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Another fall sports season is upon us; high school football practice begins Monday throughout Iowa. Here are five questions surrounding the 2016 season:
1. A refresher on the new, condensed playoff system, please?
After eight years of qualifying 32 teams in each class (remember when they called the first round “substates?”), the IHSAA is eliminating a round, and half the field. Sixteen teams in each class advance to a four-round, four-weekend quest for the six state championships, beginning Friday, Oct. 28.
In Class 4A and in 8-Player, two teams from each of eight districts qualify; simple enough. In 3A, 2A, 1A and Class A, the top two teams from each of seven districts qualify, along with two wild cards. The first criteria for wild cards is district finish, meaning all district co-champions should advance to the postseason. Also, the point-differenial tie-breaker has been changed from 13 points to 17.
2. Two years ago, Anamosa jumped out of the ashes and became a playoff team. Last year, Cedar Rapids Kennedy transformed itself from 3-8 to 13-1 and a berth in the Class 4A state finals. Which area team that sported a losing season in 2015 is most equipped to make a huge jump?
Look first at the Union Knights, a traditionally strong program that slid to 4-6 last year. The roster is virtually intact, led by senior Isaiah Vaughn, who rushed for 1,373 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Troy Hanus threw for 692 yards and returns his top six targets from a year ago. Five of the top seven tacklers are back, led by senior Brock Hadachek. Expect Union to push North Fayette Valley and Waukon for the title in what should be a beast of a race in Class 2A District 4. Elsewhere, look for Linn-Mar (4-6) to be the most improved team in the Metro, Clayton Ridge (4-5) to make a move in Class 1A, and Iowa Valley (2-7) to adjust quickly and favorably in the eight-player game.
3. What is Tim Lovell walking into at Marion?
A major reconstruction project, to be sure. The Indians have dropped 17 straight games, prompting the resignation of Tony Perkins last season. A former assistant at Linn-Mar, Lovell appears to be passionate and positive by all accounts. Two or three victories is a reasonable goal this season. The Indians will win again; it’s been done before.
4. What do you say? Seven straight for the Regals?
At this point, it would be silly to bet against Iowa City Regina, a Class 1A dynasty in every sense. Marv Cook’s forces have built an 82-2 record through the past six seasons, with all of them ending with a trophy-hoisting celebration. It came a little more difficult last year, though — Western Christian pushed the Regals to the wire before Regina prevailed, 35-28, in the championship game, and heavy graduation losses ensued. Western will be a strong challenger again. So will Pella Christian, and the Regals have a strong force lurking in their own back yard in West Branch. Still, consider Regina the frontrunner until and unless someone else proves otherwise.
5. Take Regina out of the equation, then, and who is the most likely area team poised to bring home a championship in November?
Mount Vernon. The Mustangs caught fire late last season and reached the Class 2A title game before bowing to Spirit Lake in a zany final, 70-56. Mount Vernon sports one of the top two area recruits in lineman Tristan Wirfs (Iowa City West’s Oliver Martin is the other). Quarterback Drew Adams passed for 3,391 yards and 38 touchdowns as a sophomore, and backs Jack Cochrane and Sam Moore also return after combining for more than 1,700 rushing yards. If Regina doesn’t win 1A, it very well could be West Branch, which will again ride Luke Lenoch (nearly 4,000 rushing yards the last two seasons).
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