The launch toward the first Prep Bowl played at U.S. Bank Stadium takes place Tuesday as high school football teams throughout Minnesota, from Nine-man to Class 5A, begin section playoffs. Several top seeds — and all Class 6A teams — have the night off, giving the underdogs and dreamers a 100-yard stage. Here are five things to watch Tuesday:
1. Tough schedules matter
Class 5A teams Andover (2-6) and Apple Valley (5-3), seasoned by playing all their games against 6A teams, are prepared for the rigors of playoff football. A year ago Apple Valley fell in the section final while Andover reached the state tournament. Andover, the No. 4 seed in Section 7, plays host to No. 5 Cambridge-Isanti, In Section 3, No. 1 seed Apple Valley awaits the winner of Tuesday’s game between No. 4 Hastings and No. 5 Henry Sibley. And that leads us to our next point ...
2. Expect upsets in Class 4A, Section 3
Both Simley (1-7) and Hill-Murray (1-7) took their lumps in the East Metro Red subdistrict against teams such as South St. Paul and Park of Cottage Grove. Experience means a lot, though. No. 5 seed Simley plays at No. 4 St. Paul Harding (2-6) and the No. 6 seed Pioneers make the short drive to No. 3 St. Paul Johnson (4-4). Both visitors are poised to advance.
3. Haven’t I seen you before?
Rematches dot the first-round landscape. Hastings defeated Henry Sibley to open the season. In 5A, Section 2, No. 4 seed Chaska (5-3) beat No. 5 Bloomington Jefferson (3-5) in the regular-season finale. Likewise in Section 5, where No. 3 seed Irondale (2-6) hopes to win for a second consecutive week against No. 6 Park Center (1-7).
4. If matchups of teams with losing records doesn’t excite you, watch Class 5A, Section 6
No. 5 seed Monticello (6-2) visits No. 4 Rogers (6-2) for an intriguing game. They play good football in the northwest metro, and the winner of this game advances to play No. 1 Elk River.
5. Stepping into the spotlight
Teams that have toiled in obscurity get a chance for exposure. St. Francis (4-4, No. 3 in 5A, Section 7) has a shutdown defense. But the Saints have been overshadowed by North Central Blue rivals Elk River and St. Michael-Albertville. The same could be said for St. Thomas Academy (5-3, No. 3 in 5A, Section 3). South St. Paul, Mahtomedi and Park of Cottage Grove have been the darlings of the East Metro Red, leaving the Cadets, a Prep Bowl runner-up last year, largely unnoticed.