Archive for Friday, August 11, 2006

Woodling: Cream will rise to the top

August 11, 2006


If this is August, then as sure as shoulder pads countless football coaches have already uttered this classic preseason pronouncement: "I think the league is more balanced from top to bottom than it's ever been."

Yeah, and Floyd Landis metabolizes testosterone out of a Wendy's Frosty.

Every football conference has its haves and its have-nots. That includes the Sunflower League. At the Sunflower League kickoff event the other night in Olathe, at least three coaches talked about how balanced the league was, even though it isn't.

Leavenworth will be bad, as usual, and three of the Shawnee Mission schools - North, South and Northwest - are in down cycles. Those four schools are so weak, in fact, that the two league schools with the most graduation losses - Olathe South and Lawrence High - were ranked far ahead of them in the preseason coaches poll.

Olathe South and Lawrence High suffered severe graduation depletion. The league coaches knew that when they cast their ballots, but they also knew that South is in Olathe and that Lawrence High is the Notre Dame of Kansas high school football.

Olathe has four schools and nobody wants to play any of them, not even Northwest. The Ravens are in only their third year of varsity competition, but all those sophomores who played out of necessity in 2004 are now seniors, so look out.

Free State will have to face all four Olathe schools this fall while Lawrence High has just two on its schedule.

Is that a plus for the Lions? You're darned right. The only negative is that Lawrence will meet Olathe North and Olathe South in its first two games, and the rebuilding Lions don't figure to gel until at least midway through the season.

Free State has practically everybody back - including the crowd-pleasing Murphy twins - from a team that went 4-6 last year against a brutal schedule.

In the preseason coaches poll, Free State was predicted to finish second behind Shawnee Mission West, a team that went 9-2 last year and suffered few graduation losses.

Olathe East was a close third, even though the Hawks lost all-league quarterback Derek Miller to graduation. O-East went all the way to the Class 6A title game last year only to be humbled 24-7 by Hutchinson, stilling - at least for another year - the drumbeat that the Sunflower League is the NFL of Kansas prep football.

I'll say this : if Free State defeats all four Olathe schools, the Firebirds will deserve to be league champions. Of course, they would have to defeat Lawrence, too.

The Lions won't have to play Olathe East or Olathe Northwest, but they do have SM West, the preseason title favorite, while the Firebirds don't. Still, on paper, it appears Free State will face a slightly tougher overall slate of opponents than Lawrence High.

Who you play is as important as how you play, yet the X factor of any football season is injuries. You can make predictions based on personnel and strength of schedule, but injuries can be summed up in one word.



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