1. SM EAST
The Lancers have just two losses in Dustin Delaney’s first two years as head coach. They went undefeated on their way to the Kansas Class 6A state championship last season. SM East lost its starting quarterback and a top running back but returns 13 starters on offense and defense, including running back Wyatt Edmisten, who scored 32 touchdowns last year.
The Chesty Lions are one of the league’s most experienced teams after relying mostly on sophomores last season. Three returners — Amani Bledsoe, Price Morgan and JD Woods — received first-team All-Sunflower League honors last year. Bledsoe is the top-ranked recruit in the state as a defensive end and offensive tackle.
3. OLATHE NORTH
The Eagles have a new head coach this year, but there’s a definite comfort level that will make the transition smooth. Longtime assistant Chris McCartney takes over for Gene Weir after 19 years on the sideline. He will look to returners such as Isaiah Simmons and Chase Miller to lead a squad that went undefeated until the state semifinals last year.
4. SM WEST
Coach Tim Callaghan, who led the Vikings to a state championship in 2012, has another deep and experienced team. The Vikings’ defense might be their strongest asset, as they return seven senior starters, including Jared Green and Tre Carter. Junior wide receiver Isreal Watson will help anchor the offense.
5. LAWRENCE FREE STATE
The Firebirds return quarterback Bryce Torneden, who was a second-team All-Sunflower League selection last season, and running back Sam Skwarlo.
6. OLATHE SOUTH
Experienced linemen Jack Murphy, Jared Hester and Devin Brown will anchor the Falcons as they try to make it past the first round of the Kansas Class 6A state tournament for the first time since winning a state title in 2011. Running back DaeVonte Nance and wide receiver Devin Brown will pace the offense.
7. OLATHE NORTHWEST
Linebacker David Burton, the Sunflower League’s top returning tackler, leads a deep group of Ravens returners looking for the school’s first back-to-back winning seasons since it opened in 2003. He will have some help from fellow veterans such as senior quarterback/defensive back Adam Hatzfeld.
The Pioneers will try to make a second straight trip to the Kansas Class 5A state tournament. Quarterback Drew Sachen has the benefit of the return of two of his top targets in wide receivers Johnny Heath and Jacob Bohnemann. The team also returns offensive lineman Arik Parker, defensive tackle Jordan Codgill and safety Nick Starnes.
9. OLATHE EAST
Jesse Owens, a former Olathe North football player and assistant coach, will try to lead the Hawks back to winning ways after their first losing season since 1999. Wide receiver Zac Cahill, who was a second-team All-Sunflower League selection, will help ease the transition.
10. SM NORTH
Second-year coach Ben Bartlett will try to continue the Indians’ rebuilding efforts with a deep group of junior and senior returners. Junior quarterback Will Schneider and senior Tyler Burnett will anchor the offense, with linebackers Cesar Salgado and Marcos Garcia leading the defense.
11. SM NORTHWEST
New coach Bo Black hopes to bring the same consistency to the Cougars that he enjoyed during 13 years at Great Bend, where he won 65 percent of his games and claimed nine conference titles. He has his work cut out for him, with just one returning defensive starter, but Black will get some help from right guard Jason Barnhart and wide receiver Gerrit Prince.
12. SM SOUTH
New head coach Brett Oberzan is working with a clean slate. He has no returning starters on either side of the ball. However, Oberzan does have the benefit of familiarity with the Sunflower League, having spent the last 11 years at Lawrence Free State. Zach McQueen, Steven Erbacher and Kamau Kimaru have been noticeable in camp.
Offensive player to watch
On an SM East offense that lost its starting quarterback, Wyatt Edmisten’s role at running back might be even more important this season for the Kansas Class 6A defending state champions. He rushed for 1,523 yards and 32 touchdowns last season. He was a All-Sunflower League first-team pick last year.
Defensive player to watch
Whether opponents are on offense or defense, they will have to contend with Lawrence defensive end Amani Bledsoe, Rivals.com’s top-ranked recruit in Kansas. Bledsoe, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound prospect, already has received more than 40 offers from interested colleges. He was a first-team all-league selection on offense and defense last season.
SM East lost several pieces from its state championship team, but it is hard to argue with the success that coach Dustin Delaney has had so far with the Lancers. They picked apart Sunflower League defenses last season, when they averaged more than 40 points per game and went undefeated. However, Lawrence brings experience and star power that could challenge the Lancers for Sunflower League and Kansas Class 6A titles.