Football 2012: Nicholl commentary: A list of bold predictions for 2012
Published on -8/30/2012, 10:50 AM
My annual area prep football predictions column starts in Quinter with sophomore fullback Brett Crist. Crist started the last 3.5 games of the season at quarterback last fall after an injury to starter Colton Corwin. This year, Crist will play fullback, Corwin is at running back and sophomore Tyler Waggoner is at quarterback for a program that has made the playoffs three of the last four seasons. Quinter has just three seniors and Crist understands the expectations from outsiders are a little different than normal for the Bulldogs.
"A lot of people are doubting us this year, that we are not going to be as good," Crist said.
Crist, like many athletes across the area who I've spoken with during the last few weeks, remains confident in his team. To me, that's the area's theme. While last season was built around speed -- Thunder Ridge's Joel Struckhoff, Smith Center's Truitt Kuhlmann, Osborne's Damon Schurr and Bird City-Cheylin's Jeremiah White all exceeded 2,000 rushing yards and Struckhoff and Schurr broke at least one state record -- this fall's theme is change, especially at quarterback.
With the exception of a loaded Ness City team, the area has no dominant team on paper, a change from last season. Some teams, especially Phillipsburg, Thunder Ridge, Otis-Bison, Sharon Springs, Plainville and La Crosse, still are expected to be state contenders. Ness City and Sharon Springs are my top picks to reach a state championship.
But virtually every squad has some big questions.
"I don't know who it is," Victoria coach Doug Oberle said of this year's top team in Eight-Man Divison II, a classification known for having a few dominant teams every year. "I really don't. Otis-Bison is going to be a solid football team. I think there are two or three teams out west that are going to be solid football teams."
Just three returning playoff teams, Ness City, Phillipsburg and Cheylin, return their starting quarterback (plenty more on this trend in today's Sports Ink). Like Quinter, many teams' success will hinge on young players in new positions. It's going to be a fascinating -- and different -- fall.
Who is this year's surprise?
The area has a remarkable streak of producing teams that enjoy massive one-season turnarounds. In the last six years, multiple squads have improved their win total by at least seven wins from one season to the next. Those include: Sharon Springs, Quinter, Otis-Bison, Osborne, Cheylin and Plainville (3-6 in 2010 to 10-2 last year). I don't think any squad in the area will have a seven-win improvement this season. However, I believe the winner of WaKeeney-Trego and Atwood, both Eight-Man, Division I teams, in Week 6 will make the playoffs and be this year's surprise.
Trego went 3-6 last season, but has faced Eight-Man, Division I's hardest schedule the last two years. Last season, the Golden Eagles averaged 32.4 points per game, a solid total. This fall, the schedule is easier and the program returns senior running back Cameron Staples (1,537 rushing yards, 22 scores), end Clayton Riedel and senior quarterback John Griffith, a three-year starter. Atwood, 4-5 in Class 2-1A last season, drops to the eight-man ranks and has big numbers out. Historically, the drop down in classes almost always means a wins increase. The winner of this game (my preseason pick is Trego, with its offensive firepower) will make the playoffs and win at least seven games.
Who will be this year's surprise player?
Last year, Jeremiah White shocked the area when he rushed for 2,006 yards for an 8-2 Cheylin team. White had less than 200 rushing yards as a junior. My picks for breakout player are Trego's Riedel (one of the faster, more athletic players in the area), Wheatland-Grinnell's Wade Buck (7.52 yards per carry, seven scores in limited action last season) and Ellis quarterback Blake Hudson. Hudson was all-league as a DB and WR last season, but will start under center for the first time this fall in the Railroaders' spread offense. All three will put up big numbers.
Huskies in playoffs?
Almena-Northern Valley will be back in the playoffs. The Huskies, one of the state's all-time dominant programs from 1982-90, had fallen on rough times recently. Northern Valley rebounded with a 6-3 season last year and will make the playoffs for the first time since 2005 under 37th-year coach Chuck Fessenden. Junior quarterback Hunter Chandler, junior running back Jordan Baird and senior lineman Ian Vincent are all-state caliber players.
The MCL title
The MCL championship will be decided in Week 1. The Plainville/Phillipsburg matchup is the de facto MCL title game. Not every MCL team plays each other this year, but Friday's contest will match the league's top two teams.
Wins will come in Logan
Logan will win more games than it won the last three seasons -- including a road contest. The Trojans have won three contests the last three seasons, none on the road. Logan is the lone area team that hasn't won a road game the last three seasons. The Trojans return a bevy of players, including quarterback Brett Pinkerton. Logan had big improvements, statistically, under coach Brandon Gehring last season. This year, Logan captures an elusive road win and wins four contests.
A few numbers
The area's most important statistic will be: yards per play and turnovers from the first-year quarterbacks. With so many teams, including La Crosse, Plainville, Victoria, Thunder Ridge, Otis-Bison, Ellis, Oakley and others starting first-year quarterbacks, the young signal callers will be expected to manage the game and not have turnovers. When the young QBs are called upon to make plays, they'll be expected to come through. For most teams, if the new QB is solid, then the team will likely have success.