1. Which teams have the best chance at reaching the state championship game in Columbus?
It always starts with Marion Local, which has won four straight state titles, including the Division VII crown last year. The Flyers return seven starters, including three-year starters Hunter Wilker and Aaron Nietfeld. They also have three back on the offensive line.
Only three starters return on defense, so if those holes can be filled, look for the Flyers back in Columbus.
Coldwater has won three straight state titles, all under coach Chip Otten, who is 64-11 at Coldwater. The Cavaliers graduate all-everything QB Brody Hoying, but return seven starters on offense and four on defense.
And don’t count out defending state champion Minster, who returns quarterback Josh Nixon.
Wapakoneta is again the team to beat in the Western Buckeye League. The Redskins return first team all-WBL players defensive back Cameron Lauck and defensive end Corey Crawford, along with second team all-WBL linebacker Jared Cockerell.
2. Where does Lima Senior go after its first playoff trip since 1999?
The Spartans return their quarterback, Darius Gordon, and three quality receivers in all-state Ruben Flowers, Rico Stafford and Demontay Liles. The key will be finding replacements for the five graduated offensive linemen.
The defense also needs to continue to make strides and will be led by third team all-state back Jaden Walker.
3. How will Shawnee do under first-year coach Jon Carpenter?
Carpenter has grown up around football, with his dad, Rob, and his brother, Bobby, both former NFL players. Jon comes to Shawnee from being a grad assistant at Ohio State.
The key will be surrounding veteran quarterback Griffin Hites with a few playmakers. There are no magic wands, but Carpenter will lasso, pull and tug his team in the right direction.
4. Can Delphos St. John’s have a bounce-back season?
Delphos St. John’s reached the playoffs but finished 4-7 a year ago. The Blue Jays have six starters back on offense, including three wide receivers. There will be a new quarterback and two new running backs.
The Blue Jays will return to the option game, but will hope to blend the pass with the run.
Five returning starters are juniors, so things should be heading in the right direction.
5. Which teams are poised for a bounce-back season?
St. Marys went from 0-10 to 5-5 last year with the return of coach Doug Frye. This year Frye has 14 returning starters, including running back Eric Spicer.
Celina was 5-5 but returns 10 starters, including quarterback Caleb Hoyng.
Leipsic (5-6) made the playoffs but lost in the first round. The Vikings return 16 starters, including Ohio State commit Gavin Cupp, defensive end Jordan Brown and wide receiver turned running back Nate Brecht.
6. Is this the year of the quarterback?
A number of quality quarterbacks return, and quite a few proved they could run as well as throw.
Elida’s Logan Alexander threw for 1,545 yards and 12 TDs. He also ran for 1,102 yards with 14 TDs and was the Western Buckeye League’s offensive back of the year.
Lima Senior’s Gordon threw fro 2,749 yards with 34 TDs and only five interceptions.
Minster’s Josh Nixon threw for 2,089 yards and 22 TDs with only seven interceptions. He threw for 417 yards and four TDs in the Division VI state title game.
Lima Central Catholic’s Ethan O’Connor threw for 2,345 yards and 20 TDs with six interceptions. He also ran for 829 yards and 12 TDs.
Ottawa-Glandorf’s Zac Unterbrink threw for 1,956 yards and 20 TDs with six interceptions. The second team all-WBL quarterback ran for 508 yards.
7. Who will be some of the top running backs to watch in the area?
Spencerville’s Zach Goecke led the Northwest Conference in rushing with 1,407 yards and 26 TDs. He was first team all-NWC, first team all-NWC and second team all-state.
There’s also Allen East 6-foot-1, 200-pound fullback Logan Schick, who ran for 1,048 yards and 11 TDs.
Others to watch include Delphos Jefferson’s Hunter Binkley, Van Wert’s Justice Tussing and St. Henry’s Jesse Niekamp.
8. What is the new contact rule this season?
The rules limiting full contact started in the preseason, limiting contact to one of the two practices per day.
During the season, teams are limited to 30 minutes of full contact per practice and 60 minutes of full contact per week. The new rule states an athlete can be involved in full contact a maximum of two practices in a seven-day span.
The goal is to limit injuries and concussions during practices.
9. How will Lima Central Catholic do after being hit hard by graduation?
Ethan O’Connor returns at quarterback, so that’s a good start. They will have three returnees on offensive line, along with wide receiver Nick Taflinger.
It will be tough to replace wide receivers and playmakers Dimitri Floyd and Cam White. The top two linemen Brad Stolly and Jack Huffman are also gone, along with tailback Alex Krumel. The T-Birds will be solid with O’Connor, but how soon his new weapons develop will be the key.
10. Who are the big-name players you need to see?
Lima Senior wide receiver Ruben Flowers has committed to Pittsburgh. He dominated the Three Rivers Athletic Conference with his speed, athletic ability and hands last year. He was first team all-district and first team all-state with 61 receptions, 1,275 yards receiving and 13 TDs.
Leipsic offensive lineman Gavin Cupp (6-foot-6, 280) is committed to Ohio State. He’s the driving force on the Leipsic line. He was the Blanchard Valley Conference’s offensive lineman of the year and was first team all-district and second team all-state.
Reach Tom Usher at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Lima_Usher.