Team on the rise: Montgomery Bell Academy. The Big Red graduated 30-plus seniors, and some question if their numbers are going to equate. However, MBA’s quarterback, Cole Euverard, is the coach’s son and got two starts last year, and the line includes Vanderbilt commitment Jay Robertson (6-3, 285), Notre Dame commitment Alex Bars (6-6, 285) and D.J. Mott (6-5, 265).
Team on the decline: Pope John Paul II is still outmanned and often overwhelmed in Division II-AA and has yet to win a playoff game in eight tries. However, last year the Knights gave Briarcrest a battle before falling 21-14 in a 2-9 season.
Toughest schedule: McCallie planned to play Brainerd but never got a signed contract, so the Blue Tornado wound up with a game Aug. 30 against District 5-AAA power McMinn County. McCallie opens the season on Aug. 22 with 5-AAA member Cleveland and plays at always-tough Siegel in Murfreesboro before returning home to host Bowling Green, a two-time defending Kentucky state champion.
Dream schedule: There really is no such thing in Division II-AA, but Baylor opens with Howard, which has won two games the past two seasons and currently has a 26-man roster, and plays Brainerd (3-7 in 2012) on Sept. 13. The Red Raiders also have home games against PJP II on Sept. 20, Murfreesboro Oakland on Oct. 11 and Ensworth on Oct. 25. The McCallie game returns to the Baylor campus on Oct. 4.
Players to watch: The aforementioned linemen at MBA, all worthy of major recruiting efforts; also, Baylor kicker Rafael Gaglianone, quarterback Nick Tiano, running back George Porter and defensive tackle Will Thomas; McCallie receiver/defensive back C.J. Fritz, receiver Spencer Morgan, linebacker/running back Andrew Busby and two-way lineman Cam Walker. Brentwood Academy has a star-caliber tight end in Derek Barnett, and Ensworth boasts a number of prospects including senior lineman Mike Sawyers, tight end/running back D’Andre Ferby and defensive back Rico McGraw.
Coaches’ predicted order of finish: Ensworth, Brentwood Academy, Montgomery Bell Academy, Baylor, McCallie, Father Ryan, Pope John Paul II.