There’s a conversation swirling out there that Bishop Carroll football coach Alan Schuckman would rather not participate in right now.
Which Carroll team is better: 2012 or 2014?
“Well, 2014 is still unfinished business,” Schuckman said. “I won’t compare them until it’s over.”
Understood. Carroll (10-0) plays host to Heights (8-2) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 5A quarterfinals. There’s still potentially three games remaining for Carroll this season. The 2012 team won the 5A title.
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But take a look at what Carroll has done this season as it makes its case for not only being Schuckman’s best team but one of the best in Kansas history.
Carroll beat Heights 70-15 on Sept. 26, when they were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in 5A.
Carroll has outscored opponents 546-51.
Carroll has five shutouts, including three in the past three weeks.
Carroll beat Maize 69-7 on Oct. 17.
“I don’t know how they compare with the early 1980s teams,” said Maize coach Gary Guzman, who was an assistant at Kapaun and then coached at Kapaun and Southeast. “… I don’t know how they rank with those guys, but compared to anybody I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching in Wichita, they rank as one of the top teams, if not the top team I’ve seen.
“I’ve seen some really good Hutchinson teams, Dodge City, Salina (Central and Salina South), Derby.”
Now, that 2012 team was no slouch. Led by quarterback Zeke Palmer, the 2012 team outscored teams 682-157 and had three shutouts. They won the 5A title game 60-21 over Bishop Miege.
Palmer, a Top 11 selection along with defensive lineman Zach Befort, didn’t play an entire game because Carroll’s closest margin of victory was a 24-point win over Salina South in the 5A semifinals. Palmer completed 158 of 221 passes for 2,333 yards with 22 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 533 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Current Carroll quarterback Colton Howell has played into the fourth quarter once and has 550 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He has completed 88 of 150 passes for 1,098 yards and has 12 touchdowns, two interceptions.
The main differences between these teams comes down to the running game and defense.
In 2012, Carroll used two backs, Tory Smith and Jalen Hernandez. Current running back Denzel Goolsby has signed a non-binding commitment to play at Kansas State.
Goolsby has 1,328 rushing yards on 146 carries. He has 29 rushing touchdowns, 11 receptions and four touchdowns. He also has five punt returns for touchdowns, and one kickoff return touchdown.
Then there’s that defense.
Carroll’s defense has given up an average of 33 rushing yards and 65 passing. It has 14 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles.
When Valley Center’s coaches met on the Sunday heading into their game against Carroll on Oct. 31, coach Caleb Smith told his assistants that he didn’t see a weakness they could exploit.
“You literally cannot move the football against them,” Smith said. “Their defensive line is not blockable. Their linebackers are just really, really good.… Every single defensive player you could sit down and make a case for all-league. They’re just that good at every spot.”
Valley Center tried to get single coverage on the cornerbacks in an attempt to take away some run defenders. But the secondary is so strong, it didn’t work.
“You almost feel helpless as an offensive coordinator,” Smith said. “There’s nothing I can do to move the ball.”
Schuckman has difficulty naming his best defensive players.
“I could throw out names, and I’d be doing a disservice to the kids,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids that make plays that you don’t hear about on defense. Brendan Hallacy, the unsung hero. He’s a defensive lineman, two-year starter and he’s a quality player and makes a lot of plays.
“Steven Smoll, a corner. You don’t hear much about him because of (Mark) Quaney and (Josh) Hornback. The three linebackers that play well together.
“I think this is just a very good unit, and they play well together.”
The defense is so highly regarded that it might be what puts the 2014 team above the 2012 team. Although there is that pesky 5A title that still needs to be won.
“They’re executing far better than anything I’ve seen in 25 years I’ve been doing this,” Carroll announcer Marty McCormack said.
Taking the conversation one step further, it’s even more difficult to discern how Carroll stacks up against some of the area’s best teams.
Some of the teams in the conversation for best in Kansas include the 1977 Wichita Southeast team and the 2009 Hutchinson team.
Southeast was phenomenal, loaded with talent. Fifteen of its players were named to the 24-member All-City League team and three were Top 11 — Kevin Clinton, Doug Hoppock, Kerry Benton.
The 2009 Hutchinson team dominated — its closest game was a 21-point win over Carroll — and it had future college stars in Ben Heeney (Kansas) and Geneo Grissom (Oklahoma). Justin Goetz and Josh Smith were Top 11 selections.
Choosing the state’s best team is inevitably prejudiced by where one lives, what teams have been seen and the span of years watching high school football.
Carroll’s own fans may never agree on whether the 2012 or 2014 team is better.
“Here’s the deal,” said Randy Dreiling, who coached Hutchinson through its six straight state titles from 2004-2009 and is in his first year coaching St. Thomas Aquinas.
“We can’t even get it done at Hutch. Was the ’07 team just as good as the ’09 team? They saw both teams.
“They’re trying to do the impossible.”
So good luck, Carroll fans. If the Eagles win that 5A title, you’ve got years ahead of you to dissect and discuss and disagree.