With only two starters back on defense, quarterback Cole Davis and running back Brock Broughton will be asked to shoulder the load. The conference shakeup perhaps benefits Kearney the most — a poll of the league’s coaches has Kearney as the team to beat in 2012.
2. RAYTOWN SOUTH
All-conference back Justin Turner is the leader of the pack in Raytown South’s wing-T offense, which also includes Glenn Pargo, Cameron Henderson and Dezmin Rucker. The Cardinals will count on their running game to take them to the playoffs for a second straight season.
3. LIBERTY NORTH
The offense should continue to roll in 2012. Led by all-state running back Antwynn Beavers and all-state offensive guard Trevor Shepherd, the Eagles may have the most dynamic offense in the league. They averaged nearly 30 points per game a year ago, and they have eight starters back on that side of the football. Look for the Eagles to center their attack around Beavers, who topped 2,000 yards last season.
The Griffins’ defense improved by 14 points per game last fall, and the numbers suggest the trend should continue. Seven starters return to lead an athletic and fast Winnetonka group, with standout linebackers Aaron Mends and Anthony Flores back for another year.
5. PLATTE COUNTY
The Pirates are in full rebuilding mode following the departure of a 20-man senior class. James Valentine is set to replace quarterback Krae Kelso, but coach Bill Utz said a bigger responsibility will be placed on his defense early in the season as his offense searches for its new identity. Jesse Eggers is a hard-hitting linebacker ready to take on some of that responsibility.
The Bulldogs have more returning starters than any team in the conference, with seven on both sides of the ball. Third-year coach Andy Leech expects a breakout season from hard-throwing Ryan Lee, who threw for 22 touchdowns last season.