With four preseason games in the books, my opinions on how the region football wars will fare have changed some. With league games set to begin this week, I need to set the record straight.
Let's start at the top. The teams I expected to be the best will still be the best. But probably not in the order I originally thought.
My preseason picks in Region 4 were for American Fork to win the league crown and Lone Peak to finish second. I now think Lone Peak is the favorite and American Fork next in line. Basically, the Knights finishing preseason with a 3-1 record against four tough opponents shows me that they're going to be extremely difficult to beat — especially at home.
Lone Peak's experience, strength, defense and depth have been impressive. They're determining the style and tempo of the games. The Knights are also winning the turnover battles each week, a key ingredient to success in high school football.
Don't get me wrong. American Fork is still a very good team — especially in the skill positions. I just think the Cavemen are too mistake-prone and don't have the strength across the board to match Lone Peak.
The valley's big game of the year will still be the Oct. 14 game with the Cavemen playing at Lone Peak, and I think the energy will be so high for the Knights that it would take one incredible, but not impossible, effort for American Fork to come out ahead in that game. I think both will be undefeated in league play heading into that game, and it should be a war well worth watching. For the Cavemen to win, they'll have to pull a few big plays out of their hats, but they certainly have the players to do it.
In Region 7, Timpview is much better than I expected. The T-Birds have the best receiving corps in the valley, and their offensive schemes cause other teams fits. Some thought it would be a rebuilding year for the defending state champs, but not with that new offensive and defensive line they have. I'm not sure where they all came from, but I think I counted 10 linemen on their roster that were not there last season. The play of those big guys is a big reason for Timpview's success so far this year.
Orem started slow, very slow. But the Tigers are talented across the board, have the best linemen in the valley and have several good skill position players. Orem always plays Timpview tough, but the Tigers seem vulnerable to the quick-strike big play, and that's why I pick them to finish behind the T-Birds. The Oct. 7 game between the two, at Timpview, should decide the league title.
As for the rest of Region 4, Mountain View is much better than I predicted. The Bruins have a good running game and the state's best kicker in Brian Smith. Pleasant Grove is showing more depth and balance than I thought. The Vikings have been competitive in every game. Spanish Fork is not as powerful as anyone expected. The Dons have just had too many guys get hurt. Timpanogos is more talented than I thought, but injuries will also doom the Timberwolves.
Here's my updated predicted finish for Region 4: Lone Peak, American Fork, Mountain View, Spanish Fork, Pleasant Grove, Timpanogos.
The balance of Region 7 stacks up like this. Provo is capable of beating Orem or Timpview, but the Bulldogs probably won't. And they'll probably lose a game to either Springville, Lehi or Payson. But they're still the league's third-best team. The Red Devils, Lions and Pioneers will have a good fight for the region's fourth and final playoff spot.
Here's how I now see Region 7 shaking out: Timpview, Orem, Provo, Springville, Payson, Lehi. Actually, that's how I picked it a month ago.
Injury update: Here's the latest that I have from the coaches. Lone Peak — Trevor Tom (ankle sprain), week-to-week; Stephen Jensen (leg bruise), week-to-week; Lehi — Tyler Berry (hand), indefinitely; Colson Kelly (broken femur), indefinitely; Greg Smith (enlarged spleen), indefinitely; Orem — Gavin Jones (knee), week-to-week; Jeremy Bjarnson (knee), week-to-week; Timpview — Preston Phillips (ACL), possibly out for season; Timpanogos — Steve Vincent (ACL), out for season; Sam Thomas, week-to-week; Taylor Lyons, week-to-week; Nash Fowler, week-to-week; Springville — Derek Wright (ACL), out for season; Spanish Fork — Ikani Vaitohi (ACL), out for season.