Outlook: Despite graduating half of their starters, the Cardinals have a nest full of talent and should be a prime contender to take the A Conference title from Gilman, which they beat last season. They have a lot of speed and an experienced defensive line — and the offensive line gets a boost from a pair of Cardinal Gibbons transfers.
Coach: Ritchie Schell. Last season: 10-1, No. 12. Postseason: MIAA B Conference finalist.
Outlook: Expectations are high for the Lakers, who return 15 starters from a team that went undefeated before falling to Archbishop Spalding in the B Conference title game last season. They should once again have a strong running game, but it will be more balanced with more speed. The line has experience, but the Lakers are unproven at quarterback.
Coach: Roger Wrenn. Last season: 9-2, unranked. Postseason: Class 3A North regional semifinalist.
Outlook: Injuries to their quarterback and top running back helped doom the Engineers to a 10-8 loss to Franklin in the regional semis, but they should bounce back quickly with 11 returning starters and two solid transfers. They look strong in the skill positions on offense and, Wrenn said, "in the trenches" on defense.
Coach: Dom Damico. Last season: Last season: 8-2, No. 5. Postseason: N/A.
Outlook: The Eagles graduated key players but return strength on both lines and on defense. Despite lacking a lot of explosive offense, they could win a lot of low-scoring games if the defense lives up to its potential. Without the depth of some of their A Conference rivals, they must stay healthy.
Coach: Anthony Burgos. Last season: 9-3, unranked. Postseason: Class 3A North regional finalist.
Outlook: The Indians were young last season, starting a lot of juniors and five sophomores, but they should reap the rewards with these older and wiser players. In addition to one of the most versatile players in the area, Navassa Brown, enough guys return to make the Indians two deep at every position.
12. Eastern Tech
Coach: Marc Mesaros. Last season: 13-1, ranked No. 6. Postseason: Class 2A state champion.
Outlook: After graduating 15 starters from their first state title team, the Mavericks have some rebuilding to do, especially on the offensive line. A few offensive workhorses graduated, but the Mavericks still have a solid backfield led by running back Marquiese Bannister. Mesaros said building chemistry is key.
Coach: Lawrence Smith. Last season: 11-2, No. 9. Postseason: Class 1A state semifinalist.
Outlook: The Poets' run of four straight state titles ended last year despite a talented team's late-season surge. Few starters return, but talented youngsters are primed to take over. The secondary and the wide receivers appear to be the strengths, while offensive line and quarterback development will be critical.
Coach: Brian Abbott. Last season: 7-4, No. 15. Postseason: N/A.
Outlook: The Dons have lots of experience with seven starters returning each way, but several key positions need to be filled, including quarterback, where first-time starter Mike Fafaul takes over. With only 10 seniors, Abbott will be looking for leadership to emerge quickly to keep the Dons in the A Conference race.
15. Wilde Lake
Coach: Mike Harrison. Last season: 7-4, unranked. Postseason: Class 3A East regional semifinalist.
Outlook: The Wildecats return 17 starters and a lot of potential in the running game, but they will need to bolster their offensive line, which suffers the most from graduation. Without a lot of depth, especially at linebacker, they need to stay healthy to take a run at River Hill in the Howard County race.
OTHERS CONSIDERED: Annapolis (8-3, unranked), Atholton (10-2, No. 14), Chesapeake-BC (10-2, unranked), Hereford (10-2, No. 8), North Harford (8-3, unranked), South Carroll (9-3, unranked)