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Regardless of classification you can typically hand pick 4 or 5 teams and predict that among that group the eventual State Champion, or at the very least State Runner-Up, would come from that collection. A dark horse would be a team outside of that normal collection of "Who's Who" that has the opportunity to explode onto the scene and make a push to the State Finals.

So who has the best chance to achieve Dark Horse Status as we take an early peek at each class?



CLASS 6A- PRP PANTHERS
It's not easy taking on the Big 3 + Manual when you are a Jefferson County Public School and the Panthers found that out first hand in 2016 with all five losses coming at the hands of the Louisville superpowers. The Panthers were extremely competitive in all but one of those games, the regular season loss to Male, but rallied to push Male to the brink before losing 27-24 in the playoffs. PRP boasted convincing wins over McCracken County, 3A Runner-Up Central, and 4A Semi-Finalist John Hardin.

The Panthers return the vast majority of their top playmakers including their QB, leading rusher, and top receiver.

The slope is steep, but if the Panthers can show the same sustained improvement as 2016 they should be able to establish themselves as one of the Top 10 6A teams and one of the Top 15 overall teams in all of Kentucky.


CLASS 5A- CHRISTIAN COUNTY COLONELS

Sometimes Geography is cruel. Christian County exited in Round 2 of the 2016 playoffs after a valiant effort against the eventual State Champs. In any other Region Christian County most likely is a Semi-Finals participant and possibly even the State Runner-Up on the Eastern Side of the Bracket.

Kolbe Langhi may be the State's top returning Quarterback and JaQuon Long is primed for a breakout year. Cory Trice is a standout on Defense as well.

Bowling Green still looms waiting in their Region, but if there was ever a time to strike the Purples 2017 would be it as they must replace one of the strongest Senior Classes to come through Western Kentucky. The road will still be very tough, but if the Colonels can somehow emerge out of their Region they would immediately become the favorite to win a State Title.


CLASS 4A- MERCER COUNTY TITANS


It takes time to shape a program, but David Buchanan is starting to get the clay warm.

Mercer County seemed to be one of those "Close, but still not ready" type of teams last year after numerous hard fought early season losses. When they rolled into Mount Vernon to take on a rapidly trending Rockcastle County team most expected the Titans to compete but once again be a little short, but instead Mercer won an instant classic game and a birth in the Regional Finals.

Mercer has holes to fill for sure, but they also have plenty of talent. Gunnar Gillis is a very underrated QB and the Titans have several underclassmen that should show marked improvement.

CLASS 3A- ELIZABETHTOWN PANTHERS

No darkhorse on this list stands out more than Etown. Period.

When Mark Brown came to Etown a few years back and ended his retirement it probably didn't get the fanfare it deserved. Brown, a State Title winner at Nelson County, had established himself as a Semi-Final reaching machine at John Hardin and is possibly one of Kentucky's most underrated coaches when you consider where he has been and how he won.

It only took brown two years before Etown was in the Semi-Finals (13-1 in 2015), but what he did in 2016 may have been more impressive. With a team nearly completely composed of underclassmen Brown overcame a 2-3 start to the season to rattle off 8 consecutive wins before losing a close game to Louisville Central in the Semi-Finals.

The Panthers return essentially each and every key contributor and will be a bonafide threat to compete for a 3A Title.

CLASS 2A- LCA EAGLES

One drive.

Danville and LCA were about as evenly matched of rivals as you could find in 2016 and after one of the best regular season games in the State, it came down to one last drive by Danville to decide the Regional Championship and end LCA's perfect regular season.

Danville will start the year as the darling of the East and for good reason with all the starters they return, but do not sleep on the Eagles. The law firm of Miller, Nieves, Stucky, and Wheatley is an Offensive Firework machine and you can bet that the loss to Danville will drive them to seek revenge.

While the Admirals may get the fanfare, the Eagles of LCA will be hungry to prove they are the beast of the East.


CLASS 1A- KENTUCKY COUNTRY DAY BEARCATS


Kentucky Country Day??? Is that the new License Plate Slogan? Is that the school the deaf kids go to? Is that a new brand of lemonade?

When people think of the State's Private Schools KCD usually is not the first name that comes to mind, but it might be time for folks to start taking notice. Coach Matthew Jones is building a nice program and the Bearcats won a District Title and steam rolled until meeting eventual State Champ Beechwood.

The Tigers will most likely be a measuring stick that no team in the Western part of 1A can outlast, but KCD may be the only team best equipped to make Beechwood uncomfortable on the right night.

Jackson Diaz is a solid QB and the Bearcats have a legit D-1 prospect in 6'4 210 Josh Lifson. If Ashton Robinson can help establish balance in the running game KCD will be a tough out for any 1A team and will make sure people remember their name.