THE CITY LEAGUE
Carroll: at Heights on Oct. 13
There’s no doubt that the road games at Northwest and at Derby will be sell-out, must-see events, but the game that matters the most to Carroll is the Heights game. Not only because it falls later in the season and will likely have huge City League title implications, but also because Heights is a 5A opponent and there will no doubt be big-time playoff seeding implications from the fall-out of this game as well.
East: vs. West (at South) on Oct. 20
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East has a pair of important road tests early in the season against North and Kapaun, but how the Blue Aces finish the season will be crucial. If East plans on moving up in the City League standings, it’s going to have to leapfrog West and a head-to-head win will do just that.
Heights: vs. Carroll on Oct. 13
The Week 2 showdown against Northwest will be a classic, but the Week 7 date against Carroll at home will be far more important. Not only could the City League title be decided there, but more importantly, the top of the Class 5A West playoffs could be decided with this head-to-head matchup between two of the highest-ranked teams in the preseason. A win here could secure another home game for a potential rematch with Carroll in the playoffs.
Kapaun: at St. James Academy (at Mill Valley) on Oct. 13
It’s not an attractive City League matchup, but this really does shape up to be a crucial game for Kapaun. Last season the Crusaders played well, but couldn’t finish down the stretch and took a close loss. They end the season against Northwest, Heights, at St. James, and at Carroll — a killer schedule going into the postseason. A win against St. James could be the last-season surge Kapaun would be looking for to improve its postseason seeding.
North: vs. South (at Heights) on Sept. 1
How will North open the season under first-year coach Scott Moshier? Moshier comes from a dynasty he built at Meade, where he won a pair of state championships in 2010 at 2012. Now Moshier will try to his hand at restoring the Redskins in the City League and a statement can be made in Game 1 against what should be a solid South squad.
Northwest: vs. Heights on Sept. 8
Yes, Carroll at home to start the season is going to be a banger. But the Grizzlies will either have a chance to stay in the City League title race with a win over Heights or take over complete control with a pair of wins in back-to-back weeks to start the season. Northwest would still have work to do, but it can deal a devastating blow to its two biggest league rivals in the first two weeks.
South: vs. Kapaun Mt. Carmel on Sept. 22
South was building some serious momentum under Kevin Steiner in the City League. But with Steiner stepping down, can first-year coach Paul Lopez sustain that level of success? Kapaun should be much improved this season and this mid-season test will be a stiff one for the Titans — but one that they will need to win if they have plans on having a winning season.
Southeast: vs. East (at Northwest) on Sept. 29
The Buffaloes will have a pair of Western Kansas road trips to manage this season that will be important, but there’s nothing better than playing for pride in the city. That’s why the East game will be an important one for Southeast, which will be led by first-year coach Erik Dobbins. The Buffaloes will have a chance here to make some noise in the City League midway through the season.
West: at South on Sept. 8
The Pioneers have plans of making noise in the City League this season and if they’re going to do that, then they will have to take care of business early in the season against the Titans. West misses Heights on the schedule this year, so it has a chance to to contend for a top spot in the league if it can clean up against South, North, Southeast, and East and then hope for the best against Carroll and Northwest.
Campus: at Maize on Oct. 6
If the Colts are going to have a breakthrough season, they need to take care of the teams not named Hutchinson and Derby on the schedule. The road trip to Maize kicks off a crucial three-game stretch to end the schedule and determine if Campus is the read deal or not this season.
Derby: at Goddard on Sept. 8
Even with Derby being forced to replace the majority of its offensive and defensive production from last season, the Panthers are loaded with talent. But it’s inexperienced talent and a road trip to one of the best teams in Class 5A in Week 2 will be an early test to see if Derby can keep its 20-plus game winning streak in tact.
Hutchinson: at Derby on Sept. 22
The measuring stick for Hutchinson right now is Derby and this matchup will and has decided the league championship for the last two seasons. A victory here could catapult the Salthawks in the Class 6A rankings and announce that they are a title contender.
Maize: vs. Hutchinson on Oct. 20
Last season Maize took care of everybody else in the league outside of Derby and Hutchinson. Can Maize shake up the top of the league with a late-season win over Hutchinson at home? Maize has some intriguing talent on its team this season and if it can piece together another winning season, then it would set up this huge showdown in the final week of the regular season with postseason seeding implications on the line.
Salina Central: vs. Andover on Sept. 1
It’s still hard to fathom that Central finished last season 0-9 with only one of those losses coming by less than 14 points. What bigger game than the first one of the next season with the chance to wipe the slate clean and end that long losing streak? The start of the season schedule for Central isn’t killer, so it will have an opportunity to turn things around.
Salina South: vs. Campus on Sept. 15
Salina South might have one of the most difficult schedules in Class 5A with Carroll, Goddard, Hutchinson, and Derby all being formidable teams, not to mention last season’s surprises in Valley Center and Maize. That’s what makes this Week 3 home game against Campus so important for South. If the Cougars can take care of business at home here, then they will benefit from it later in the season when they’re battling for seeding.
Andover: vs. Andover Central on Sept. 22
Who doesn’t love a cross-town rivalry game? The Trojans are going to be extremely inexperienced on offense and two road trips and a home date against Goddard isn’t exactly the perfect way to ease into a schedule. That makes the home game against Central so important. Win this one and the Trojans might be able to pick up some confidence in the first month of the season.
Arkansas City: at Valley Center on Sept. 15
We will find out in the first three weeks of the season if the Bulldogs have plans of shaking up the league picture. A road trip to Campus, then at home against Saline Central will test Arkansas City, but a road trip to Valley Center will crucial in shaping how the start of the season will go. Pick up a valuable road win over a quality program and Arkansas City will start to turn some heads.
Eisenhower: at Maize on Sept. 8
Not only is this a pseudo rivalry game, but this will be an important one for the Tigers in what is a brutal first five weeks of the season. Eisenhower has to play Derby, Goddard, and Hutchinson — all of whom are ranked pre-season. Throw in a challenge like a road trip to Maize, a seven-win team last season, and just surviving the first five weeks seems like the challenge. A win here would give Eisenhower some wiggle room, not to mention some confidence to make a late-season charge.
Goddard: vs. Derby on Sept. 8
Last season Derby overwhelmed Goddard in the first half 35-6 before the game was called at halftime due to weather conditions. The Lions were a different team after that game and they will be looking for payback this season, as an inexperienced Derby team will come to Goddard in the second week of the season. Goddard will have a chance to send a message to the state that it is ready to be on top of the 5A throne this season with a win.
Newton: at Eisenhower on Sept. 15
Newton opens the season against Maize, Hutchinson, and Eisenhower on the road. That’s a pretty tough three-game stretch for a team trying to gain some confidence under second-year coach Chris Jaax. If the Railers can come away with a win on the road against an improved Eisenhower side, then they could build some confidence to make some noise with its second-half of the schedule.
Valley Center: at Eisenhower on Oct. 6
The schedule once again shapes up fairly nicely for the Hornets to make a repeat run like they did last season. Valley Center has plenty to replace, but it faces exactly zero teams with winning records from last season until Week 7. But Eisenhower should be improved, making this road trip a daunting one and important if the Hornets are indeed going to continue their winning ways under Caleb Smith.
Andover Central: vs. Augusta on Oct. 20
With Maize South appearing to be the favorite in the district heading into the season, that leaves Andover Central and Augusta fighting for that second spot. Both will still have to take care of Rose Hill, but there’s no denying the Jaguars best chance at making it back to the state playoffs is beating Augusta at home here.
Augusta: at Andover Central on Oct. 20
The Orioles can give themselves some breathing room by upsetting Maize South on the road in the first week of district play. But if they come up short, then that will basically force a win-or-go-home scenario for Augusta with a road trip to Andover Central. The Orioles can go a long ways in punching their ticket back to the state playoffs with a win here.
Buhler: at Andale on Oct. 13
Buhler might be the best 4A I team not named Miege, but it sure is going to have to prove it this season with stiff challenges in McPherson, Collegiate, Maize South, and Augusta waiting for it in the regular season. Those will be fun to watch, but the road trip to Andale in Week 7 will likely decide the district title and if Buhler will have to go on the road or stay at home in the first round of the playoffs as it chases another title berth.
Circle: at Winfield on Sept. 8
Last season Circle ended its long losing streak against Winfield at home with a 28-14 victory. The matchup once again comes early in the season and gives the T-Birds a great chance to start off the season with some momentum. But this time Circle will have to travel on the road, where it hasn’t won since 2012.
Maize South: vs. Buhler on Sept. 22
Yes, the Augusta game and road trip to Andover Central will be difficult tests in the district season. But if we’re talking about the biggest game of the year, it’s no doubt that Maize South will be hype for a rematch against Buhler — the team that ended its run in the state semifinals last season — in Week 4. The matchup should pit two of the top 4A I teams in the state and be an early indication if the Mavericks have the firepower to contend for another title run this season.
McPherson: at Maize South on Sept. 8
McPherson will once again be a heavy favorite in its district to win the title, so the importance shifts to how it will start the season. It doesn’t get much tougher than back-to-back road trips to Buhler and Maize South. That’s why the Week 2 game against Maize South is so important. Either McPherson will be desperately looking to avoid an 0-2 hole to start the season or it will be looking to make a huge statement to start the season that it will be a 4A I title contender.
Winfield: vs. Wellington on Oct. 13
There’s no doubt the biggest game of the season for Winfield will be when Wellington comes into town for the first week of district play. The winner of that game will get an early leg-up in the district race and have a chance to punch a playoff ticket with a win the next two weeks against Ulysses and Mulvane.
Andale: vs. Buhler on Oct. 13
The road trip to Collegiate will be a must-see game the week before, but there’s no denying the home date against Buhler will be the most important game. The district title will likely be on the line between these two powerhouses with the winner being rewarded with a home game in the first round of the playoffs and the loser being forced to go on the road. As Andale experienced last season, playing on the road in the first round can not be fun.
Clearwater: vs. Trinity Academy on Oct. 20
It’s going to be tough to upset Collegiate on the road in the first week of the district play, so this Week 8 matchup at home against Trinity will be crucial to Clearwater’s playoff chances. It’s basically a must-win situation to give the Indians an opportunity to play for a playoff spot the final week of the season with another home date against Nickerson.
Collegiate: vs. Andale on Oct. 6
The bad news is that Collegiate’s schedule is probably one of the toughest in Class 4A II with games against Hoisington, Buhler, Mulvane, and Andale on the docket all before district season. Throw in three competitive teams in district play and Collegiate will have its hands full. But Andale has quickly become a nice little rivalry game for Collegiate and it will shape how Collegiate enters the district season. A win here could establish Collegiate as the team to beat in 4A II.
El Dorado: at Rose Hill on Sept. 29
It’s going to be a tough ask to knock off Buhler or Andale in district play to reach the playoffs, but El Dorado can still piece together a winning season. The Wildcats took three wins last season and can add to that by repeating last year’s wins, then gaining redemption over Clearwater and Rose Hill. The road test at the Rockets in Week 5 will be a key date to see if El Dorado can push for its first winning record in more than a decade.
Mulvane: at Andale on Sept. 15
Mulvane graduated a huge senior class that leaves plenty of questions for this season. But the Wildcats have one of the top playmakers around in Jayden Price at quarterback, which should give them a chance in every game. Mulvane will get its measuring stick early in the season with a Week 3 road trip to Andale to kick off a brutal four-week stretch of games: at Andale, Collegiate, at Maize South, and at Conway Springs. If Mulvane can show some promise against Andale, then it could set itself up for another playoff run later in the year.
Rose Hill: vs. Andover Central on Oct. 13
Rose Hill is in a tough district looking up at Central, Maize South, and Augusta. The only way the Rockets are going to have a chance is if they win their first district game at home against the Jaguars. If Rose Hill can register the victory here, then it will give itself a chance to punch its ticket to the playoffs with a win the next two weeks.
Wellington: at Winfield on Oct. 13
The rivalry game will kick off district play with the winner having a leg-up to challenge for a playoff berth. Mulvane and Ulysses are looking like the favorites, so if Wellington can go on the road here and claim a big rivalry victory then it will have a chance to punch its ticket to the playoffs in the following weeks.
CENTRAL PLAINS LEAGUE
Belle Plaine: vs. Douglass on Oct. 13
Competing in the rugged Central Plains League is a tough ask, but Belle Plaine will likely have a chance to qualify for the 3A playoffs in this district. Last season the Dragons comfortably took care of Bluestem, so if they can repeat that victory then that means they will have a chance to secure a playoff berth with a win over Douglass at home in the first week of the district.
Chaparral: at Conway Springs on Oct. 26
It’s not a secret that District 10, featuring Chaparral, Cheney, Conway Springs, and Garden Plain, is among the hardest to qualify out of in Class 3A. All four teams could be among the 10 best teams in the class and it’s possible Chaparral and Conway Springs are the two highest-rated teams entering the season. Not only could this game decide who qualifies for the playoffs and who stays home, but it could also decide the CPL title.
Cheney: vs. Chaparral on Oct. 13
If Cheney is going to survive in this ridiculously loaded district, then it needs to take care of its only home game of the three. Beating Chaparral in the first week of district play would significantly boost Cheney’s chances of qualifying and set the Cardinals up with a chance to secure a playoff berth potentially with a road win at Conway Springs or at Garden Plain the following two weeks.
Conway Springs: vs. Chaparral on Oct. 26
This should be a meeting with two of the best teams in the CPL and could have league title implications. But more importantly, this game could be a loser-stays-home matchup in such a difficult district. Last season Conway Springs finished 2-1 in the district and still stayed home thanks to a 33-8 loss at Chaparral that cost it in the point tiebreaker. Conway Springs will be looking for redemption and a return trip to the playoffs.
Douglass: at Belle Plaine on Oct. 13
If Douglass is going to make a return trip to the playoffs, then a win in the first week of district play at Belle Plaine would all but lock it up. The Bulldogs would still have a chance to knock off Independent if it lost on the road to Belle Plaine, but the much easier path is beating the Dragons and then taking care of business on the road at Bluestem in the final week of the season to nab another playoff berth.
Garden Plain: at Chaparral on Oct. 20
The rivalry game against Conway Springs at home the first week of district play will be a big one, but the second district game at Chaparral is more crucial to Garden Plain. The Owls will have a chance to either move to 2-0 or pick up its first win. A loss and an 0-2 start would all but eliminate Garden Plain, so picking up a win in either one of these first two games will be huge for Garden Plain if it wants to return to the playoffs.
Independent: at Douglass on Oct. 20
Last season Douglass was the only team to give Independent a challenge, as it combined to defeat Bluestem and Belle Plaine 90-6. It’s looking likely that the Panthers will make it back to the 3A playoffs, but will it have to go on the road or host again in the first round? A win on the road at Douglass in Week 8 would all but lock up the district title in Eric Swenson’s first year calling plays.
Medicine Lodge: vs. Remington on Oct. 27
Medicine Lodge lost four games last season by seven points or less, as it finished with an 0-9 record. Ending that losing streak will be the No. 1 priority for the Indians and if they’re able to do that then the Week 9 matchup against Remington could have some importance for Medicine Lodge.
Trinity Academy: vs. Nickerson on Oct. 13
Will Trinity stay home for the playoffs or will it punch its ticket after playing a rigorous Central Plains League schedule? That will likely be decided when it matches up with Nickerson, a team that will be vying for that second berth after Collegiate being the heavy favorite. A win over Nickerson would set Trinity up for the playoffs with a win on the road the next week over Clearwater. But a win in Week 7 is a must.
CENTRAL KANSAS LEAGUE
Halstead: vs. Pratt on Oct. 6
Last season pratt handed the Dragons their only loss in the regular season. It’s looking like Halstead will once again be a favorite to advance out of its district, so this Week 6 matchup against Pratt at home will likely be the biggest game of the season. Halstead could have a shot to win the CKL title outright with a win over Pratt, not to mention the momentum boost it would provide heading into the Class 3A playoffs.
Haven: at Sterling on Oct. 20
The Wildcats were outscored 149-36 in three games last season in district play with all 36 points coming against Sterling. It’s going to be difficult to catch either Halstead or Hutch Trinity, but if Haven can somehow win a shootout this year against Sterling in the second week of district play then it could have an outside chance of qualifying for the Class 3A playoffs with an upset in the finale against Hutch Trinity.
Hesston: vs. Southeast-Saline on Oct. 20
Southeast-Saline was the only team in district play last season that challenged Hesston before the Swathers had their run to the state title game. If the Swathers are going to return to the 3A playoffs and host a game in the first round, then beating Southeast-Saline at home in the second week of district play is going to be a must.
Hillsboro: vs. Marion on Oct. 20
Hillsboro beat Southeast-Saline last season, so if it can somehow beat Marion then it will likely qualify for the 3A playoffs. The good news is that Hillsboro will host Marion in the second week of district play. A win there and Hillsboro will have a shot to qualify in the final week of the season with a road trip to Southeast-Saline.
Hoisington: vs. Pratt on Sept. 29
Hoisington was the only team to hand Pratt a defeat during its inspired run to the Class 4A II championship. Injuries derailed what was shaping up as a special undefeated season for Hoisington in last year’s 3A playoffs. Hoisington will again be a favorite to advance out of its district, so a Week 5 matchup against Pratt should be an intriguing game between two of the best in the CKL with league title implications.
Kingman: at Hillsboro on Sept. 8
Last season Kingman played a thriller at home against Hillsboro in an overtime classic that it ultimately prevailed in. If the Eagles can repeat that magic and pick up a big win in Week 2, then they can start to build some momentum that they will need to end the season in a tough district featuring Holcomb, Hugoton, and Pratt.
Larned: vs. Ellsworth on Oct. 26
A return trip to the 3A playoffs for Larned likely rests in its ability to win in the final week of the regular season. Last season Larned punched its ticket with a dominant performance on the road at Ellsworth and even won in the first round of the playoffs. To make a repeat run, then Larned will have to take care of business against Ellsworth.
Lyons: vs. Minneapolis on Sept. 15
Ending the losing streak should be the first priority for Lyons this season. Last year it gave Minneapolis a challenge playing on the road. This year Lyons gets Minneapolis at home in Week 3 of the season and that could be a chance to pick up the first win on the season and end an 11-game losing streak entering the 2017 season.
Nickerson: at Trinity Academy on Oct. 13
The CKL is sure to prepare Nickerson for its district play and the first game might be the most important. Collegiate will be the odds-on favorite to win, so that means to secure that second berth then Nickerson will have to take care of business on the road against a quality Trinity side. A win here would be a crucial boost to Nickerson’s chances of qualifying for the playoffs.
Pratt: at Holcomb on Oct. 20
The home date against Hugoton the week before will kick off district play and be huge for Pratt. But regardless of that result, this one will be more important for Pratt as it will try to recreate last season’s magical run to the 4A II championship. Pratt vs. Holcomb could be two of the top teams in the division and could be the difference of going on the road or staying at home in the first round of the playoffs for Pratt.
Smoky Valley: at Clay Center on Oct. 27
The final game of district play for Smoky Valley could either be a win-or-go-home scenario or a winner-takes-the-title situation. Last season the Vikings swept through the district and earned a first-round home game, which it ended up winning. But Smoky Valley survived two close games and it will have to do that again this season to make another run in the playoffs.
HEART OF AMERICA
Ell-Saline: vs. Republic County on Oct. 13
Last season a promising early start to the season fell apart, as Ell-Saline ended with five straight losses. If this team can get off to a good start in district play with a win in Week 7 over Republic County at home, then Ell-Saline could set itself up to challenge for a playoff berth.
Hutch Trinity: vs. Sterling on Oct. 13
Hutch Trinity finished with a winning record last season, but failed to qualify for the playoffs thanks to a large defeat on the road to Sterling. Hutch Trinity took care of Haven easily last season, so if the Celtics can find a way to get past Sterling this time at home then they will have a great chance at advancing to the 3A playoffs.
Inman: vs. Remington on Oct. 13
Last season Inman lost out on a playoff berth on a point tiebreaker, as three teams tied with a 2-2 record in district play. The Teutons can avoid a tiebreaker if it can finish with a 3-1 record and that means revenging its non-Sedgwick loss from last season against Remington. This year Inman gets Remington at home in Week 7 and a win here could lock up a playoff berth before Inman has to face Sedgwick on the road in the season finale.
Marion: at Southeast-Saline on Oct. 13
Even if Marion loses its game, it will still have a chance to get back to the playoffs with wins the following two weeks with the finale coming against Hesston at home. But the Warriors can all but lock up a berth before that Hesston game if it can defeat Southeast-Saline on the road, then take care of business like it did last year against Hillsboro.
Moundridge: vs. Medicine Lodge on Oct. 20
Moundridge only won two of its first eight games last season, but it was enough to punch a ticket to the Class 2-1A playoffs. Can the Wildcats repeat that kind of fortune this season? It might come down to a home game against Medicine Lodge, its final district game, in Week 8 to pick up a big win to help with its point-tiebreaker.
Remington: vs. Moundridge on Sept. 29
Remington only won two games last season, but nearly made the Class 2-1A playoffs if it wasn’t for a points tiebreaker. The Broncos can avoid their season coming down to that with a win over Moundridge at home in Week 5 in its first district game of the season. A win here would set Remington up on a fast start and if it can take care of business against Inman and Medicine Lodge, then it would lock up the second playoff berth.
Sedgwick: vs. Cheney on Sept. 29
Sedgwick is the heavy favorite to win its district this season, so this non-district game against a quality Class 3A team will be the most intriguing of the year. Last season Cheney overwhelmed Sedgwick, but Sedgwick returns most of its talent this season and should give Cheney a better game. A win or at least a competitive performance here could give Sedgwick the credibility as a legitimate threat in Class 2-1A.
Sterling: at Hutch Trinity on Oct. 13
Sterling beat up on Hutch Trinity and Haven last season to secure a playoff berth. But this year Hutch Trinity will be improved and looking for revenge now that the series shifts to its home field. If the Black Bears are going to return to the playoffs in coach Derek Schneider’s first season, then a win on the road at Hutch Trinity is a likely requirement.