Maybe you haven’t noticed, but the high school football season is sneaking up on us. The opening night of the season is less than five weeks away. Five weeks. Five. Weeks.
With that reality in mind, I’ve been looking over the schedule to begin preparation for the season. Here are 10 observations:
• Best opener: There are a few good ones — Carmel-Hamilton Southeastern, Cathedral-Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit-Bishop Chatard and Southport-Roncalli as the nightcap of a doubleheader at Lucas Oil Stadium — but I’ll take Center Grove at Warren Central as the headline game of opening night. Center Grove, after coming oh-so-close to making a state finals appearance last year (49-45 loss to Ben Davis in the semistate), is poised for another strong season. Warren Central also lost to Ben Davis, 40-36 in the regional to close out a 9-3 season. The Warriors and Trojans could meet again in the regional now that the sectionals have been realigned.
• Toughest August: No one is shedding any tears for five-time defending state champion Cathedral, but the Irish have traded out Ben Davis and Warren Central — first two opponents the past four years — for Lawrence Central and Cincinnati Moeller. Cathedral is making its debut in Class 6A this year where it could see Lawrence Central again down the road in the sectional.
• Toughest September: Pike. It’s not an easy August, either, with games at Brownsburg and home versus Fishers the first two weeks for first-year coach Jimmy Graves. But check out September — at Ben Davis, Carmel, Lawrence Central and at Warren Central. To top it off, an Oct. 2 game at Center Grove. Geez. Pike has talent on the roster, including senior receiver Johnny William, but that’s a tough assignment. Pike went 0-5 during that same stretch last year in a 4-6 season.
• Best October game: Where will things sit when Carmel visits defending state champion Ben Davis on Oct. 2? These two Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference rivals figure to again be in the mix for a state title. The last time these teams met, it was in the 6A title game at Lucas Oil Stadium in November, a 42-24 Ben Davis win.
• Shaking out the HCC: Hard to believe that Brownsburg finished last in the seven-team Hoosier Crossroads Conference in 2014 with just one league win. Can the Bulldogs, loaded with strong skill position players like quarterback Hunter Johnson, running back Toks Akinribade and receiver Tyler Kirtz, challenge for the league title? Avon won it last year, but its only conference loss came to Brownsburg. That’s how competitive the conference was last season and should be again in 2015. It’s also nice to see the HCC schools free to play nonconference games now. Fishers-Pike, HSE-Carmel, Noblesville-Bishop Chatard, Westfield-Southport, Avon-Ben Davis are matchups we should see and do now that the HCC isn’t locked into nine conference games.
• Games at Victory Field: This will be a cool addition to the high school football slate. Cathedral versus Fishers is the first game at the home of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, on Oct. 2. Brownsburg will face Hamilton Southeastern on Oct. 16. There are a handful of games at Lucas Oil Stadium as well, including a Center Grove-North Central, Westfield-Hamilton Southeastern doubleheader on Sept. 18.
• Winning streaks: Class 4A defending champion New Palestine takes a 15-game winning streak into the season. The Dragons move up to 5A this season, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Dragons run the table again in the regular season. Senior quarterback Alex Neligh is among the top returners for New Pal and third-year coach Kyle Ralph. Tri-West, the Class 3A defending champ, rides a 14-game winning streak into the season. The Bruins opened last season with an 18-17 loss to West Lafayette and open with the Red Devils again this year.
• State pride: In addition to the Cathedral-Cincinnati Moeller matchup, there are some other chances for in-state programs to flex their muscle against neighboring state powers. Carmel plays in Cincinnati against Cincinnati LaSalle on Aug. 29, with Warren Central against Cincinnati Colerain on the same night. Bishop Chatard plays Cincinnati Winton Woods later in the season (Oct. 2). Playing the best out of Ohio is a solid measuring stick for in-state programs.
• First-year coaches: Carmel’s John Hebert isn’t exactly new (he’s a Carmel grad and was in the program for several years as an assistant) but he’ll get his first experience as a head coach at Hamilton Southeastern on Aug. 21. The Greyhounds beat the Royals 14-7 last year in the opener. Grant Lewis (Franklin Central) and Jimmy Graves (Pike) are among other first-year coaches at prominent local programs.
• Race to 400: Can Sheridan’s Bud Wright get there this year? The all-time wins leader in Indiana has 392 wins going into the season. Sheridan has won at least eight games in nine of the past 11 seasons but were 7-5 last year. Wright is going into his 50th season at Sheridan and 51st overall. Amazing. Indian Creek’s Mike Gillin is eight wins from 300. Only seven others have reached that mark.