• 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.
Ricky Bowers’ retirement account and/or his kids’ college fund has to be looking pretty good.
The Ensworth football coach’s contract calls for a bonus every time his team wins a state championship, and the Tigers have won three straight TSSAA Division II-AA titles.
Bowers, at least in the preseason, has to be on course to make it four.
“You have to say they’re the favorite. They’ve won it three years in a row,” McCallie coach Ralph Potter said. “They lost a lot of people, but the people they have coming back are really good.”
Potter’s Blue Tornado play the Tigers in Nashville on Sept. 27, and Baylor will host them on Oct. 25. Brentwood Academy may be the No. 1 contender to knock off Ensworth, but the two Chattanooga teams also will be in the chase.
“Brentwood is always going to challenge them, and they have a lot of speed, especially in the junior class,” said Potter, who left McCallie to coach at Brentwood Academy and then returned to McCallie before the 2012 season.
Both McCallie and Baylor have quarterback issues. The Blue Tornado have a potential starter on the sideline, and Baylor has one experienced quarterback in Nick Tiano but is looking for a reliable backup.
The Red Raiders will go into the season with no experience at the position beyond Tiano, who shared the starting role in 2012 with Michael O’Conner, a Canadian who has transferred again — this time to IMG Academy in Florida — after spending a season at Baylor.
“One of the things you enjoy as a coach is [position] competition,” Baylor’s Phil Massey said. “Now the team is on Nick’s shoulders, and he’s very capable of taking this team and running the offense. For him and the rest of the players, they know this is our guy.”
McCallie had a transfer student, Isaac Kay from Texas, in competition for the quarterback job, but he suffered an injury to his non-passing shoulder last week. Coaches hope he won’t be sidelined very long, but they have moved on.
“It’s totally up in the air,” Potter said of the No. 1 quarterback spot. “I’ve never been this close to the start of the season and not known. We think Isaac will be back pretty quick. He was developing.”
In the meantime, including a scrimmage tonight, McCallie is working sophomores London Elrod and JaVaugn Craig at the position. Craig started preseason practice as a wide receiver.
“We really think Elrod has a great temperament to do it, but he’s probably a year away from being physically developed enough to do it,” Potter said. “JaVaughn has a lot of natural ability. He played quarterback in middle school before he got here and played there some last year as a ninth-grader. We’re waiting to see how it plays out.”
<em>Contact Ward Gossett@firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765.</em>