Aug. 25: Santa Margarita (Calif.) vs. Brophy (at Phoenix College): Big-time vs. big-time. Santa Margarita returns 15 starters (including a dual-threat at QB in Johnny Stanton) for the defending Division I state champions. Both Stanton and Bruggman are highly ranked nationally as prospects, but go beyond the QB position and there’s talent to burn across both teams’ boards.
Sept. 7: Mountain Pointe at Desert Vista: It’s the Ahwatukee Bowl, so there is that. The winner of this game has bragging rights for a year. Desert Vista won a shortened game last year, 24-0, and it didn’t sit well on the corner of Knox Rd. and 44th St.
Sept. 13: Basha at Chandler: These two teams may have produced the most exciting game of last year’s regular season when they combined for 99 points in a Thursday night affair. Basha survived the shootout with a 58-41 win, and both teams will once again be full of highlight-reel athletes, so there could be more fireworks.
Sept. 28: Red Mountain at Desert Ridge: Red Mountain surprised many by beating the Jaguars in last year’s regular season, and it was the highlight of an eight-game winning streak. However, Desert Ridge exacted revenge in the playoffs. This is a budding rivalry and this year’s matchup will be another intriguing game.
Oct. 5: Desert Vista at Hamilton: Yes, it’s the “rematch.” But we’ll follow Hamilton’s mantra that this game doesn’t “cure” or “remedy” anything unless they meet in the playoffs again. Given the two playoff losses in the Steve Belles’ era have come against teams the Huskies beat during the regular season (Brophy in 2007, Desert Vista in 2011). It’s an interesting point.
Will Hamilton rebound? The Huskies were the big favorite in last year’s championship game but were dominated from start to finish by Desert Vista. With offense a concern, Hamilton is sitting in the unfamiliar position of No. 2 in the Tribune’s preseason rankings. The Huskies have the requisite talent to win another title, but Brophy is ahead of them to start the year. Will Hamilton bounce back, or will they watch for the second straight year as another team hoists the championship trophy?
Eye on Basha: The Bears made the state semifinals last year, and there seems to be little doubt that coach Bernie Busken will get the most out of the players on his team. The problem is, several talented athletes transferred this offseason, including running backs J.J. Husar and Myles Smith, and wide receiver Dionte Sykes. Junior Rajhan Meriwether earned more carries at the end of 2011, so if he and Nate Phillips can deliver, the offense should be good, but the blow to the team’s depth could also be a factor.
Will Mountain View make a jump? Chad DeGrenier’s track record of success in his second and third years of rebuilding projects has been good. His Cactus Shadows team went 0-10 in 2004, then 5-6 in 2005 before finishing 15-0 with the 4A-II state title in 2006. The team then went from 3-7 in 2007 and 2008 to 11-1 in 2009. DeGrenier’s teams have consistently used a sophomore as the varsity quarterback and improved as the signal caller got older. Mountain View went 4-6 last year with sophomore Chase Funk under center. Will 2012 and 2013 be fruitful as Funk matures?
Is Desert Ridge here to stay? The Jaguars made the state championship game in 2010 and the semifinals last year, losing to vaunted Hamilton both times. However, that run was sparked largely by the dynamic duo of Jordan Becerra and Joey Counts. With those two gone — as well as Parker Rasmussen, Damani Mosby and Alex Barrett — Desert Ridge has some restocking to do. Does the program have the depth to remain elite now that the stars have moved on, or will it move back down to the middle of the pack?
Spanning the globe: East Valley football programs are branching out like never before. Hamilton used to be the school on the move (Florida, Ohio) but the rise of the Barry Sollenberger Classic (Desert Vista vs. Palo Verde) began an early-season stretch of interstate matchups for a couple E.V. schools. Brophy hosts nationally-ranked Santa Margarita (Calif.) on Saturday, and the Huskies and Notre Dame are headed to Ireland in September to face schools from California and Philadelphia, respectively. Will this be the biggest showcase of Arizona vs. everyone else to date?