1 HIGH HOPES IN ROCHESTER
Now that two of the metro's top football programs -- Lakeville North and Lakeville South -- have left Section 1, Class 5A for larger Class 6A, there's a much better chance that a Rochester public school could qualify for the state tournament for the first time in nearly a decade. The last appearance was by John Marshall in a 2004 loss in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
2 DULUTH GOES METRO
Without a conference to call their own, Duluth Denfeld and Duluth East turned to the Minnesota State High School League to help them find one. The result? Both have been placed in the Mississippi 8, a conference otherwise populated with schools on the northern edges of the Twin Cities suburbs. The shortest road trip for either school to play a conference rival this season? About 120 miles for East to play at Cambridge-Isanti on Oct. 5.
3 REPRESENTING FOR THE REST
Brainerd is the sole outstate school in the new Class 6A for the 32 largest schools. Though its 2011-12 enrollment of 1,685 ranks it as the state's 28th-largest high school, don't expect the Warriors to be patsies. Coach Ron Stolski is entering his 51st season as a head football coach and has a state-record 337 victories. Brainerd has reached the state semifinals three times in the past five years, including a 13-10 victory over Eden Prairie in the Class 5A quarterfinals in 2010.
4 WILL MOOSE LAKE-WILLOW RIVER FINALLY BREAK THROUGH?
In the past six seasons, no team has had more success without a state championship than Moose Lake-Willow River. Since 2006, the Rebels have lost just one regular-season game, made the Class 2A state tournament each year and have a 71-7 overall record. They've lost twice in the Prep Bowl. With a D-I running back prospect in Jake Disterhaupt (2,236 yards, 40 TDs in 2011), the Rebels will be in the hunt once again.
5 A NINE-MAN REPEAT?
In 2011, Edgerton/Ellsworth averaged 52.7 points per game en route to a 14-0 season and the Nine-Man championship. The Flying Dutchmen appear poised to match last year, thanks to the return of most of their high-caliber offense. QB Isaac Heard passed for more than 2,500 yards. The backfield tandem of Derek Voge and Devin Hulstein combined to rush for almost 1,600 yards.