DISTRICT OUTLOOKS

2017 season predictions from staff writers Ron Haggstrom, David La Vaque and Jim Paulsen. NOTE: Records are from 2016.

Metro • North

Blaine took off when Connor Melton took over at QB midway through the 2016 season, making a run to the Class 6A semis before falling to eventual state champ Totino-Grace. The Bengals have enough returning, led by Melton and WR Byron Bynum, to earn a slight edge over the Eagles, who have big holes to fill. Champlin Park won't have injured QB Bennett Otto until midway through the season, but the Rebels will still be formidable. St. Michael-Albertville, making the jump to Class 6A, is the wild card.

1. Blaine (9-3)

2. Totino-Grace (13-0)

3. Champlin Park (8-4)

4. St. Michael-Albertville (8-2)

5. Centennial (5-5)

6. Osseo (2-7)

7. Anoka (4-5)

Metro • East

Year 2 under Cretin-Derham Hall coach Brooks Bollinger should bring improvement to a roster dotted with talent, paced by senior QB Jackson Crawford, who has all the physical tools but needs fine-tuning. Woodbury lost plenty of offensive talent, but has a great defensive nucleus back. Keep an eye on Roseville, with experienced QB Luke Bouchart and terrific two-way RB/DB Victor Yang.

1. Cretin-Derham Hall (7-3)

2. Woodbury (4-5)

3. Roseville (3-6)

4. Stillwater (5-4)

5. Mounds View (7-3)

6. East Ridge (7-3)

7. White Bear Lake (0-9)

Metro • South

Like physical football? The top three teams all play hard-nosed football (not smash-mouth, that's a no-no in these safety-conscious days) that can grind down opponents. Lakeville North and Rosemount have big lines but the Panthers have the edge when is comes to the skill positions. Prior Lake is another tough-minded group with an electric RB in Jordan Johnson.

1. Lakeville North (9-2)

2. Rosemount (9-2)

3. Prior Lake (5-5)

4. Farmington (4-5)

5. Burnsville (7-3)

6. Eastview (3-6)

7. Lakeville South (1-8)

8. Shakopee (1-8)

9. Eagan (0-9)

Metro • West

All five teams conceivably could earn a No. 1 or 2 seed in the Class 6A postseason bracket. Eden Prairie looks loaded, with game-changers in QB Cole Kramer, RB Solo Falaniko, S Benny Sapp III, LB Anthony Montero, and more. Edina is tough up front, led by the state's top recruit in junior OL Quinn Carroll. Expect Maple Grove and Minnetonka to lean on defense.

1. Eden Prairie (11-2)

2. Edina (5-5)

3. Maple Grove (8-3)

4. Minnetonka (8-3)

5. Wayzata (2-7)

North Central • Blue

Elk River is coming off its first state championship season (Class 5A), but faces plenty of retooling, returning only two offensive and three defensive starters from the title game. Andover made a late-season run to the state tournament, and should be better out of the gate this year.

1. Elk River (13-0)

2. Andover (5-7)

3. St. Francis (6-5)

4. Rogers (6-3)

5. Monticello (7-3)

6. Chisago Lakes (4-5)

7. Buffalo (3-6)

8. Cambridge-Isanti (2-7)

North Central • White

Becker lost three games by a total of seven points last season. With an experienced group and favorable schedule (home games against Rocori in Week 3 and Hutchinson in Week 4), coach Dwight Lundeen should have his Bulldogs atop the heap. Coach Andy Rostberg will have another strong squad at Hutchinson.

1. Becker (6-3)

2. Hutchinson (9-1)

3. Rocori (9-4)

4. Big Lake (6-5)

5. Willmar (4-7)

6. Princeton (4-7)

7. St. Cloud Apollo (1-8)

Suburban • Red

Benilde-St. Margaret's won the Class 4A state title and Holy Angels eyes the same prize. The Stars, led by linebacker/running back Jack Anderson, meet Benilde-St. Margaret's in Week 6 and both reside in Section 5. Not that it's a two-team race. Orono returns four starters on offense and six on defense. DeLaSalle, featuring running back Sage Booker, returns 12 seniors excited for the second year of coach CJ Hallman's tenure.

1. Holy Angels (4-6)

2. Orono (7-5)

3. DeLaSalle (4-6)

4. Benilde-St. Margaret's (10-3)

5. Richfield (3-6)

6. St. Louis Park (2-8)

Suburban • White

Chanhassen must rebuild its offense but seven starters return on defense. "If our defense is as good as we think it will be, we should be able to return to the section championship," coach Mike Bailey said. Senior linebacker Jake Maus could set the program record for career tackles. Jefferson has more size and will count on a strong running game. Coach Corey Shea takes over at Waconia.

1. Chanhassen (9-1)

2. Bloomington Jefferson (3-6)

3. Chaska (6-4)

4. Waconia (7-3)

5. Bloomington Kennedy (1-8)

Suburban • Blue

Three of the four programs welcome a legitimate chance at better win-loss records this fall. Hopkins, Forest Lake and Coon Rapids dropped the Class 6A bigs from their schedule. But Armstrong gets a little tougher slate, adding fellow big-school programs Hopkins and Forest Lake. The Falcons return linebacker Mekhi Besseck and kicker Matthew Jaeger. Hopkins running back Jadon Washington is capable of 1,000 yards.

1. Hopkins (4-6)

2. Armstrong (5-4)

3. Forest Lake (1-8)

4. Coon Rapids (0-9)

Suburban • Maroon

Four returning offensive linemen lead Apple Valley. Riley Hansen (6-4, 285 pounds) is the biggest of a group loaded with talented, physical blockers. Liam McManus starts under center for St. Thomas Academy, his first year at quarterback after playing defense last season. Park quarterback Grant Glazier was an all-district selection at receiver last season.

1. Apple Valley (7-4)

2. St. Thomas Academy (6-4)

3. Park of Cottage Grove (7-3)

4. Hastings (5-5)

5. Henry Sibley (3-6)

Suburban • Gold

Cooper, hungry to take its turn atop the subdistrict, boasts linebacker Onte Burns and defensive back Phoenix Sproles. Spring Lake Park linebacker/running back Cade McMahon has started two years on teams that went a combined 22-2. The Panthers lost in the Class 5A Prep Bowl last season. Coaches expect Irondale to be a factor. Coach Ben Fuller said this team features his most experienced group of returning players in his four seasons.

1. Cooper (8-2)

2. Spring Lake Park (12-1)

3. Irondale (3-7)

4. North St. Paul (1-8)

5. Park Center (0-9)

Suburban • Grey

New-look South St. Paul is expected to pace the field. Cade Sexauer moves from defense to quarterback. He'll have a big target in tight end Nathan Brandecker. South St. Paul's option offense can still pound the ball. Running backs Chase Bentsen and Angel Rodriguez each gained more than 800 yards. Mahtomedi returns just four starters.

1. South St. Paul (10-1)

2. Mahtomedi (10-1)

3. Tartan (3-6)

4. Simley (2-8)

5. Hill-Murray (2-8)

Twin City • Blue

The district lacked a team above .500 last season. Spectrum is the best of the group with 1,700-yard rusher Fisher Marberg back, and could dominate this field. It won five of its last six games a year ago.

1. Spectrum (5-5)

2. St. Agnes (4-5)

3. Brooklyn Center (4-6)

4. Concordia Academy (1-8)

5. Minneapolis Roosevelt (2-7)

6. Minneapolis Edison (1-8)

7. St. Paul Humboldt (0-1)

Twin City • Gold

Mound Westonka breezed through its district last year, only to fall in its first section game. A tougher road awaits this season, which could benefit the White Hawks come playoff time. Academy Force is a combined program of six schools, including New Life Academy in Woodbury, and on the rise.

1. Mound Westonka (8-1)

2. Academy Force (6-4)

3. Minneapolis Henry (6-4)

4. Providence Academy (6-3)

5. St. Paul Johnson (4-5)

6. Minneapolis Southwest (1-8)

Twin City • Maroon

St. Croix Lutheran, with six consecutive state tournament appearances, welcomes back leading rusher Michael Stern (1,853 yards) and top receiver Garett Maag. SPA/Minnehaha/Blake also welcomes back key contributors from last year's squad, and will be tough to beat.

1. St. Croix Lutheran (12-1)

2. SPA/Minnehaha/Blake (9-1)

3. Fridley (8-3)

4. St. Paul Highland Park (6-4)

5. Minneapolis Washburn (5-5)

6. St. Paul Central (5-5)

Twin City • Red

Class 1A state champ Minneapolis North moves up a class this season. Don't expect any team in the district or Section 4 to deter it from another tournament run. The Polars have won at least 12 games in each of the past three seasons. Look for Breck to be the most improved squad.

1. Minneapolis North (13-0)

2. Breck (2-7)

3. Columbia Heights (5-5)

4. St. Anthony (2-7)

5. St. Paul Como Park (3-7)

6. Minneapolis South (0-9)

7. St. Paul Harding (2-7)

East Central • South

Glencoe-Silver Lake finished 2016 winning five consecutive games before falling in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. The Panthers have some big bodies back, most notably defensive tackle Paul Lemke. Delano was green in 2016, but not now.

1. Glencoe-Silver Lake (6-4)

2. Delano (4-5)

3. Litchfield (6-4)

4. Annandale (4-5)

5. Holy Family (2-7)

6. Watertown-Mayer (2-7)

7. Dassel-Cokato (2-7)