Indiana high school football preview: 2023 season predictions

We are finally here. The start of the high school football season has arrived. Before the scoreboards start lighting up, here are 10 predictions that are sure to come true (or be completely wrong):Center Grove loses a few, but wins title againI can’t imagine Center Grove is going to get through this schedule unscathed. The Trojans are playing state champions from Ohio (St. Edward) and Tennessee (Oakland) the first two weeks of the season. St. Edward is ranked No. 13 in the country and Oakland ranked No. 31 in the High School Football America 100 (Center Grove is No. 33). Those two games are followed by Louisville Trinity, Cincinnati Moeller (No. 54) and Harvest Prep (Ohio).IHSAA football preview:Everything you need to know for 2023 seasonThe combined record of those five out-of-state opponents last season: 63-10.The three-time defending Class 6A champions also have a Week 9 game against Cathedral before heading into sectional play. If Center Grove can navigate that schedule without a loss, well, might as well hand the Trojans the title again right there. But even with a less-than-perfect record, I think Center Grove is still the team to beat and ultimately raises the trophy on Thanksgiving weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium for the fourth consecutive year.But it won’t be easy.Class 6A is a jumbled mess … in a good wayIt won’t be easy for Center Grove because there are a lot of quality candidates ready to take their turn atop Class 6A. My list starts with these four teams (I think you can put them in any order):>> Hamilton Southeastern: The Royals were ranked No. 1 and undefeated going into last year’s 21-15 semistate loss at Carroll (Fort Wayne). The program has momentum and a lot of talent returning.>> Ben Davis: The Giants certainly have some question marks, but there is a lot of top-end talent on both sides of the ball coming off last year’s 6-4 season.>> Cathedral: The Irish can’t be counted out with quarterback Danny O’Neil returning and some hungry players eager to have an impact. Cathedral beat Center Grove once last season.>> Carroll: The Chargers knocked off HSE in last year’s semistate to reach the state finals for the first time. That did not go so well as Carroll lost 35-9 to Center Grove. But it was a breakthrough season for Carroll, which has quite a bit of talent coming back.Brownsburg, Westfield and Warren Central, in my opinion, are next in line.Fort Wayne football is a welcome additionThe Summit Athletic Conference changing its format to allow a couple of nonconference games is a welcome change to the schedule. We now get to see some of Fort Wayne’s best teams match up with Indianapolis-area programs with matchups the first two weeks of the season like Bishop Dwenger-Brownsburg, Carroll at HSE and vs. Warren Central, Homestead vs. Carmel and at Noblesville and Snider at Warren Central.Carroll starts a series next season with Center Grove and will continue playing HSE. I think these matchups will be good for the Fort Wayne teams and a chance for local teams to add some variety to the nonconference schedule.Sectional draw will cause fans to want seedingWell, duh. Even in our “Coaches Confidential” series, the No. 1 answer by far to the “What change would you make to high school football to make it a better experience?” question was to seed the tournament.If there is ever going to be an opportunity to seed a sport, the perfect trial balloon would be to seed the north and south half of 6A (you could do 5A, too) in football. Do it by Sagarin ratings for two years, see what happens. You could still slide teams into a bracket and call it a sectional championship with two wins, regional next round and so on. There is enough parity in 6A (and 5A) that I don’t think you would see a bunch of first-round blowouts and you are only play once a week so travel issues are not comparable to sports like basketball or volleyball with multiple sectional games per week.Here’s how it would look based on last year’s Sagarin ratings in 6A if you seeded both sides of the bracket No. 1 through 16.NorthHamilton Southeastern (1) vs. Fort Wayne Northrop (16)Penn (8) vs. Noblesville (9)Carmel (4) vs. Lake Central (13)Fishers (5) vs. Zionsville (12)Carroll (Fort Wayne) (2) vs. Portage (15)Lafayette Jeff (7) vs. Warsaw (10)Westfield (3) vs. Homestead (14)Crown Point (6) vs. Elkhart (11)SouthBrownsburg (1) vs. Jeffersonville (16)Franklin Central (8) vs. Avon (9)Ben Davis (4) vs. North Central (13)Warren Central (5) vs. Perry Meridian (12)Center Grove (2) vs. Southport (15)Lawrence Central (7) vs. Pike (10)Cathedral (3) vs. Tech (14)Lawrence North (6) vs. Columbus North (11)Doesn’t that look appetizing? I’d love to see two-year trial run. Maybe it doesn’t change anything, but I think it would create some excitement and add a little meaning to the regular season.Mudsock rivalry boomsThe Hamilton Southeastern-Fishers rivalry always draws huge crowds. That will definitely be the case again this year for the Mudsock game on Sept. 8 at Fishers. Last year both teams were 3-0 going into the game and it was a thriller, HSE winning 28-27 in overtime. The Royals won a second time, cruising to a 35-13 win in the sectional championship.Both teams could be better this season. Might want to grab your tickets now.Watching the tournament success factorThis is the second year of the tournament success factor’s two-year cycle so there are teams that will be in line to make a move up for the next classification cycle. A few things to watch involving local teams:>> Whiteland, the 5A runner-up last season, could move up to 6A with another trip to the state finals;>> If defending 3A state champion Bishop Chatard wins the regional, the Trojans would move up to 4A;>> Lutheran, the two-time defending champion in Class A, would move up to 2A with a regional title;Of those, Lutheran’s move seems like the most likely. The IHSAA did make an adjustment that will roll the tournament success factor to applied yearly moving forward.Teams on the upswingMy picks as teams that could be significantly improved:>> Warren Central: The Warriors, coming off a 6-6 season, should be better up front on both sides of the ball. Mike Kirschner’s third team has a chance to make some noise.>> Franklin Central: The Flashes are certainly better than last year’s 3-7 squad. How much? We’ll find out. The schedule is not easy, but quarterback Nevan Tutterow has some weapons.>> Decatur Central: The Hawks are an easy pick to bounce back from last year’s 4-7 season. The schedule early is difficult but Decatur Central will be a handful in 5A.Jackson Willis positions himself as Mr. Football candidate for 2024The Lutheran quarterback passed for 4,169 yards and 55 touchdowns as a sophomore to help Lutheran to a 15-0 record and Class A state championship. Anything similar to those numbers with another state championship will put Willis on any list of 2024 Mr. Football candidates. Willis is only the fifth quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season in state history.People will complain about Mr. Football award (biased!)This might be sort of an inside joke, but every year some fans (and media) express their displeasure with the Mr. Football vote (and maybe more for Mr. and Miss Basketball). And some of those complaining argue there is a bias for Indianapolis-area athletes, though I rarely see specific examples cited.Since 2018, three of the five winners (Jack Kiser of Pioneer, Brady Allen of Gibson Southern and Drayk Bowen of Andrean) have come from outside — far outside — the Indianapolis-area. The two that did, Charlie Spegal of New Palestine and Carson Steele of Center Grove, were record-setting, state championship-winning running backs.I write this knowing full well the same biased (!) complaints are coming. Oh well.Who are the favorites for Mr. Football this season? I think the conversation starts with Center Grove’s Tyler Cherry and Cathedral’s Danny O’Neil, HSE’s Jalen Alexander, New Haven’s Mylan Graham, Fort Wayne North Side’s Brauntae Johnson and East Central’s Josh Ringer. But it’s a fresh slate starting Friday night.State title predictionsFeel free to burn these come late November. My August state finals predictions:6A: Center Grove over Hamilton Southeastern5A: Decatur Central over Valparaiso4A: East Central over NorthWood3A: Bishop Chatard over Danville2A: Triton Central over Lafayette Central CatholicA: Lutheran over Adams CentralCall Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.

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