Standout players, not stand-alone teams.
It could be how this season plays out in Class A football. In the preseason, there's not a clear favorite.
“I think the usual suspects will be in play, but there's not one team that jumps out at you,'' Millard West coach Kirk Peterson said. “This year I don't think there will be an undefeated team. I think we'll take turns beating each other up.
“If somebody comes out of the first month undefeated, there's your front-runner.”
Millard North did just that last year and kept on winning. All 13 victories in the Mustangs' first undefeated championship season in nine years were against playoff teams, a first.
With teams completing a two-year scheduling cycle, the Mustangs will go through the same gantlet this year.
“You hope we're used to things like that,'' said Mustangs coach Fred Petito, who's starting his 30th year at the school. “The kids know that they'll be in a battle every week. It's the old 'no detail too small' that looms all the time, but a lot of these guys were big contributors last year and they understand the process
“We get everybody's best shot, but they get ours, too.”
The Mustangs are the preseason pick to win Class A and claim their first back-to-back state championships.
Also strongly in the mix are the next six teams in the preseason ratings — Millard West, Omaha Creighton Prep, Lincoln Southeast, Omaha North, Millard South and Omaha Burke.
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Perceived to be in the next tier are Papillion-La Vista, Omaha Westside and Lincoln North Star. And Omaha Central, Lincoln Southwest, Kearney and Grand Island can't be ruled out of making playoff runs.
What those in the upper echelon have is a game-changer or two on offense — a quarterback, running back or wide receiver.
Millard North has Clay Fisher at quarterback and Adrrell Taylor at running back.
Millard West has Skyler Monaghan at receiver. Prep has quarterback Easton Stick and receiver RJ Urzendowski.
There's new quarterback Luke Gifford with Southeast, running back Calvin Strong with Omaha North, receiver Trey Carr with Burke, quarterback Anthony Cloyd with Millard South, running back Lane Yates with Westside, quarterback Alec Ditoro with Papillion, running back Austin Rose with North Star.
“Obviously there's a lot of talent in the Metro in a variety of positions for teams,'' Omaha North coach Larry Martin said.
But Martin also believes defenses shouldn't be overlooked in deciding the Class A chase.
“It could come down to who builds continuity and becomes very sound on the defensive side because there are so many (playmakers),” he said. “Somebody has to stop somebody sometime on defense.”
Among the preseason top five teams, Millard North, Millard West and Prep have four of their first five games against ranked opponents. Southeast has three.
Omaha North and Papillion-La Vista, conversely, won't face a ranked preseason opponent until October. Lincoln North Star won't see one at all.
Millard North has seven games overall against preseason top 10 teams. Millard South, Millard West, Burke and Prep have five, Papio four, Southeast, Omaha North and Westside three.
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Another perfect season seems unlikely for Millard North. But then again, so did the first.
“Pretty remarkable, to every week have that challenge and play as well as they did,'' Millard West's Peterson said. “And they got better as the year went along. To make that run is one of the more remarkable things that's been done in the history of the game in this state.
“I said to Fred at some point last season that what they were doing was just incredible.”
Also worth noting in advance of the season:
Preseason picks: In five of the remaining six classes, either the returning state champion or the 2012 runner-up is the preseason favorite.
Returning champions picked again are Norfolk Catholic (seeking a four-peat) in Class C-1, David City Aquinas (a possible three-peat) in C-2 and Giltner in Eight Man-2. Norris in Class B and Exeter-Milligan in Eight Man-1 are the returning runners-up.
Also starting at No. 1 is Silver Lake, which reached the Six-Man Coaches Association semifinals last year.
TV games: In its third season, the “Thursday Night Showdown” package of televised games has its best schedule yet. The World-Herald's NEPrepZone.com is a partner with KXVO (Cox Channel 11). Starting with the Aug. 29 opener between Millard North and Millard South, there will be five Class A games, three Class B games and one in Class C-1. Four Class A games should match rated teams.
Mid-cycle dropouts: Since last season, Dorchester, Banner County, Lindsay Holy Family and, just two weeks ago, Newcastle forfeited their 2013 schedules in Eight Man-2 because of low participation — leaving their opponents in a lurch and causing the Nebraska School Activities Association staff to scramble to fill schedules.
It's a problem the NSAA must address, perhaps by taking eight-man scheduling off a two-year cycle.
Banner County, Holy Family and Newcastle will field teams that will play junior-varsity games against six-man schools. North Loup-Scotia also has dropped its six-man schedule.
More mod sod: Getting artificial turf fields this season are Wayne (Wayne State's Cunningham Field) and Plattsmouth. Next on the list could be Norris, which is engaged in a fund-raising campaign, and Fremont and Fremont Bergan if Midland University receives city approval to upgrade Memorial Stadium.
Millard North also installed turf for its soccer field, which will be used for football practices. “At one time we thought it was a luxury,'' Petito said, “and now we think it's a necessity.”
Future playoff changes: Beginning next year, Classes C-1 and C-2 will have nine-game regular seasons instead of eight. They will cut the playoff field in half to 16 teams and play the first three rounds of playoff games on Fridays.
Expect eight-man schools to seek the same changes for 2016.