1. Can SM East and Miege defend their titles?
Both the Lancers and the Stags appear to be in pretty good positions to repeat as state champions.
Shawnee Mission East, whichwon the program’s first Kansas Class 6A state title under second-year coach Dustin Delaney, has 13 starters back, including senior running back Wyatt Edmisten. He rushed for 1,523 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Miege, which won the Class 4A Division I title, returns a similar running threat in Dawson Downing. He rushed for 1,960 yards and 31 TDs.
2. Could St. Thomas Aquinas finish on top?
St. Thomas Aquinas fell just short of the title in Class 5A during coach Randy Dreiling’s first season, but the Saints seem poised to take the final step with one of the state’s most potent ground attacks.
The Saints needed just nine games to shatter the program’s single-season rushing record, and they return two of the biggest stars this year. James Cosentino led the attack and set the individual single-season record with 1,268 yards before breaking his leg. Quarterback Karter Odermann finished with 1,074 yards.
Aquinas also returns an experienced offensive line.
3. How will coaching turnover affect the Sunflower League?
The Sunflower League may have five new coaches on the sidelines, but several of them got work in under well-established coaches.
SM North’s Ben Bartlett is a bit of an outlier because he served as interim coach last year, but he was promoted at the end of the season. The team ended a losing streak that dated back to 2011 and even made it to the playoffs with a 2-8 record.
Chris McCartney of Olathe North brings the most experience to his post having served 11 years as a defensive coordinator for the Eagles.
Another former Olathe North assistant, Jesse Owen, will coach across the district at Olathe East.
Brett Oberzan will take over at SM South after 11 years as Lawrence Free State’s defensive coordinator.
The only coach without any Sunflower League experience is SM Northwest’s Bo Black, who comes from Hays after 13 seasons with Great Bend.
4. Can Lawrence capitalize on star power?
If the Chesty Lions are going to make a run at the Class 6A state title, this would be the year to do it with a deep and experienced roster. They enter the season with Rivals.com’s top-ranked player in the state in defensive tackle Amani Bledsoe. Bledsoe has more than 40 college offers, according to coach Dirk Wedd.
Bledsoe is one of Lawrence’s three returning first team all-state selections, joining running back JD Woods and linebacker Price Morgan.
The Lions will try to improve on last year’s 5-5 record and first-round exit from the Class 6A state tournament.
5. What is a “can’t miss game” in the first three weeks?
Olathe North at Olathe South at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18. There is nothing quite like an early rivalry game to get players pumped for a new season. The Eagles and Falcons are natural enemies across the district, and last year’s one-point victory by Olathe North should add some extra motivation for Olathe South.
Olathe North won the game 27-26 and did not lose a game until the Class 6A semifinals, where the Eagles fell to SM East.