Flip a coin, roll some dice or simply draw a name out of a hat.
None of those methods may be as scientific as using all the available information to predict who will be the best football team in the Mountain Athletic Conference.
But they might be just as accurate, especially given how tightly bunched the top four of Asheville High, Erwin, Reynolds and Roberson figures to be going into Friday’s opening night of play.
The MAC officially recognizes a 3-A and 4-A champion in every sport.
Roberson is the defending 4-A champ and was selected by coaches as the split conference’s best team in a preseason poll conducted by NCPreps.com.
“This conference may be as good or as competitive as it’s been in several years,” Reynolds coach Shane Laws said.
“There are a lot of good teams and being able to predict a 1-2-3 right now is just impossible. Obviously, a lot of people are talking about Roberson, Erwin, Asheville and us. But you’re going to have to be ready every week to battle.”
The Rockets return a MAC-best 18 starters, including two-time All-WNC selection Justin St. Onge, who made the team as a linebacker in 2011.
Junior quarterback Levi Ledford would have been a 1,000-yard passer in his first year as a varsity starter, but suffered a broken ankle. If his preseason performance is any indication, the son of Rockets volleyball coach Lori Ledford is due for a big season.
Ledford completed 13 of 18 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a recent scrimmage against South Caldwell.
“I’m really proud of Levi,” Laws said.
“He’s done such a good job in the offseason, putting in the work. He’s not only gotten bigger, but he’s really throwing the ball well. He struggled some last year because he just wasn’t experienced and that’s the key for him now.”
Reynolds travels to Asheville on Sept. 21 for what is annually one of WNC’s most anticipated games.
The Cougars return just three starters on each side of the ball, and two of them are currently injured. Lineman Jesse Karnezis is not expected to miss any games with torn meniscus in one of his knees, while Asheville is aiming to get back kicker Mason Moore (torn quadriceps) before its MAC opener on Sept. 14.
“I’m hoping that we’ll be competitive in the MAC,” Asheville coach Danny Wilkins said.
“A lot of people are saying this is the year of the Ram and Roberson has a big group of seniors with a lot of size and speed. I know expectations are high at Erwin and you can never count out Shane at Reynolds.”
Roberson has back well over 20 seniors, including veteran quarterback Noah Suber and standout lineman Jeff DeLeon, who has an early scholarship offer from East Carolina.
The Rams return one more former All-MAC selection (six) than Erwin (five) which is bidding for its first conference football championship in over a decade.
Besides the leadership of 2,000-yard passer Austin Brown and former All-WNC defensive end Alfredo Maldonado, another thing bodes well for the Warriors. They have decreased their number of losses each season under fifth-year coach Mike Sexton. Erwin went 9-3 in 2011.
“We lost some great players, but we’ve got a lot of experience back, too,” Sexton said.
“This is just a group of hard-nosed kids. They know what’s expected out of them and they don’t want to be the ones that let up.”
Laws and other MAC coaches said they are wary of McDowell, which capped its 2011 season with back-to-back wins.
The Titans return two former All-MAC selections in free safety Jared Helms and linebacker John Gowan.
“McDowell is the one we all may need to be careful of,” Laws said.
“They played us real tough last year and lost a lot of close games. You can see that those kids are starting to believe down there.”
Enka comes into this season with WNC’s longest active losing streak (eight games), but features one of the MAC’s top running backs in Chris Carver. Carver has rushed for 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons and fellow senior Andrew Franklin was an All-MAC lineman in 2011.
North Buncombe (Curtis Cagle) was the only MAC program to hire a new coach in the offseason.