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1. Boyle County (2017: 14-1; Class 3A State Champions)
Why Yes: After falling to Central in the second round of the playoffs in each of their first two seasons back in Class 3A, the Rebels roared to their eighth state championship in school history in 2017, losing only one game in the process. Now the Rebels look to make it back-to-back titles, something they last accomplished in 2009 and 2010, and will do so with a ton of returning offensive weapons. Quarterback Reed Lanter passed for 2,597 yards and 28 touchdowns against only four interceptions in 2017 and was very impressive on the summer camp circuit. He'll be throwing to all-everything wide receiver Reese Smith who caught fifty balls for over one thousand yards and fourteen scores. Smith also excels defensively where he pulled in nine interceptions last season. If not passing, then Boyle will run behind two one thousand yard rushers, Tanner Crawford (1,928 yards) and Landon Bartleson (1,137 yards).

Why No: There are some questions on the offensive and defensive lines. Boyle lost several impact linemen who opened holes on offense and plugged them on defense. The Rebels may have some linemen going both ways in some situations, at least early, but with the track record of Chuck Smith in developing line play and with so many playmakers behind the line, the Boyle machine shouldn't take too much of a hit.

Outlook: Boyle County enters the 2018 season as the favorite in Class 3A. That doesn't guarantee a title but it will be a stiff challenge for anyone to topple the Rebels. One point of interest is that District 4 is paired with District 6 (Belfry, etc.) in the playoffs. Assuming all seeds hold as normal, a return trip to the 3A Mountaintop will require a regional final victory on a real mountaintop - at CAM Stadium in Belfry.

2. Central (11-3; lost to Corbin in State Semifinals)
Why Yes: After a slow start offensively in 2017, the Yellowjackets began to click in district play, averaging 42 points per game after a midseason loss to St. Xavier. Second year coach Marvin Dantzler will again rely on running back Mykah Williams who rushed for 1,291 yards and 16 scores last season. The offensive line will be a strong point for Central.

Why No: Who will play quarterback? Last year's starter, Rico White, threw for 1,041 yards and 18 touchdowns, both high numbers for a Central program that has typically been ground oriented. No returning player on the roster attempted a pass last season. On defense, each of the Jackets' top three tacklers graduated. While Central never has trouble finding quality defensive players, those new stars will be filling big shoes.

Outlook: Central is likely the only team in Class 3A that can match up at each position with Boyle County. They may not have the top-level talent of some past squads but Dantzler showed in Year One that he's more than capable of continuing the success of former coach Ty Scroggins. Central's potential playoff bracket is much easier than that of the others in the top five.

3. Belfry (11-2; to lost Central in the Regional Final)
Why Yes: A run of four straight state championships had to end sometime and it did last year on the road at Central. Writing off Belfry, however, would be a really poor decision. Belfry returns every starter on the offensive line, several of which are receiving major college attention, along with much of their front seven on defense. Dagen Rash and Ethan Wolford are linemen whose names you'll likely hear on All-State teams come December. The Pirates also return quarterback Kevin Browning who threw eleven touchdown passes in Belfry's run-happy offense. Look for Peyton Hensley (792 yards, 11 scores) and Isaac Dixon (197 yards, 4 touchdowns) to carry the bulk of the rushing load.

Why No: Belfry seemed like the Class 3A favorite for much of the season before fullback/linebacker Derek Wellman went down with an ankle injury late in the season. Without Wellman, Belfry didn't move the ball as well and struggled to stop opponent rushing games. Now graduated, who takes his place? And will Belfry be so reliant upon a single player in 2018 that an injury derails a promising season?

Outlook: It's Belfry and Phillip Haywood, so you know they'll be good. The line is stout, there are always good runners, and the district is winnable. The playoff bracket will be tough, with potential matchups against Lexington Catholic and Boyle County early, but both games will likely be played on Pond Creek.

4. Corbin (13-2; lost to Boyle County in State Championship)
Why Yes: Under head coach Justin Haddix, Corbin has went from a good team to a good program. The Redhounds have been to at least the state semifinals for three consecutive years and have also had success at the middle school level. This program is full of good players. Now the Hounds return nine starters on offense and another eight on defense.

Why No: One key starter not returning is quarterback Cameron Sizemore. Sizemore passed for 2,695 yards and ran for another 412, all the while accounting for 37 touchdowns. That's hard to replace. Responsible for filling those shoes is Chase Estep, a running back last season that rushed for 710 yards and 8 touchdowns. How quickly he adapts to being under center instead of in the backfield will be key.

Outlook: Corbin was able to move the ball against Boyle County in the state finals but turnovers hurt and the Redhounds defense really had no answers for Boyle. If they can be better on defense and get Estep comfortable under center this team can be very good. If Corbin wins the district they'll play every playoff game at Campbell Field.

5. Lexington Catholic (7-6; lost to Boyle County in Regional Final)
Why Yes: If you have a Division I quarterback then you should be pretty good. Junior quarterback Beau Allen, who has received early interest from Kentucky along with Cincinnati and Maryland, returns after passing for 2,873 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. He'll look to throw to Nathan Schnurr (871 yards, 9 touchdowns) among others in the Knights' always prolific offensive attack. The offensive line also returns plenty of experience.

Why No: For many years it seems like Lexington Catholic has taken a laissez-faire attitude toward defense. Last year saw the Knights give up 36.2 points per game and they were handled with ease twice by district foe Boyle County. There is very little experience returning at running back as well, with only Keith Brinkman having played any meaningful minutes.

Outlook: Nigel Smith, the former defensive coordinator, was hired to replace coach Mark Perry who left to work at Troy University. His first job will be making sure Catholic can stop the other team. The schedule is brutal as always, but the pieces are there. Winning at home against Boyle in the regular season would be absolutely huge for their postseason chances.

6. Elizabethtown (12-2; lost to Boyle County in State Semifinals)
Why Yes: Mark Brown has long been one of the best coaches in Kentucky and this year will allow him a chance to continue to prove it. Last year the Panthers played eventual state champion Boyle County closer than anyone except Danville, losing 14-7 in the state semifinals. E-town allowed only 9.6 points per game last season and returns several key cogs on the defensive side, including Noah Peeler and Gary Galloway. Offensively, Joe Becherer will be called upon to carry much of the offensive load.

Why No: Two years ago Elizabethtown lost a bevy of seniors to graduation but returned to the state semifinals anyway. This year they face a similar loss of 18 seniors, but the experience in the lower classes is less. Quarterback Clay Games only threw eight passes last season.

Outlook: E-town has been very good for several years but they've seemed to play under the radar in 3A. With so many losses on both sides of the ball, a very difficult early schedule, plus with an improving Larue County team waiting in the wings, winning the district will be the first goal. If the Panthers can stay healthy and gain experience early, look for them to be a force come November.

7. Caldwell County (10-3; lost to Elizabethtown in Regional Final)
Why Yes: Coach Dave Barnes has been at Caldwell County seemingly forever and the offense always puts up points. Quarterback Joby Jaggers, who threw for close to 2,500 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2017, will have a year's experience under his belt and should see his numbers increase. His main target will likely be Trel Riley who caught five touchdown passes last year.

Why No: There isn't much experience returning for a defense that gave up 24 points per game and was exposed in late season matchups against some better offensive teams. For all of the success of Caldwell County of late, they've not been able to get over the hump in the postseason.

Outlook: Losing quarterback Shane Burns before the start of last season gave many in Princeton cause for concern but Jaggers took the reins and had no trouble. With other pieces missing this year will the transition to new players be as smooth? The district is winnable and there is no dominant threat in the region, but is Caldwell County good enough to take the crown?

8. Casey County (10-2; lost to Powell County in Second Round)
Why Yes: Steve Stonebraker begins Year Three of his second stint in Liberty with lots of offensive firepower returning including quarterback Austin Campbell (2,376 yards, 22 touchdowns) and running back Preston Tucker (1,585 yards rushing, 26 touchdowns). A.J. Glenn, who led the team with 154 tackles on defense in 2017, should also get some carries.

Why No: While compiling back-to-back ten win seasons for the first time in school history, the gap between Casey and Corbin still seems to be pretty wide. Close to half of last season's starting lineup has to be replaced.

Outlook: Casey County's success story has been one for the books but it hit a nasty speed bump in last season's playoff loss at Powell County. The Rebels' schedule has been understandably weak the last two seasons but they had been competitive (at least for most of the game) in their three losses to Corbin. Losing to Powell makes you wonder if they've hit their peak.

9. Larue County (10-2; lost to Caldwell County in Second Round)
Why Yes: One of last year's biggest surprises came from Larue County in coach Josh Jaggers' second stint in Hodgenville. The Hawks lost only twice and were competitive in both games, falling on the road at both Elizabethtown and Caldwell County. Louisville commit Anthony Adkins, who rushed for 680 yards and 11 scores, returns as the feature back for Larue.

Why No: Larue lost 21 seniors, including their quarterback, top running back, two leading wide receivers, top three tacklers, and top defensive back. That's a lot to replace for a program that had struggled until last season.

Outlook: Jaggers seems confident that his Hawks can be just as good as last season, if not better. The schedule is manageable and district favorite Elizabethtown has to come to Larue. This likely isn't a state championship contender but the region is open enough that a trip to the state semifinals isn't out of the question.

10. Western Hills (8-4; lost to Boyle County in Second Round)
Why Yes: Wandale Robinson. 2,330 yards. Wandale Robinson. 43 touchdowns. Wandale Robinson. Offers from Alabama, Nebraska, Michigan, Purdue, Kentucky, and many others.

Why No: Not much besides Wandale Robinson. Western Hills loses only six seniors and just one lineman, but as evidenced in losses to Boyle County and Lexington Catholic, the talent just isn't there to regularly compete against teams at the top of the table.

Outlook: While Western Hills is very one-dimensional on offense, that one dimension is very, very good. Robinson is more than enough to get the Wolverines seven or eight wins and keep them in the top ten. If they can develop their line, get some production from the passing game, and make an occasional stop there might be a possibility of getting to second place in the district.

11. Bell County (7-5; lost to Corbin in Second Round)
Outlook: Dudley Hilton's second season of his third term as coach at Bell County saw the Bobcats increase their win total from four to seven. Junior running back Colby Frazier (1,713 yards, 29 touchdowns) returns along with quarterback Isaac Collett. The schedule isn't bad but there are tough road district games at Corbin and Casey County. Last year's team probably wasn't as good as their record; this year's team may well be better.

12. Russell (5-6; lost to Western Hills in First Round)
Outlook: Russell suffered their first losing season since 1997 last year and will look to rebound for coach T.J. Maynard. The Red Devils return 1,000-yard rusher Landon Duvall to a backfield that should have several weapons. The district is winnable and the biggest threat to Russell is likely Bath County, a team they defeated last year.

13. Paducah Tilghman (5-7; lost to Elizabethtown in Second Round)
Outlook: Traditionally one of the hardest teams to rate in Class 3A, things didn't get any easier this year, with coach Steve Duncan having to resign at the end of July due to a stroke. While we certainly send our best wishes to Duncan, once again Tilghman finds themselves in flux. Assistant coach Jonathan Smith was named interim head coach for the Blue Tornado. Makel Askew (925 yards rushing, 10 touchdowns) should get the most attention in the backfield but they return their quarterback and three offensive linemen. Five of the top six tacklers return on defense. If Tilghman can overcome the late loss of Duncan then who knows what their ceiling is? Of course as always with Paducah Tilghman, who knows?

14. Powell County (8-5; lost to Corbin in Regional Final)
Outlook: On September 9 of last season Powell County was 0-4. The Pirates didn't lose again for two months, in the process winning a second district title in three years and making their deepest playoff run since 2011. Head coach Brandon Brewer left for Prestonsburg in the offseason but new coach Josh Kincaid inherits two-thousand yard rusher Nathan Skidmore and several returning starters on both sides of the ball. Powell should be a heavy favorite in District 7.

15. Bath County (7-4; lost to Lexington Catholic in First Round)
Outlook: One of last season's most pleasant surprises looks capable of winning a district crown in 2018. Coach Johnny Poynter's Wildcats return star Landan Swartz (2,196 yards rushing, 26 touchdowns) and a good offensive line. Improvement must come on the defensive side where Bath County allowed 32.2 points per game last year.

16. Union County (8-3; lost to Larue County in First Round)
Outlook: Consistency has been the name of the game in Morganfield as Union County completed their fifth straight winning season in 2017. The loss of running back Chris Bledsoe to graduation will hurt but Renato Savage and Dealynn Ricketts should be able to pick up the offensive slack.

17. Waggener (5-7; lost to Belfry in Second Round)
Outlook: One of last season's most impossible to figure out teams loses several Division I players but perhaps without such a huge target on their back the Wildcats can be more consistent. Waggener should contend for second in the district and one or even two playoff wins aren't out of the question. We shall see.

18. Lawrence County (5-6; lost to Waggener in First Round)
Outlook: The Bulldogs like to run the football, as evidenced by their 3,820 yards on the ground and only 194 yards through the air. Quarterback Noah West (1,662 yards rushing, 23 touchdowns) will again be counted on to run the offense. Third year coach Alan Short seems to have Lawrence County back on the road to high levels of success they've seen in the past.

19. Floyd Central (8-4; lost to Central in First Round)
Outlook: For a while there it looked like Floyd Central might never lose a game. Last year's inaugural squad (a consolidation of Allen Central and South Floyd) won their first four games, finished second in the district, and beat Henry County in the first round of the playoffs. Shawn Hager's Jaguars do lose some key pieces but the offense showed it was capable of scoring lots of points last year. The race for second in District 6 between Floyd Central, Lawrence County, and Pike County Central should be fun to watch.

20. Bardstown (3-7; missed playoffs)
Outlook: Bardstown missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003 in a tough year for a very young team. Once again the Tigers are young (only three seniors on the roster) but with many of those kids taking lumps last season, coach David Clark's team might be ready to take a big step forward in 2018. Quarterback Brady Clark (1,243 yards passing, 11 touchdowns) returns along with Elijah Rogers (525 yards receiving, 7 touchdowns). Tereylin Calbert, who didn't play in 2017, has the talent to make big plays at wideout.