There were two schools of thought when it came to choosing the final three teams in the Division I preseason football rankings:
1) The traditional powers should get the spots based on their overall tradition of excellence. Brophy, Desert Vista and Red Mountain have been consistent winners over the past several years. The Broncos were the preseason No. 1 a year ago and made the state semifinals. The Thunder beat Hamilton to win the state title in 2011. The Mountain Lions made the quarterfinals last year. All are perennial playoff participants and have three of the better programs in the state. However, each roster was hit hard by graduation. Brophy has the top program of the three, but lost nearly every single player of consequence, while Desert Vista and Red Mountain have plenty of holes to fill as well.
2) The three middle-tier programs with several key pieces back should get the nod. Pinnacle went 8-3 last season — although the record was inflated by an easy schedule — but was hammered in the first round of the state tournament by Avondale Westview. The Pioneers return running back Josh Hoekstra, several key wideouts and welcome standout junior quarterback Brian Lewerke to the fold. Mountain View finished 7-4 last season and was handled easily in the first round by Desert Mountain. The Toros return quarterback John Clark, wide receivers Clark Brown, Chase Funk and Robby Millward and kicker Luis Bustillos, among others. Highland went 6-5 last year and lost to Hamilton in the first round. The Hawks have 14 starters back, including star defensive end Grant Thompson and middle linebacker Tre Tyler.
We ended up going with Pinnacle, Mountain View and Highland for the final three spots. Right now, it’s impossible to tell which teams are going to end up better by the end of the year. Is experience the big key? If so, the latter three teams have the edge. Do the perennially stronger programs have young talent ready to take over? Then the former three teams should be in the rankings soon enough. Maybe it’s a combination of both, with some of these teams finding success and others faltering.
The easiest way to clear things up? Let them play the games. Red Mountain travels to No. 8 Pinnacle on Friday night, while Brophy hosts No. 7 Desert Mountain. If both of those games go definitively one way or the other, we might have our answer.