It’s never too early to talk football, and it’s never too early to make (semi-) educated guesses.
The season officially begins Aug. 19. The first true week begins Aug. 26 and Varsity Xtra’s first whack at preseason prognostications starts here.
They’re not perfect. They may not even be close. But it’s the best we’ve got for mid-August.
By the way, these are subject to change weekly for the next three months. Even we’d be very nervous if they didn’t.
1. Hamilton: The Huskies, owners of a 40-game winning streak, will go for a fourth straight title, and while the offensive line must be rebuilt, players like WR Kendyl Taylor, DL Jaxon Hood and DB Reggie Daniels make Hamilton the team to beat once again.
2. Desert Ridge: The Jaguars made a surprise run to the title game last season as a No. 10 seed, and return RB Joey Counts, QB/WR Jordan Becerra and WR/QB Parker Rasmussen as they look to challenge Hamilton again.
3. Brophy: Injuries ravaged the Broncos last season, but 13 starters, including QB Tyler Bruggman, WR Devon Allen and DB Robert Relf, return from last year’s state quarterfinalists.
4. Mountain Pointe: The team is solid all around, but the loss of QB Kyle Faunce to transfer leaves a void offensively. Super sophomore DB/WR Jalen Brown should have a big impact on both sides of the ball this season.
5. Chandler: UCLA-bound QB Brett Hundley is gone, but the Wolves may have eight D-I signees, including WR Javon Williams and DL Kisima Jagne. Shaun Aguano takes over as coach following Jim Ewan’s retirement.
6. Desert Vista: QB Hunter Rodriguez and RB Mike Arredondo return to lead the offense, and four of the top-5 tacklers from a season ago are back after least year’s run to the 5A-I semifinals.
7. Westview: The Knights made the 5A-II semifinals last season and were tied with Chaparral at the half before succumbing. RB Seivon Morris is a star, and LB Chuks Amaechi is back to anchor the defense.
8. Mesquite: RB Anthony Lopez, QB Steven Bevan, TE Kody Kohl and LB Josh Bamrick return, but the new-look Wildcats under Matt Gracey must replace the majority of their offensive and defensive lines.
9. Basha: QB Kyle Duran and WR Nate Phillips are a duo to watch, but defensive stalwarts Dhane Cumberledge and Zach Williams are gone. The Bears need to run the ball better than they did a season ago.
10. Red Mountain: The Mountain Lions welcome transfer WR Marcus Brantley to go with TE Billy Freeman as solid targets for junior QB Mason Thorman. The defense is young but athletic.
1. Chaparral: Some questions on defense, but the elite combo of QB Connor Brewer and WR/CB Davonte Neal makes the Firebirds the easy call as preseason No. 1. Incoming DL transfers Dylan Cozens and Jarvis Lewis should help mitigate the loss of nine defensive starters from last year.
2. Centennial: RB Jalen Ortiz is ready for a breakout season, and once again, the Coyotes are the chief competition to Chaparral after the teams met in the 5A-II championship game last year.
3. Marcos de Niza: The Padres lost some key skill guys, but QB Tommy Thornton and WR Paul Elvira will lead the offense, and LB Adam Pavlenko is the emotional leader of the defense.
4. Salpointe: One of Tucson’s best programs will count on young stars like RB Johnny Pena and WR Cameron Denson to compete after moving down from 5A-I.
5. Cienega: Bobcats came close to knocking off Canyon del Oro in the 4A-I semis last season, now readying for a move up in classification with impact transfer RB Manny Vera.
6. Notre Dame: The Saints made the 4A-II semifinals last season but are moving up another classification. They have a brutal schedule, but one of the top QBs in the state in Jordan Gehrke.
7. Ironwood Ridge: While standout QB Tyler D’Amore is gone from last year’s 5A-II semifinalists, star RB Mitch Fischer returns.
8. Fairfax: Plenty back from last year’s 8-3 team, including QB Kurtis Walls and RB Terryon Tate.
9. Deer Valley: Top QB, RB, WR and leading tackler from a season ago set to return, including star tailback Trae Armstrong.
10. Canyon del Oro: Stanford-commit LB/TE Blake Martinez is the heart and soul of the team, but the Dorados lost a lot from last year’s 4A-I runner-up squad, including standout tailback Ka’Deem Carey.
1. Saguaro: Defending 4A-I champs lose QB Teddy Ruben and several other D-I talents, but RB D.J. Foster and LB Ryan Merrill lead another talented squad.
2. Thunderbird: The defending 4A-II champions have RB duo of Kani Benoit and Connor Hustead back to attempt repeat.
3. Williams Field: Loss of OL Jordan Poland hurts, and passing game has questions, but San Diego State-bound RB Alex Howard cures many ills.
4. Cactus: The Cobras were upset by Desert Edge in last year’s postseason, but Larry Fetkenheier always has group in contention.
5. Queen Creek: Last year’s 4A-I semifinalists need to replace QB Adam Brzeczek, RB Chim Nga and others, but DL Billy Gregorie is back for Bulldogs in Joe Germaine’s second year at the helm.
6. Desert Edge: Lost a lot of talent after last year’s semifinal run, but a solid team with enough depth to keep up the success.
7. Sabino: Defense will need to carry team early on as offense replaces many of last year’s impact players, but Sabercats can never be counted out.
8. Peoria: QB Nick Salute has good weapons to find at wide receiver, and star CB Chris Chapman leads the defense.
9. Arcadia: Many starters returning from last year’s 6-5 squad, including QB Cole Richardson and RB Sosaia Maafu.
10. Liberty: Went 9-2 last season in 4A-II and QB Andre Gattie (1,151 passing yards, 1,012 rushing yards, 25 total TD) is back to lead the charge.
1. Blue Ridge: The 3A runners-up lost about 90 percent of its lineup to graduation (including former Valley Christian standout Jordan Morgan), but the Yellowjackets have a top coach in Paul Moro and size up front.
2. Mingus: The new alignment could be Mingus’ ticket to a title. The Marauders were always a top 4A program, and their size in the trenches could help alleviate a new batch of skill-position kids.
3. Coolidge: Exact opposite of BR and Mingus. The Bears return their skill kids in QB Michael Felix, and running backs Seth Ellis (1,900 total yards, 24 TD) and Tone Hooker (829 rushing yards, 9 TD).
4. Show Low: The defending 3A champions must find a new path with QB Rathen Ricedorff record-setting career done, but have most of its linemen and arguably the top wide receiver in in Arizona back in Josh Weeks (1,561 yards, 20 TD).
5. Snowflake: Leading rusher/receiver Tyler Johnson is back for his senior year after (1,120 total yards, 19 TD); Strength up front will need to compensate for linebackers and running backs having graduated.
1. Northwest Christian: Record-setting running back Casey Jahn (2,583 yards rushing, 32 TD) returns for his senior season, as does QB Orbi Gonzales (1,496 yards, 17 TD). It’s hard to repeat given the roster sizes and injury threats, but this group can do it.
2. Yuma Catholic: 2A runners-up a year ago, QB Tommy Pistone and RB Tyler Moreno return, but a lot was lost from the past two years and the schedule is brutal to begin the season (Northwest Christian, River Valley, Wickenburg, Buckeye, etc …)
3. Round Valley: Speaking of tough schedules, St. Johns, followed by 3A studs Show Low and Blue Ridge in three consecutive weeks, plus Snowflake and Thatcher qualifies. If they get to the playoffs with that seasoning, watch out.
4. Tempe Prep: Something of a wild card here after a tremendous 2010 season. The Knights proved they could play with almost anyone in 2A, and return some key guys with experience, but the days of “sneaking up” on anyone are gone.
5. St. Johns: This championship 2A program isn’t quite as loaded as previous Mike Morgan teams, but because of geography, the Redskins are playing a bunch of the elite schools from Div. III and IV. That means loads of experience and seasoning.
1. Joseph City: Until someone beats the defending 1A champions … Not to mention being led by a two-time state champion in running back Remington Baldwin.
2. Mogollon: This shouldn’t be a surprise, the Mustangs have been at or near the top for the past few years. Boone Baker returns for his senior season after rushing for 1,366 yards and 20 touchdowns.
3. St. David: Could be looking at the No. 1 spot but saw the state championship game in 2010 slip away. QB Tyler Davis could be the best in Div. VI.
4. Valley Union: Jace Luzania (1,260 yards, 23 TD) returns from the team’s two-headed backfield monster, and the Blue Devils only lost eight players to graduation.
5. Valley Lutheran: Not a perennial power in the former 1A, but a lot of athletes return from a solid 2010, including QB Alex Riedel and RB Dmitri O’Brien 2,096 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns from 2010.