I decided I wanted to do this a couple weeks back, and since then have been putting together some thoughts on my top ten rankings for each of the top three divisions as well as some preseason all-state teams for those as well. I'm starting off with my preseason Class 6A top ten today, and will follow-up in a few days with my all-6A preseason team.
1. DESERT RIDGE JAGUARS
What's to like: Starting quarterback, top four rushers, and stud receiver/defensive end coming back from team that was playing it's best ball during the 2015 playoffs.
Cause for concern: Said starting quarterback needs to improve upon last year's 47% completion percentage. Lots of nice pieces return on defense, but all-state interior lineman DJ Davidson isn't one of them.
Verdict: The past three state champions in the state's largest division have been first-time winners at that level. The Jaguars have less holes to fill than the rest of the usual suspects to extend that trend to a fourth year.
2. MOUNTAIN POINTE PRIDE
What's to like: A pair of talented wide receivers pace the offense, while good size and some talented defenders could be found in the 2015's three lower classes.
Cause for concern: There's no clear heir apparent to last year's D-1 recruit at quarterback. The same can be said for the lead back spot, though Coach Norris Vaughn has rarely had issues finding backs.
Verdict: Last year's 12-win campaign had just enough of a rebuilding element to make 2016 look like a legit championship contender.
3. CHANDLER WOLVES
What's to like: Chase Lucas' early-season injury opened the door for upcoming senior TJ Green to gain over 1000-yards on the ground. A positive rehab season from Kolby Taylor will give Chandler a potent receiver tandem along with Johnny Johnson, while defensive back Imani Lee led last year's squad in interceptions.
Cause for concern: After a long string of D-1 caliber quarterbacks that spot limited experience and results welcome the Wolves in 2016. Class of 2016 featured some stout defensive talent as well.
Verdict: The emergence of a quarterback from the underclass ranks would enable Chandler to out-score the opposition come the fall. Until the defense catches up that might be the best-case scenario.
4. HAMILTON HUSKIES
What's to like: Chance Brewington emerged as a D-1 prospect at receiver in 2015, and junior-to-be Jawhar Jordan justified much of the hype following his freshman season.
Cause for concern: A talented defensive line led by Wisconsin-bound Garrett Rand must be retooled. The loss of some good receivers makes 2015's reliance on the vertical passing game unlikely to repeat.
Verdict: The Huskies will be a factor late if the offense can move the chains behind Jordan's running and timely big-plays from Brewington. In other words...they will be a factor late in the season.
5. SKYLINE COYOTES
What's to like: Starting quarterback is returning as well as a 1,000-yard rusher from a squad that spent most of 2015 as D-2's top-ranked squad. Also return their leading tackler and has a solid collection of massive linemen coming back.
Cause for concern: Losing their leading rusher from 2015 along with top pass-rusher. No longer playing schools it has several hundred more students than
Verdict: Skyline's placement in D-2 last year was one of the more notable gaffes of the AIA's non-enrollment-based classification system. They would have been a very tough D-1 squad in 2015, and they'll be a tough 6A squad in 2016.
6. PINNACLE PIONEERS
What's to like: Pinnacle had about as good a season as one could reasonably expect from a program starting a freshman quarterback in the midst of a general rebuilding campaign, and the young bodies that helped them get off to a good first half (highlighted by wins over Brophy and eventual D-2 champ Saguaro) have an additional year of maturity.
Cause for concern: The Pioneers sputtered following the Brophy win, dropping close contests to Chaparral and an unheralded Liberty squad and blowout affairs against the powerhouses at Mountain Pointe and Centennial. Three of their top four receivers have picked up their diplomas.
Verdict: Pinnacle has a front-loaded schedule that will make last year's 3-1 start tough to duplicate. That said, the maturation of their young stud quarterback and a back half schedule that should allow for some confidence building and time to get healthy makes the Pioneers a tough playoff out.
7. WESTVIEW KNIGHTS
What's to like: Some quality principle-players return for the offense, including their starting quarterback, leading receiver, and a 2000-yard rusher out of the backfield. Have one of the state's top young coaches taking over the program.
Cause for concern: Defense has some definite holes to fill, especially with respect to the pass-rush. Last year's squad was short on size and much of it was in the senior class.
Verdict: The schedule sets itself up for another 7-10 win season for Westview; that said, the regular season has never been the issue in Avondale (at this level). The success of their coaching change will rely heavily on any postseason success they can muster.
8. BASHA BEARS
What's to like: Return the state's top quarterback, his favorite receiver, and a promising running back that might help better balance the offense. A top prospect at tackle gives the Bears some critical components to be the state's best passing offense in 2016.
Cause for concern: Basha can't rely on their stud quarterback to carry the offense/team-that's been their recipe the past two seasons and it has faltered late in the year. They've also become a program that sees their discipline go out the window when they're faced with adversity.
Verdict: This season feels like a do-or-die campaign for the current staff-many coaches will go their entire careers without a quarterback as talented as what Basha has, and more is expected than three straight seasons of near-.500 ball.
9. BROPHY BRONCOS
What's to like: The return of a multi-faceted, D-1 prospect at running back, a lanky tight end that finished third on the team in receiving yards, an outside receiver with elite speed returning from injury, and solid numbers returning on defense. The Broncos always have awesome depth and are well-coached.
Cause for concern: The quarterback position has no clear heir apparent, and last year's veteran unit was arguably underwhelming. An always-tough schedule makes a gaudy regular season unlikely.
Verdict: Brophy almost has a trademark on the low-key regular season with surprising playoff success patent. No reason not to expect similar from this group.
10. PERRY PUMAS
What's to like: A lot of offensive firepower returns, including a 1000-yard passer, the team's top two rushers, and a receiver that finished just shy of the 1000-yard mark. Solid production can be found on the defensive end, especially in the junior class.
Cause for concern: Last year's edition got off to a fast start versus mostly smaller programs before a murder's row that included Hamilton, Brophy, Basha, and Chandler sent the Pumas limping into the playoffs. What the Pumas were able to learn from that likely dictates if 2016 is a breakthrough season.
Verdict: Last year's playoff trip was brief but did provide signs of hope, with Perry keeping pace with Hamilton for a half. The back half of the schedule is still tough, but the right matchup in round one could result in positive results for the Pumas.