Basha - The Bears went 7-5 last year with all five of their losses coming to playoff teams (Chandler twice, Hamilton, Pinnacle and Westview). The highlight of their season was beating eventual D2 state champ Centennial. Looking ahead to 2015, Basha stays in D1 and plays in arguably the toughest section in the state (Brophy, Chandler, Hamilton and Perry) and face a tough non-section schedule (Cienega, Centennial, Desert Vista, Mountain Pointe and Boulder Creek) but they return a ton of talent.
They return the state's most heavily recruited QB in junior Ryan Kelley. And there is no doubt they like to sling the rock, on average, Basha passes for nearly triple the yardage per game as they ran for. Losing WRs Doc O'Connor and Jared Schmidt to graduation and junior Hunter Rison transferred but when I went to Spring practice I was very impressed with the skill athletes running around. Hunter Dean-Gibson and M.J Harris will put up a ton of yardage.
But what I think separates the 2015 Bears from past teams is their offensive line. Protecting Kelley is one of the state's best OLs. Colton Dunkle, Nick Silvestro, Jonathan Nathaniel and Anthony Personale all will play football on Saturdays. Having this kind of size up front will allow them to run the ball better as well.
Over the years, there has been little doubt that the Bears can put up points but they have been in shoot outs. I think there is some talent on this defense. Maison Ardans and Caleb McCray will be tough players up in the box and Kaleb Lewis and Lance Johnson will be very good in the secondary.
There will be no cupcake games in division-one and who ever can stay healthy come playoff time, will be key. But on paper the Basha Bears look like a contender.
Marana Mountain View - The Mountain Lions went 6-4 in 2014 and missed the playoffs but they looked fantastic in passing league this off season. I know, I know, it is just passing league but you could tell that they will be explosive again on offense. Justice Summerset returns after accounting for over 3,000 yards of offense as a junior. Summerset's go-to guy, Stan Berryhill returns but a huge factor for MMV will be the addition of Bryce Coleman. He only played into two games last year but will give them a genuine rushing threat. Mt. View's leading rusher totaled just 306 yards on the season in 2014.
There are some tough contests on their schedule including D1 Horizon, Poston Butte, Ironwood Ridge, Queen Creek, Cienega and CDO but they won't be terribly over-matched in any one contest and there are plenty of winnable games on the schedule. I expect Marana Mountain View to be one of the better teams in Southern Arizona and a playoff contender.
Maricopa - I like what Coach McDonald did in year one at Maricopa. The Rams went just 4-6 last year but of those 6 losses, two were out of hand, most were close and they played Tempe and Williams Field extremely tough.
There has always been talent in the town but keeping them local has been the main issue. More often than not, Maricopa's top player has played at a different high school (i.e. Lorenzo Melvin, Landry Payne, Wesley Payne). Keeping those kids at home is crucial for their success and when I saw them this off-season, they weren't short on talent. It may take a few years but keep an eye out on Maricopa in the future. Looking at the 2015 schedule, there are plenty of winnable games and they will top their 4 win total of 2014.
Red Mountain - Talk about a brutal schedule, they started the year 0-5 and all five losses were to playoff teams and all were close contests. They won three of their next five and surprisingly made the playoffs because of their strength of schedule.
The Mountain Lions played a ton of youngsters in 2014 and obviously took their lumps but looking ahead, those kids are all a year older and battled tested. Most of their talent returns and it all starts up front with one of the best offensive lines in the state.
Division-one is a hornet's nest and their 2015 schedule is brutal once again but not much tougher than last year. Coach Wisneiwski is an excellent coach and was optimistic about the future when I was at their practice this Spring.