1. HOW MANY KIDS WILL SIGN DIVISION-I SCHOLARSHIPs?
COTEY: Four. I'll go with the obvious - Alton Voss, Joe Weatherford and Sederrik Cunningham. But I think one more guy will emerge this season that will surprise everyone and catch the fancy of the Mid-American Conference.
GOULD: At least three quarterbacks: Gulf's Voss (orally committed to USF), Land O'Lakes' Weatherford and Zephyrhills' Cunningham. Cunningham is being pursued as an athlete.
LEE: Two, Voss and Weatherford. A double threat to pass or run as a quarterback, Voss is the county's most versatile quarterback. Still, he could wind up as a Division I safety. Weatherford has the size and arm strength to at least be taken by a Division I team. Another stellar season by Land O'Lakes receiver Develin Robinson could make it three - if he can maintain his grades.
2. WILL WEST PASCO TEAMS CONTINUE TO HAVE SUCCESS?
COTEY: Gulf will. Mitchell ought to be in the mix. As far as Hudson, hard to say how far it will fall after last year's great season. If the Cobras just trip and stumble a bit, that would make it three pretty solid teams out west. River Ridge and Ridgewood have better days ahead.
GOULD: It depends where you draw the county line running north to south. If you say it falls east of 41, then yes. Gulf, Mitchell and Hudson have proven head coaches. Talent is another issue. The Cobras' success in 2005, the Buccaneers' promising 2006 and the Mustangs' consistency have proven west teams can win. There's also a promising coach at River Ridge in Tim Stevens, and Chris Taylor at Ridgewood seems to have the Rams headed in the right direction.
LEE: If you're talking about the postseason, at least one westside school should. Gulf is a virtual playoff lock. Mitchell is a long shot and would need an all-world season out of quarterback Tate Humphrey to make the postseason. Hudson faces a major rebuilding effort while Ridgewood and River Ridge may not make it to .500.
3. CAN PASCO REBOUND FROM A 2-8 SEASON?
COTEY: Isn't Pasco the perennial "8-2 or 2-8" team? Flip a coin.
GOULD: Talking to players, there seems to be a new attitude at Pasco. Some coaching changes and the typical talent should have this group in the playoff hunt.
LEE: Sure. If nothing else, year after year there is ample talent to work with. Discipline issues, however, always surface and sometimes keep the Pirates from advancing farther than they could.
4. WHO WILL WIN THE SUNSHINE ATHLETIC CONFERENCE TITLE?
COTEY: The easy pick is Land O'Lakes, with a strong returning quarterback, very good wide receivers, a nice touch of depth and the coaching of John Benedetto. Me, I'll throw Gulf out there for kicks. Voss has his college pick out of the way, which should make the senior signal caller relaxed and revved up for a big 2006.
GOULD: Land O'Lakes. The Gators almost went undefeated during the 2005 regular season. The loss of Caz Piurowski is huge, but the addition of receiver Dontarrius Thomas should help quarterback Weatherford with complement to primary target Robinson.
LEE: Who cares since it has no bearing on the playoffs, but if I must choose it likely will be Land O'Lakes. Weatherford and Robinson return as the county's leading passer and receiver, but what makes the Gators a favorite to win conference is their strength in two other areas. The offensive line is deep and three of four linebackers return.
5. TEAMS WITH THE BEST SHOT TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
COTEY: Land O'Lakes and Gulf are in. Book it. Start printing tickets now. (Oh, yes, the coaches will love that.) I think I like Pasco, only because Izzy Gould likes Pasco, and he predicted Floyd Landis would win the Tour de France, then be stripped of his title before the bike race even started, sooooo ...
GOULD: Land O'Lakes, Gulf and Pasco. Anything short of the postseason for the Gators and Bucs is unacceptable. Pasco has shed its 2005 image and improved in almost every area. The Pirates' success will greatly depend on how they play in the early weeks.
LEE: Land O'Lakes should win 5A-5 or at worst finish as district runnerup. Gulf and Pasco should nail down the top two spots in 3A-8. With a few breaks, a high-powered offense and Chalecki's sound knee, Wesley Chapel could make it in 5A-5.
6. WHAT's THE GAME OF THE YEAR?
COTEY: Gould and Lee say Wharton-LOL, but come on. That's not even an intracounty game. Maybe I'm just old school, but I'm seeing the season finale between Gulf and Land O'Lakes as the classic East vs. West battle. Not to mention it will decide the SAC champ and it's Weatherford vs. Voss. One of those guys wants to be remembered as the county's best in 2006. Think maybe this game will help settle that?
GOULD: Wharton at Land O'Lakes. Both teams are loaded with talent and return most players from last year's game. This was the game of the year last season along with Gulf-Pasco.
LEE: Here's a second for the Wharton-Land O'Lakes game. The Wildcats won by a point to prevent the Gators from going unbeaten last season. This time, Land O'Lakes has Wharton transfer Thomas, whom I predict will catch the winning pass against his former teammates.
7. WHICH PLAYER WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT?
COTEY: Mitchell quarterback Tate Humphrey will have to guide one of the greenest teams in the county, which means as he goes, so go the Mustangs. If Humphrey delivers like coach Scott Schmitz expects him to, things will be all right at Mitchell. If not, well ...
GOULD: Gulf's Voss. His versatility helps him drive the offense. He has the respect of his offensive line. And he is the best kept county secret on defense.
LEE: Voss and Weatherford are expected to lead their teams to the playoffs. Chalecki, however, will be the most valuable to his team. If he has no setbacks from last season's knee injury, the intense linebacker puts the Wildcats on his back and leads them back to the postseason.
8. WHICH TEAM WILL FALL FARTHEST?
COTEY: Hudson. Bye-bye, 20 seniors; hello, rebuilding.
GOULD: Hudson. After a remarkable 10-3 campaign, the Cobras lost 20 seniors and are in rebuilding mode. Despite coach Mark Nash and his ability to motivate, he has a roster filled with unproven players.
LEE: The Cobras, though it is hardly unexpected for last year's senior-laden team that won the first playoff game in school history. Too much inexperience, too many players to replace.
9. WHO WILL BE COACH OF THE YEAR?
COTEY: It's hard to pick against Benedetto any year, but variety is the spice of life and with my writing partners in lockstop, I'm going with Jay Fulmer at Gulf.
GOULD: Benedetto. In his 30th season at Land O'Lakes, the Gators coach will lead his players to their 10th consecutive playoff appearance and a shot at the Class 5A, District 5 title.
LEE: Benedetto, but not for extending the school's postseason streak to 10. The recognition will come for having the Gators ready to win in the playoffs and for advancing farther than any county team.
10. CAN TIM STEVENS TURN RIVER RIDGE AROUND?
COTEY: The good news is he can't do any worse. The bad news is, these things take time. Sometimes, a long, loooong time.
GOULD: Of course. The Royal Knights enjoyed success under Scott Schmitz in the 1990s. There's no reason Stevens can't mount a turnaround, especially after being mentored by Benedetto.
LEE: Not this year. No matter how successful he was with or how many unbeaten seasons (three) he had with the Land O'Lakes junior varsity, nothing could prepare Stevens for the daunting task of rebuilding a downtrodden program like River Ridge. Give him at least two seasons to get his kind of players in place.
- IZZY GOULD, JOHN C. COTEY, STEVE LEE, Times staff writers