High school football is back. There isn’t a much better concept for football fans than watching their favorite prep teams under the lights on Friday nights.

Except this week, it all starts on Saturday night. Due to scheduling conflicts with the state playoffs at TCF Bank Stadium, the high school football season is starting earlier than normal. Some teams will be playing as many as three games before school starts.

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There is also a bit of a new look with the elimination of conferences in high school football. The scheduling is based on districts, which guarantees all Minnesota teams will play an eight-game regular season schedule against in-state teams. It also attempts to build competitive balance without a team having to travel too far. There will be sub-district champions within each district to replace conference titles.

In the end, all that matters to the players and programs is getting to the state playoffs in October. That journey started over the summer with camps and captain’s practice. Now after two weeks of practice, teams get to see where they are at against an opponent.

Here are four of this week’s top match-ups, with a couple other quality games on the side.

Maple Grove at Osseo

It doesn’t get much better than when a pair of rivals square off to start the regular season. That’s exactly the case Saturday as Osseo hosts Maple Grove. When the two teams met last year, it was the Crimson’s only loss of the regular season in a 27-26 game.

Maple Grove finished 10-2 last fall and lost a close 13-7 contest to Eden Prairie in the 6A semifinals. The Crimson feature two of the better returning players in the metro in quarterback Brad Davison and running back Isaac Collins.

Osseo finished 6-4 last year, with its four losses coming to Minnetonka, Eden Prairie, Totino-Grace and East Ridge. The Orioles return senior quarterback Malik Gaillard and running back Martelius Hughes, two of their top producers last season. Osseo is a team to keep in mind by the time early October arrives. With a tough schedule early and games to follow against Andover, Anoka and Totino-Grace, it’s crucial for Osseo to get off to a positive start.

Hutchinson at Becker

Hutchinson and Becker were two of the best teams in Class 4A last year and were both state tournament teams, but they didn’t face each other last season. The Bulldogs host the Tigers Saturday night in a clash of powerhouses. Becker won the Prep Bowl last year and Hutchinson was one game away from getting there, only to lose to DeLaSalle in the state semifinals.

The Bulldogs will likely be led by quarterback Andrew Stangler and will also be looking for a big season out of Milan Kent, one of last year’s leading rushers. Hutchinson always has depth in the run game, and the Tigers will be looking for big seasons out of Matt Piechowski and Isaiah Nelson. They’ll also have Austin Kopesky back at running back.

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Mahtomedi at St. Thomas Academy

It will be an interesting season opener between a pair of old rivals who are both coming off disappointing seasons Saturday night as St. Thomas Academy hosts Mahtomedi. Expectations for both squads came up short last fall. The Zephyrs finished 6-5 last year, while St. Thomas Academy went 6-3 and both had their playoff run end early.

When the two teams met last fall, St. Thomas Academy got the 12-7 victory. It’ll be a fun match-up to watch as both teams have talented players on both sides of the ball.

Eden Prairie at Totino-Grace

There’s a classic match-up in Fridley Saturday night between two of the most successful football programs in the state. Totino-Grace will host Eden Prairie in a rematch of last year’s Class 6A Prep Bowl. Eden Prairie snuck out a 28-27 victory after Totino-Grace scored a late touchdown, went for a two-point conversion and didn’t get it.

Eden Prairie has won 30 straight games and four straight state championships, and the Eagles will be the favorite once again. They’ll be led by two of the best players in the metro in linebacker Carter Coughlin and athlete J.D. Spielman.  Totino-Grace will a new quarterback in Jacob Zurbay. He’ll have help on offense with weapons in the names of fullback Brady Bertram, running back Gayflor Flomo and running back/linebacker Ivan Buriak.

Other Notable Match-Ups 

East Ridge at Lakeville North

Two teams with high hopes of being state champions at the end of the year meet Saturday night as Lakeville North hosts East Ridge. The Raptors finished 9-2 last year and return top rusher Dominik London. They also return running back Connor Mohs and wide receiver Kjetil Cline. The Panthers were one win short of the Prep Bowl last season, losing in the semifinals to Eden Prairie. Lakeville North returns talented quarterback Drew Stewart. Also back are defensive back Jacob Traefeld, running backs Joseph Larson and Hunter Schaefer, wide receiver David Lindstrand and defensive end Jackson Dunnell

Holy Angels at DeLaSalle

It’ll be a great match-up between a pair of 2014 state tournament teams in Minneapolis Saturday night as DeLaSalle hosts Holy Angels. The Islanders go the Class 4A Prep Bowl before falling to Becker for just their second loss of the season. The Stars went undefeated in the regular season last year, then lost to Hutchinson in the quarterfinals. The Islanders are hoping Nick Weber can step in and be the new quarterback after Billy Hart graduated. He appeared in seven games last year. They’ll also be looking for contributions from Sage Booker and Joshua Weber. For Holy Angels, there could be competition at quarterback with both Brendan Ballard and Tommy Kraus back. Holy Angels should also have depth running the football with Danny Hoffman, Dimitry Greco and John Kipper all back.

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Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at 10:20 p.m. on Fridays this fall as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and David McCoy will have all the action covered.