Football is in the air. The 2014 high school season kicks off in a matter of hours.
Every team at this time of year is undefeated, with the same aspirations of reaching the state playoffs at the end of the season. For some, that dream will eventually become reality.
Then, beginning in November, each week represents a one-game season. It’s win-or-go-home time, and anything can happen in the playoffs.
But it’s a long season before the brackets are determined. Some teams will live up to their lofty preseason expectations, some will falter and others will emerge as unlikely contenders.
Bozeman, Dillon, Missoula Loyola, Ennis and Geraldine-Highwood won championship hardware last season. Who will take home the crowns this season?
A futile attempt to predict the 2014 champions:
Sometimes a preseason favorite is the favorite for a reason. After Bozeman lived up to the hype last year, Kalispell Glacier, led by a host of returning all-state players including quarterback Brady McChesney, is the team receiving this year’s August accolades.
The Wolfpack lost to the Hawks in last year’s championship game, and they return a wealth of talent. If it can avoid the injury bug, Glacier can probably expect a November run.
As good as the Wolfpack can and should be, though, there isn’t a shortage of challengers. Helena, Billings Skyview, Great Falls CMR and Helena Capital figure to be in the hunt, as well.
Championship prediction: Kalispell Glacier over Helena High.
Until somebody proves otherwise, Class A prognosticators will likely continue to write Billings Central and Dillon into the championship game. They’ve met for the past three state titles, with the Beavers emerging victorious last season.
The Rams, who have played for the crown in seven consecutive seasons, are the likely preseason favorite this year thanks to the returning speed and experience at the skill positions. New quarterback Michael Stanton will have plenty of weapons on the outside, notably standout Holden Ryan.
Belgrade, Butte Central, Columbia Falls, Laurel and Miles City lead the charge to dethrone the perennial preseason favorites.
Championship prediction: Billings Central over Dillon.
The west has been best in recent years in Class B, winning three of the previous four titles. Missoula Loyola has topped Malta and Baker in back-to-back championships, and the Rams are again expected to be one of the class’s top contenders.
As usual, Baker, Bigfork, Fairfield and Huntley Project are among those battling Loyola for top honors, and Forsyth, Glasgow and Townsend are continuing to build on their recent successes.
Class B is especially deep this year, and there’s always a sleeper team or two that emerges. Watch for Conrad, Deer Lodge and Ronan in that regard.
Championship prediction: Bigfork over Forsyth.
Class C 8-Man
Wibaux last won the 8-Man title in 2001, but the Longhorns have appeared in six championship games since then, including last year’s shootout loss at Ennis.
The Longhorns top many preseason lists again, and for good reason: Seven seniors highlight another deep, physical squad. But the road to the championship isn’t paved for any team. Wibaux is a likely contender, but so are the defending champion Mustangs (Walker McKitrick, who shredded Wibaux in the title game, is back at QB), as well as Charlo, Superior, and the new Drummond-Philipsburg co-op in western Montana.
The Northern C should be well represented in the playoffs, too, with Belt, which only lost to Wibaux by four points in last year’s semifinals, Simms and Power-Dutton-Brady, et al.
Championship prediction: Wibaux over Belt.
Class C 6-Man
As was the case last season when Geraldine-Highwood beat Denton-Geyser-Stanford for the 6-Man crown, co-op programs will likely have a heavy influence on the landscape.
Last year’s championship participants will be solid again, as will Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap, Westby-Grenora, Grass Range-Winnett and Custer-Hysham. Single-school programs Hot Springs (Tanner Hoff is arguably the best player in the class) and Savage are highly regarded, too, as both return strong teams after winning their respective conferences and making deep playoff runs in 2013.
Championship prediction: Denton-Geyser-Stanford over Savage.