conference. Three-time defending champion Scottsdale Saguaro was hit hard by graduation. Tucson Canyon del Oro lost its coach, Pat Nugent. It could be a wild season.
1. Canyon del Oro: Kadeem Carey is poised for a breakout year, but CDO needs a QB.
2. Sabino: Many key players return from last year's 8-3 season.
3. Saguaro: Even in a transition year, Sabercats will compete.
4. Cienega: WR Trent Simon should have a monster season.
5. Apache Junction: Nate Scola and Cy Maughmer lead talented Prospectors.
4A-II Preseason Rankings
There are several teams that should be in the running for the state title. Paradise Valley, the team that came close to beating Scottsdale Saguaro last year, returns quarterback Kevin Spain and running backs Tyree Parker and Jake Brown. Tucson Santa Rita finished as state runner-ups last year and didn't lose much. Scottsdale Notre Dame is young but has plenty of talent coming up from the junior varsity ranks.
1. Paradise Valley: Kevin Spain and Tyree Parker lead talented group.
2. Santa Rita: QB Ian Garlets and Co. want the title that eluded them last year.
3. Notre Dame: Coach Scot Bemis has built a solid program very quickly.
4. Arcadia: QB Colby Kirkegaard is key to team's fortunes.
5. Greenway: Not as well known but could be a sleeper.
3A Preseason Rankings
The comeback was incredible, but can Payson stay ahead? Josh Anderson rebuilt Payson into a 3A power in short order (three years) and was part of one of the biggest comebacks in Arizona playoff history when the Longhorns trailed by double digits late but rallied for a 34-33 double-overtime victory against Lakeside Blue Ridge.
Anderson left for his alma mater, Dakota State, and Matt Mayo takes over for the defending champions. Coolidge has been a perennial power the past decade, but longtime coach Carlo Hernandez left to open a new Casa Grande high school.
1. Payson: Sure the coaching change is a big deal, but the Longhorns return 80 percent of their roster.
2. Blue Ridge: Must replace a previously loaded backfield with lots of juniors and seniors.
3. Fountain Hills: Conner Brinton is a two-way force (1,600 total yards, 14 TD, 72 tackles, 5 int), but can defense do it again?
4. Wickenburg: Annually reload, but tall task awaits to match 13-1 season in 2008.
5. Coolidge: Coaching change plus a 70 percent roster turnover could make for a turbulent season by Coolidge standards.
2A Preseason Rankings
Don't expect much slippage among the recent 2A powers. St. Johns is the two-time defending state champion, and though it loses arguably the best player in 2A history in Shad Bride, Mike Morgan's teams have lost studs before yet keep coming back. His brother, Bill Morgan at Chandler Valley Christian, was foiled in the state semifinals last year, but his son, Jordan Morgan, is back for his junior year at quarterback after a successful summer of camps and prep bowl All-Star games. The top five is a usual cast of characters, but there are two or three other teams equally capable of sliding in and staying through the regular season.
1. St. Johns:Two-time defending state champ loses Bride (5,687 career rushing yards and state-record 105 TD) but not much else.
2. Valley Christian: State semifinalists lose key RBs and offensive linemen but return QB Jordan Morgan and Blake Argo (1,100 rushing yards, 11 TD).
3. Scottsdale Christian:First-time coach Jeff Fox has a starting lineup of juniors and seniors (6 on offense, 8 on defense).
4. Benson: Semifinalists bring back QB Mark Mabry (10 TD, 5 int), Kyle Graf (2,300 rushing yards, 25 TD, 5 int on defense) and Dain Dastrup (104 tackles).
5. Phoenix Christian: Lost to St. Johns in championship; must replace Nate Desantiago and Naje Singleton from backfield, and 16 other starters.
Tribune writers Les Willsey, Mark Heller and Kyle Odegard compiled the rankings.