Picking a preseason favorite for the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division has not been all that difficult the past few seasons.
Cary-Grove ruled for so many years and won the Class 6A state championship in 2009.
Crystal Lake South delivered as the prohibitive favorite the next season.
Then, Prairie Ridge was moved from the FVC Fox to the Valley with several players from back-to-back semifinal teams returning. The Wolves shared the Valley title with South in 2011.
And last year, it was C-G again with five players who had started since their sophomore year playing key roles for a team that wound up as Class 6A state runner-up.
The Valley was loaded with talented teams in those seasons, but there usually was one that stood out.
This season is different. Toss some names in a hat and pick one out. Perhaps a dart board might suffice for selecting a favorite.
The Valley again appears to be deep with talented teams, but a few games may be required to figure out who may end up where.
C-G, Crystal Lake South, Jacobs and Prairie Ridge were joined in the playoffs by Huntley last season.
McHenry is eager to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and Dundee-Crown returns most of its starters from a team that opened with three consecutive victories last year.
C-G lost a lot in talent and leadership, but the Trojans have such a strong tradition and have an impressive offensive line, led by Trevor Ruhland and Michael Gomez, both who were Northwest Herald All-Area first-team selections.
Plus, junior quarterback Jason Gregoire got a taste of varsity while filling in three games for injured Quinn Baker last season. One start was in the playoffs.
“Every year there’s new challenges, regardless of who you have coming back,” Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said. “The constant issue you have is finding leadership. That’s where we’re at right now. There’s talent in our building. I think we’re going to be pretty good.”
Jacobs has the area’s leading returning passer in quarterback Bret Mooney, who was second in the area with 2,046 yards. Coach Bill Mitz has led the Eagles to the playoffs three consecutive seasons, but they have not won an FVC title since sharing with Crystal Lake Central in 1979.
South found its offensive catalyst in quarterback Austin Rogers a few games into last season and he returns to again lead the Gators, who always seem to be a factor in the race.
“Again, the FVC Valley is going to be a dog fight,” Ahsmann said. “Cary-Grove is always a top team in the state, while all the others continue to improve.”
Huntley coach John Hart made a favorable impression in his first season with the Red Raiders, taking them to the Class 7A playoffs and second place in the Valley.
Prairie Ridge definitely wants back into the race after its first losing season since 2003.
“We have four players who played significant minutes in the state championship game in 2011,” Schremp said. “So we have players with several years of experience ready to lead the pack.”