The four teams expected to finish near the top of the conference must rely on their different strengths. Osseo features elite playmakers. Continuity is key for Champlin Park. And Blaine and Maple Grove hope to make the most of a new quarterback and coach, respectively.

ANDOVER HUSKIES

Coach: Rich Wilkie. 2010 record: 8-3.

• A 5-0 start last season was marred by two lopsided losses against Blaine's spread offense. And with all-conference DL Thomas Anderson suffering a season-ending knee injury, stopping teams will require new Huskies defenders to emerge. On offense, RB Cole Westerlund will be counted on to regain his pre-injury form.

ANOKA TORNADOES

Coach: Jeff Buerkle. 2010 record: 2-7.

• Two returning offensive linemen plus experience at running back and fullback give the Tornadoes the ability to control the clock and pound teams into submission. But questions about the QB position and the defensive front seven must be answered.

ARMSTRONG FALCONS

Coach: Ryan Bartlett. 2010 record: 2-7.

• With four returning offensive linemen and QB Earl Young, the offense could take off if young and athletic prospects emerge to make some plays. The defense is undersized but has veteran players anchoring all three levels.

BLAINE BENGALS

Coach: Shannon Gerrety. 2010 record: 10-1.

• QB Eric Kline, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, graduated. So the Bengals' spread offense will look to The Duke. Not John Wayne but QB Duke Anyanwu. A conference coach considers the 6-4, 220-pound Anyanwu one of the state's top athletes.

CENTENNIAL COUGARS

Coach: Mike Diggins. 2010 record: 3-6.

• Only two starters return on offense, but Diggins is excited about a fleet of new skill-position players with speed. Five veteran defenders bolster the defense, and new middle linebacker Austin Blum comes over from the offense this fall.

CHAMPLIN PARK REBELS

Coach: Mike Korton. 2010 record: 4-6.

• A young Rebels team learned some hard lessons en route to the program's first losing season since 2000. Five returning linemen, QB Nick Frohreich and RB Michael Sales will pace the offense. Four of the six defenders back this season are linemen or linebackers.

COON RAPIDS CARDINALS

Coach: Jon Young. 2010 record: 6-4.

• Fighters all last season, the Cardinals lost twice by a single point. A bigger loss is RB Antonio Ford, who transferred to defending Class 5A state champion Wayzata. Eight returning starters on offense will lessen the blow.

MAPLE GROVE CRIMSON

Coach: Matt Lombardi.

2010 record: 3-6.

• With Lombardi, architect of Wayzata's past three 5A state championship teams as defensive coordinator, in charge, the Crimson could steal a few more victories and improve on three consecutive 3-6 seasons. QB Brady Jacobs should enjoy working with four receivers with playmaking potential.

OSSEO ORIOLES

Coach: Derrin Lamker. 2010 record: 7-3.

• Senior QB DJ Hebert, TE Will Johnson and the offense can score points, but taking the next step will require the Orioles to grind out games and play strong defense. On defense, all-conference DBs Alex Ernisee and Bryce Selock give the Orioles a solid secondary.

PARK CENTER PIRATES

Coach: Rickey Foggie. 2010 record: 1-8.

• Foggie said the Pirates have "enough talent to play with anyone in our conference," but the team is thin up front on both sides of the ball. The defensive backs, running backs and wide receivers Foggie are high on must pick up the slack in an always-rugged conference.

DAVID La VAQUE

PREDICTION

1. Osseo

2. Champlin Park

3. Blaine

4. Maple Grove

5. Coon Rapids

6. Andover

7. Centennial

8. Anoka

9. Armstrong

10. Park Center