MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The sound of the whistle and team chants was never more obvious than Monday as teams in all fall sports hit their practice fields to signal the start of the season. It’s a new season, and for many programs a new opportunity to start something special.
Everybody is equal right now, and many football teams are hoping the early two-a-day workouts before school starts will eventually get them to the promise land, the Prep Bowl in November. There might not be a more battle-tested and balanced conference in the Twin Cities than the Suburban East Conference. It’s a 10-team league, and any one of about six schools can honestly say at the start of the season that they’re contenders for the league title.
The program that prevails with the Suburban East title generally goes on to do very well in the postseason. Last year might be a slight exception as the South Suburban and Lake Conferences made up the eight team field in the 6A state playoffs.
Three-Horse Race for Suburban East title?
Last year, Mounds View and Stillwater dethroned Cretin-Derham Hall at the top of the league after the Raiders had been two-time defending conference champions. Prior to that, Stillwater reigned supreme in the league.
It’s incredibly difficult to pick a winner this early in the year in such a competitive conference, but the edge goes to either Mounds View or Stillwater until somebody knocks them off. The Mustangs and Ponies each finished 7-1 last year to share the league crown, and each won a first-round playoff game in the new Class 6A format before having their seasons end in the round of 16.
Mounds View’s season ended in a 36-21 loss to Eastview, and Stillwater suffered a tough 7-6 defeat to Rosemount in a defensive struggle.
If there’s one thing to expect heading into the football season in this league, it’s scoring. The top seven teams in the league last year all averaged at least 22 points per game. Cretin-Derham Hall averaged more than 35 points per game, which isn’t surprising with the amount of Division I talent at skill positions they always seem to develop.
The Raiders, who finished 6-3 last year, including 6-2 in league play, will be a tough test as they always are. Cretin-Derham Hall features a talented and deep offense with speed in the backfield, incredible accurate passing at quarterback and play-making ability in its wide receivers.
Mounds View punishes you with its ground game and size on the offensive line, but just when you creep up is when they get you with a deep pass. Stillwater mixes it up on offense, but they’re definitely not afraid to throw it around. The Ponies were 5-1 at home in 2012 and 3-1 away from the friendly confines.
If I had to pick early favorites, I’d go with Cretin-Derham Hall, Mounds View and Stillwater as they’re traditionally among the top three in the league. But don’t look past East Ridge, Woodbury and White Bear Lake, who always give their opponents a tough battle. Park Cottage Grove (1-8) and Forest Lake have (0-9) some work to do in 2012 after combining for one win last year.
Early Schedule features Big Time Games
In looking at the early schedule, Cretin-Derham Hall looks to have a potentially huge match-up against Stillwater at St. Thomas in Week 3. The next week the Raiders head to Mounds View for another big game. Stillwater should be 2-0 heading into the Cretin game with early match-ups against Park Cottage Grove and Forest Lake.
Mounds View’s biggest regular season game of 2013 looks to be that Week 4 home game against Cretin-Derham Hall. The following week is another big home game against Stillwater.
Don’t sleep on East Ridge
Lastly, East Ridge might be the sleeper of the Suburban East Conference this year, or rather the team nobody should sleep on. The Raptors finished last season 5-5, but gave the Raiders, Ponies and Mustangs all tough games. East Ridge lost those three games by a combined 16 points.
The Raptors feature a sophomore quarterback in Seth Green who is already getting several looks from Division I coaches. As a freshman, he passed for more than 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns. They also have their top two rushers back for their senior year and their top two receivers back. East Ridge gets a good test early with a home game Aug. 29 against White Bear Lake, a team that always seems to finish in the top half of the league.
Check back with the WCCO Prep Blog for more football previews as the season inches closer.