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1. Bowling Green – Bowling Green begins the defense of their 2011 5A title with only four returning starters – just one of them on defense. The purples lost 30 seniors to graduation last year. That said, their 29-7 scrimmage victory againstManual was very encouraging. Also encouraging are the very strong junior and sophomore classes, including AP first team all-state WR Necarius Fant, who snagged 56 passes for over 1100 yards and nine scores last year. Head Coach Kevin Wallace really likes junior QB Devin Hayes, who takes over for the departed Scooter Hollis. Junior running backs Blue Tisdale and Blake Pillow are equally adept at running and receiving the ball. The offensive line will be led by returning starter senior, T. Stone Begley. Like the offensive line, the defensive line will be smaller, but quicker. The DL will also benefit from the coaching staff utilizing several players to fill the three line spots. Coach Wallace was very enthusiastic about the progress of the OLB candidates, and this should be a strength for the defense. Junior ILB Lincoln Quick is the only returning defensive starter from last year. The Purples will have to completely rebuild the defensive backfield, but they have several talented players from which to choose. The Purples' schedule will have some rough spots. After their appearance in The Rafferty's Bowl against Allen County-Scottsville, they will begin a series of tough match-ups, including highly regarded Lafayette, St Xavier, and Henderson Co (at Henderson, where the home team has never lost in this series). They will also play at old Western KY Conference rival Owensboro – you can throw out the records when these two get together! Then come district games with Barren County and Logan County before the open date. Immediately after the open date, the Purples will have their two toughest district contests: first at Warren Central and then at home against Greenwood. Bowling Green closes out the regular season at home against an always tough Lexington Catholic. The Purples probably will not repeat last year’s unbeaten juggernaut, but as the season progresses, their new starters should improve rapidly and BGHS will make another run at the 5A crown in December.


2. John Hardin - In 2011, John Hardin dominated their first 12 games, scoring over 50 points in five games and shutting out five opponents. That all came to an end when they faced Bowling Green, where the Purples dominated the once dominating John Hardin 62-20. After losing “Mr. Everything” Jeremy Harness – theirleading rusher, with over 1,500 yards, the leading receiver, and the interception leader – will John Hardin be able to get back to a rematch with Bowling Green? Or will they fall short well before that meeting? If the Bulldogs couldn't beat Bowling Green with Harness, how can they expect to without him? John Hardin is at the top of the rankings, but do they hold that position by default, or could they be the only team with a chance of stopping the Purples from repeating as State Champions?


3. Warren Central - The Dragons set school records in 2011 for their best start (7-0) and their most prolific offensive output ever; but it was cold comfort as they watched their bitter rival Bowling Green take home the state title. Even worse, the Purples had dealt the Dragons their only two losses on the year – by an average of 27 points. The Dragons lost many of their offensive weapons, but return third year starter, QB Michael Bush, an experienced offensive line, and seven defensive starters. And they will reload with the next crop of talented runners to wear the navy and white. After knocking on the door for two straight years, the Dragons are thinking of, not just a regional championship, but hoisting a trophy in the next two rounds as well.


4. Franklin County - After looking unstoppablein 2011, Franklin County’s season came to an abrupt halt at the hands of Conner by a staggering margin 84-48. In 2012, the Ryan Timmons show will continue, but will he be enough? Will Timmons be able to carry Franklin County back to the playoffs? Fortunately for Franklin County, Timmons will not have to do it all. Logan Woodside will be back to provide a passing game that opens up the Timmons attack. The big questions will be: what will happen when Franklin County (almost certainly) meets Conner again? Will it be a repeat of last season’s embarrassing loss? Or, will one year of maturity make that much difference?


5. Harlan County - Can you say, "Close but no cigar"? Last season (in their fourth year of existence) Harlan County came close to both an undefeated season and an appearance in the state semi-finals. But close doesn't win championships. Harlan County went 11-2, in 2011, losing to Bell County in the regular season (25-14) and to Southwestern in the third round of the playoffs (28-21). Can Harlan County build on that performance in 2012 and represent the East in the state championship game, or will they fall short again? Leading rusher and leading scorer Marcus McMillian has graduated, but his replacement, Jake Middleton, is poised to build upon his performance from a year ago and again carry the load for Harlan County. While Middleton carries the ground game, Austin Maggard looks to be ready to supply the receiving yardage to keep Harlan County balanced. Will 2012 be the year of the Bear? Or, will “close” have to be good enough for Harlan County once again?


6. Conner – In 2012, the word for Conner is "experience." And that word will take on many meanings for the Cougars. On the up side: Conner will have great experience on the offensive line. Any experienced coach will tell you that it starts and ends with line play, and Conner returns a talented, experienced, and battle tested line. Conner also returns an experienced quarterback who both rushed and passed for 1,000 yards last year – good "experience" to have. On the down side: Conner has a great deal of "experience" in the playoffs – like “losing by one point in a heartbreaking defeat” kind of experience. After peaking at the right time of year, Conner got a gut-check against Anderson County in the third round of last year’s playoffs, Conner puked instead of fighting back and lost that game 31-30. What will Conner do with that "experience"? Will they curl up and quit? Or, will they stand up and step up? With the "experience" of Barker at quarterback and Cameron Fogle at running back, Conner will have no excuses this year. It’s win, or go home…again. How will the Cougars respond to their "experience"?


7. Cooper - What would you rather be, a Cougar or a Jaguar? One of these cats will be going far this year. In their fifth season, Cooper is hoping the Jaguar comes out on top again, as it did in last year’s regular season contest. Like Conner, Cooper returns some experience. Quarterback Tyler Morris, who rushed for a thousand yards and passed for almost as many, will be back and ready to put Cooper in the hunt for a district and regional championship. But the Jaguars aren't a one-horse show. They also return A.J. Collins – another thousand yard rusher. Cooper doesn't have the history of most Northern Kentucky programs, but will they make some history in 2012? Will Cooper become the 5A team to beat in Northern Kentucky? Many may give that title to Conner, but who was supposed to win in 2011 – Conner or Cooper? 2012 could be the year Cooper sets themselves up to be the large school team to beat in the region.


8. Southwestern – Will Southwestern (who will be without last year’s 2,500 yard rusher, Dustin Powell) be able to compete for the state championship appearance Anderson County denied them in the semi-finals last season? It will be an uphill battle to say the least, with teams like Harlan County and Perry County Central in the way. The bright spot for Southwestern is returning quarterback Logan Starnes, but he will have to find a new receiving corp after losing Powell, Alan Williams, and Latrell Wilson, who all accounted for almost 1,500 receiving yards. Will Southwestern have the personnel to replace those players, or will Starnes be throwing in the wind? Can Southwestern compete with a strong Harlan County team in the playoffs? Will they be up to the task? Southwestern will have to gain experience and develop some new talent to have a chance.


9. Perry County Central - Returning your top two receivers is a great thing. But when you have lost a quarterback that threw for over 2,400 yards, it can be a frustrating thing. Nonetheless, the Commodores have a solid returning cast to begin the 2012 season. If they can find a quarterback to get them the ball it could be another solid season season in Perry County. Standing in their way is Harlan County and Southwestern,. Both are favored over Perry County Central and are two of only three teams to beat the commodores last season. Can Perry County Central get over the hump and beat these two teams? Or, will 2012 be a carbon copy of 2011? Perry County Central has to elevate their level of play to get past those two teams and move up to the next level.


10. North Bullitt - Finishing 10-2 in 2011, North Bullitt is in position to build on that success. But they will have to do it with some new faces, after graduating leading receiver (and leading rusher) Todd Asbury. Quarterback Patrick Egnor is back and will be a solid performer to build their team around. The Eagles will have a lot of work to do to get back to the level of 2011. Can they accomplish that before the playoffs? Or, will they end their season in the second round of the playoffs again?