The Preseason Elite 8

And, finally, we  take a step back from the statewide scene to give you power rankings of the top regional football teams.

As  usual, it wasn’t an easy list to compile. We tried to hit scrimmages of all our top local programs.  We looked at the returning starters and tried to spy the best incoming talent. We talked to a few coaches, players, fans and fellow media.

This is what we came up with… for now.

1. Notre Dame-West Haven

No shock here. I saw them scrimmage Ansonia (which looks to be down with only one senior) and the Green Knights’ players looked sharp. Goldrich is legit, Young-Williams is a bolt of lightning, Rose is a bulldozer. Sure, there are some issues on the line. I’m supremely confident Coach Tom Marcucci will have them whipped into shape in time for Xavier on Friday night.

2. Masuk

Another team I’m absolutely raving about. With Casey Cochran having fun at the controls, Colin Markus alongside in the backfield and a good cadre of returning receivers, the Panthers’ offense will be as strong as ever. It’s that defense that puts Masuk over the top.  Saw it action vs. Shelton and… wow. Just wow.

3. New Canaan

With its yearly heavy turnover, I traditionally rank New Canaan low.  Not this time. They lost a lot to graduation, yes. But when has that ever been a problem for Lou Marinelli? I love the star players. They’ll lead the young’uns through another fine season.  There will be some bumps, especially with a new QB. But this program has proven itself over and over and over and over again. You just can’t pick against them. I should know. I try every year and get burned every year.

(Of course, this is the season NC goes 5-5. Watch.)

4. Staples

It was tough picking between the Wreckers and the Rams. So I just flipped a coin and wound up sticking  Staples a notch below. They’ve got just as much talent as their rivals, especially with Jason Mawicke joining the fray. The Staples’ D should be as stubborn as always and, yeah, here are some questions offensively (new QB, no Ryan Burke).  But in all the year’s I’ve covered Staples, it has never been  a team that typically wins with offense anyway.

5. St. Joseph

They might have been 3 were it not for the Matakevich injury. Maybe. Still, Della Vecchia is a strong QB and he has some weapons with which to work. So they offense will be fine. It’s SJ’s defense you worry about. Only three starters return on a unit that was going to almost depend on Matakevich making big plays. Until he returns, defense could be a serious problem. But, in the meantime, we’re giving St. Joe the benefit of the doubt and say they’ll win their early games via shootout.

6. Greenwich

The injuries worry me, but I caught Greenwich against Hamden last weekend and they looked solid. They were whoopin’ and hollerin’ about getting some payback for all the wrongs they suffered through last year. The front seven is strong, the backup QB throws a nice ball. Even on a bad day, Greenwich can beat 75 percent of the teams in the FCIAC. They should run over their early-season schedule before facing Trumbull. Then, we’ll see how they stack up. Regardless, having “Greenwich” stitched on their jerseys earns them a spot on the list.

7. Newtown

Caught Newtown vs. Norwalk (which looked improved, by the way). With the Brookfield coaches watching from the stands, Newtown didn’t tip their hands. So, I couldn’t get a good feel for the Nighthawks as a team. Then again, that season-ending upset of Masuk continues to stick in my head. The new QB can throw, the backs are good and the lines are strong. They have weapons. A couple SWC coaches even confirmed my thoughts. I don’t know if Newtown is Masuk-good…yet, but I can’t think of another SWC team of their caliber. So here they are.

8. Darien

The only team on the list I didn’t see in the preseason. But people I trust are raving about the Blue Wave. What’s not to like? They have a veteran team, they’re well-coached and the schedule isn’t rough at all. I’m guessing it wins at least 7 games, if not more, and return to the state playoffs — which is what we ultimately use as a measuring stick for these rankings. So, with that prediction in hand: Darien is No. 8.

AS FOR THE REST… I think Trumbull has good returning talent and will be better offensively than it was for most of last year. …Bunnell, Brookfield, Pomperaug and Bethel, I really couldn’t choose between the four. Of them, I think Bethel might be a stretch here. But, seeing how they shocked everyone a year ago, I gave them a nod. …Pomperaug was banged up when I saw them, but they’re well coached and I like the Maxen twins, so they get a spot. …Saw Bunnell‘s team speed on display vs. Wilton. They’re going to be a tough team to take out. …Brookfield has some impressive upcoming talent, not to mention passion. They’ll be in the mix. …It was easy to throw Ridgefield in here because of Jordan, McCarty and the schedule. If they can beat Staples in Week 3, this pick will pay for itself. …Central lost big-time players in Christon Gill and Ernest Wiggins (what’s the over-under on how many times they’ll have to hear that this season?) but they have Shabazz McIntosh and are typically big and strong. Can’t wait until they play Trumbull again. By then, we should know what the Hilltoppers are made of. …Finally, Shelton looks like it might struggle early but I really never like to leave them far out of consideration. The Gaels have potential to be the third- or fourth-best team in the SCC this year. I’m not sure about them against Wilbur Cross on Friday.

There were, maybe, 5 more teams I thought about adding, but I think this is a decent enough preseason list. Watch this thing go cuckoo after Week 1.  Never fails.

Sean Patrick Bowley