In a relatively even and competitive Big Nine, most coaches in the league believe Wenatchee has the best chance of clinching a title in 2013.
The Panthers return skilled veterans at just about every position and boast a backfield that features reigning offensive most valuable player Isaiah Brandt-Sims.
Quarterback Dillon Sugg is about as experienced as you can get — the senior is entering his third year as a starter — and University of Washington commit Trey Adams and Jakob Stoll anchor what should be a solid offensive line.
Additionally, the Panthers have a slew of talented playmakers at wide receiver.
“I think Wenatchee is the team to beat, and everyone else is going to be fighting right there behind them,” Moses Lake coach Todd Griffith said.
Wenatchee ended last season on a tear, winning five straight.
“We finished pretty strong last year and have a lot of those guys back, and that’s what other coaches look at,” Wenatchee coach Scott Deveraux said. “It always helps to have the league offensive MVP back.”
Of course, it’s way too early to write the competition off. And with two playoff spots up for grabs, there’s bound to be plenty of contention.
“There is nobody that you can really overlook,” Eastmont head coach Doug McGill said. “There will be games early and late in the year that will make people scratch their head and say, ‘I didn’t see that coming.’ ”
Eastmont, the league’s reigning champion, lost plenty of starters to graduation, but has enough talent and veteran leadership to be a very dangerous team.
“It’s nice to say defending champs — that’s great — but if anything it puts a target on your back,” McGill said. “All of us coaches are saying last year was last year. This is a whole new challenge a whole new group of kids. We have to go out and earn wins like anyone else.”
The only thing that McGill truly feels comfortable predicting is a lot of hard-fought, gritty games.
“It’s going to be very competitive, as it was last year,” McGill said. “You get to know teams and coaches and players pretty good when you play them twice. There aren’t a lot of secrets out there. I like that.”
Eisenhower and Moses Lake, two perennially competitive programs, have star athletes returning and should be able to challenge for a playoff spot as well.
The Cadets return six starters on offense and nine on defense. They will be led by Ridge Harmon, a versatile skill player who compiled 1,243 yards of total offense and reeled in nine touchdown receptions in 2012. Harmon led the league in receiving yards.
Eisenhower shouldn’t miss a beat on defense due to its deep pool of returners, but the Cadets’ offense could take a hit if first-year starting quarterback Chris Sawyer struggles.
Sawyer replaces Kolney Cassel, who is now playing for Southern Methodist University.
“We are very inexperienced at the quarterback position,” coach Dan Eyman said in a press release. “Chris Sawyer has the tools to be a very, very good quarterback, but like all sophomores, he will go through some growing pains.”
Moses Lake’s offense will feature a big-time pass-catching threat as well. Brett Moser racked up 545 yards and 10 scores on 30 receptions last season.
“I think I have one of the best wide receivers in the league,” Griffith said.
He will be accompanied by two other seasoned wideouts. Defensively, Griffith expects Renwil Bacat to make a big impact in the trenches.
“He’s probably one of the hardest-hitting kids we’ve had in a long time,” Griffith said.
Like Eisenhower, the Chiefs will have a new signal caller running the offense. Additionally, they will have to replace their entire linebacking corps.
Davis should have plenty of talent spread across their team, including seasoned quarterback Elias Moctezuma, who led the league with 1,823 yards in 2012.
Although the Pirates went 0-10 last year, they’re still dangerous.
“Our league is always pretty solid,” Devereaux said. “The fact that we’re such a small league now and we have to play everybody twice, I don’t think you really look past anybody.”