Which teams are the best bets to win Illinois high school football championships in 2012?
Can Bolingrook repeat as the Class 8A champion and the No. 1 team in Illinois?
Can Montini become the fourth school in state history to win a fourth state title in a row, matching the achievements of Joliet Catholic (1975-78), Mount Carmel (1988-91) and Providence (1994-97)?
Will Maine South bounce back after having its bid for a fourth consecutive state championship spoiled by Stevenson in last year's state quarterfinals?
Which team will be the biggest surprise of all?
Who are the leading candidates for Player of the Year recognition? Will Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac, last year's recipient, retain the award? Or will Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey claim the prize?
Which coaches will have the biggest impact?
Preseason practice begins Wednesday. The season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 24, with Providence of New Lenox hosting Joliet Catholic in a nationally televised attraction on ESPNU.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, Soldier Field will host three games -- Mount Carmel vs. St. Patrick, Marist vs. St. Rita and St. Ignatius vs. Whitney Young.
Two other highly entertaining opening-game matchups on Saturday, Aug. 25, are Wheaton Warrenville South at Glenbard West and Simeon at Loyola. The following week, Loyola will travel to Dublin, Ireland, to play Dallas Jesuit in a prelude to the NavyNotre Dame game.
So what else is new?
Unlike most seasons, there is little drama left in recruiting. All of the leading prospects in the Chicago area have made oral commitments except wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He is said to be leaning to Michigan but also is considering Illinois, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oregon.
Isaac chose USC. Bailey picked Illinois. Offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont committed to LSU. Quarterback Matt Alviti of Maine South pledged to Northwestern. Offensive tackle Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis committed to Michigan. Offensive tackle Kyle McGovern of Lincoln-Way West will attend Notre Dame.
In all, nearly 30 seniors from the city and suburbs have committed to Division I schools. They and other members of the class of 2013 have until national signing day in February before making up their minds. Meanwhile, college coaches are concentrating on the talent-laden classes of 2014 and 2015.
"It figures to be a very good year for Illinois in 2012," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "There is outstanding depth, several national recruits, talent at every position. Peoria has three potential All-Americans. Illinois ranks among the top seven or eight states in the nation for talent."
The class of 2014 shapes up as one of the best in recent memory. It is headed by tight end Nic Weishar of Marist, cornerback Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook, offensive tackles Shane Evans of Prairie Ridge and Jamarco Jones of De La Salle, linebackers Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South and Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee, defensive tackle Enoch Smith of Mount Carmel and quarterbackathlete Tommy Mister of Richards.
There are some rules changes that need to be observed as the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), in the wake of recent issues that stirred up a firestorm of protest, seeks to create a safe and respectful environment.
In an effort to provide information on hazing, bullying and inappropriate relationships to more high school coaches, school administrators and the general public, the NFHS is offering an online course called "Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment" for free on the NFHS Coach Education website.
The course provides education for coaches on the critically-important topics of inappropriate relationships, hazing, bullying and cyber-bullying and the appropriate use of technology when interacting with players and the public. It also provides examples of court cases involving these issues and suggests appropriate actions that coaches should take when these types of issues arise.
"This course is about getting the coach's attention and saying "You will be held responsible for inappropriate actions and for not taking appropriate steps when these situations occur," said Tim Flannery, NFHS director of coach education.
Flannery said recent revelations at Penn State and Florida A&M make it imperative that more coaches and school administrators become educated on these important topics that negatively affect young people.
"Many individuals who accept a coaching job are ignorant of the laws and policies by which they are required to abide," Flannery said. "This course will assist athletic programs by providing standardized training for coaches, which will result in a permanent record that can be assessed and verified by the school."
In addition, the NFHS and the Illinois High School Association, ever more aware of the controversy over concussions, has ruled that any high school football player must sit out one play if their helmet comes off while the ball is in play.
"The football rules committee made this rules change after reviewing data from multiple states regarding the frequency of helmets coming off during live-ball play," said Julian Tackett, chairman of the football rules committee and commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
"It is the committee's hope that this serves notice for schools to properly fit players with helmets to reduce the incidence of these situations and remind the players not to take steps that alter the fit."
The NFHS is re-emphasizing the importance of risk minimization, specifically through two of its free online courses: "Concussion in Sports -- What You Need to Know" and "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illinois Prevention."
"Concussion in Sports" provides a brief overview of how a person can recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion. "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illness Prevention" provides critical information designed to minimize the risk of activity-related heat illness and heat stroke among high school athletes.
Another significant change will be a new interpretation of a legal catch. Beginning this season, a receiver will be required to establish possession of the ball and contact the ground inbounds while maintaining possession -- regardless of the opponent's action.