Logan coming down, they’re the team to beat. They have a great quarterback, they have a great offense. – Judge coach James Cordova

Southern Utah schools have dominated the 3AA landscape recently. In the past two years alone seven of the eight semifinalists have been from down South, with the past four state champions also hailing from that way.

However, the potential is there for a Northern renaissance this year.

The addition of Logan and Judge, in the latest round of realignment by the UHSAA, definitely strengthens the 3AA North region. Logan has been a perennial contender in 4A through the years, winning a state title as recently as 2011.

Judge, meanwhile, is coming off back-to-back state titles in the smaller 3A classification and is anxious to test itself against the bigger schools.

Those two programs alone give 3AA North some clout, but so do some of the holdovers. Tooele is a program on the rise under coach Kyle Brady while Park City expects to step out of rebuilding mode this year.

Stansbury will be right in the mix again. Had it not been for a couple of costly mistakes in last year’s quarterfinal loss to Dixie, it could’ve easily been Stansbury lifting the championship trophy instead of eventual-champ Dixie.

Stansbury coach Clint Christiansen is optimistic that the addition of two quality teams to the region, and the likely step forward from several other programs, will collectively help 3AA North compete better with 3AA South.

“The St. George teams, week in and week out, their games are so close and the competition is so heated down there they’re used to playing at that level,” said Christiansen.

Stansbury won last year’s 3AA North title with a perfect 6-0 record, and only Tooele put up much of a fight. The other five games all featured a mercy-rule running clock at some point in the second half.

That lack of experience in close games might’ve contributed to Stansbury blowing a 42-14 lead in last year’s quarterfinal loss to Dixie.

Only a handful of starters from that team returns, but Christiansen said the group coming in has had an excellent summer and has showed a ton of fight and tenacity.

“It’s going to be fun. I’m excited for our young bunch. It’s been a long time since I had a young bunch. Sometimes as a coach there’s more pressure on you when you have a huge returning crew,” said Christiansen.

Logan was a near unanimous choice by the region’s coaches as the team to beat, and justifiably so as coach Mike Favero has led the program to a 48-10 record the past five years in 4A.

“Logan coming down, they’re the team to beat. They have a great quarterback, they have a great offense,” said Judge coach James Cordova. “It doesn’t matter where you put Mike. If you put Mike in 5A he’d be competitive. He’s one of the best high school coaches out there.”

Every team in 3AA North will have to step up to try and compete with Logan this season, which should help the league’s teams compete in November's playoffs.

Favero said the expectations surrounding his program are of no consequence this time of year.

“Anybody that tries to make a prediction of this year’s success based upon previous teams is purely guessing. It’s a compliment, not an accomplishment,” he said.

Logan’s strength could be its defense with seven returning starters, even though its quarterback could emerge as a star. Hunter Horsley started the final three games last season, and heading into his senior year Favero compares his athleticism to that of D.J. Nelson, who led Logan to the title in 2011.

While rival Stansbury, along with Logan and Judge garner most of the headlines, Tooele continues to quietly fly under the radar. It might not for much longer.

With seven starters returning and six on defense, the Buffaloes are in great position to take the next step as a program as Brady heads into his fifth year as head coach.

“Last year we won the games we were supposed to win and we lost a few close ones that we could’ve won. This year our goal is to win those close games and maybe take the next step and beat some of those top tier programs,” said Brady.

Judge, meanwhile, isn’t as deep as it was the past two years, but it’s a big team and has quite a few starters back as it prepares to face tougher competition week in and week out.

Deseret News projections for 3AA North football teams in 2015

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. LOGAN: Known for its offense through the years, Logan’s defense could be the strength this season, at least early on. Seven starters are back from last year’s team, led by defensive lineman Levi Atuatasi, Troy Murray and Richie Mendez, and three more starters in the secondary, including Eric Laub and Clay Thompson. Offensively, Hunter Horsley returns at QB after starting the final three games last season, and coach Mike Favero praises him as an excellent runner and a good passer. Receiver Hartman Rector returns as well after racking up 735 yards and seven TDs last year. Spencer Corbett is back at WR too, and he’ll be expected to take on a larger role in the offense as will new receivers Kaden Jones and Devin Palmaffy-Marion. 2014 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Skyline 29-13 in 4A first round.

2. STANSBURY: With only a handful of starters returning from last season, the Stallions are looking forward and not back at last year’s gut-wrenching playoff loss to Dixie. Stansbury will have five new starters on the offensive line this season, but coach Clint Christiansen isn’t too concerned about the inexperience because the group is talented. McCoy Didericksen is a returning starter at fullback and linebacker and will be one of the focal points of everything the Stallions do. At wingback, there are four very talented players battling for playing time. Defensively, Brennen Calder and Steven Havili are both returning starters on the D-line, with Jordan Roberts moving from the defensive line to linebacker. 2014 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Dixie 49-42 in 3AA quarterfinals.

3. TOOELE: A disappointing playoff loss soured a successful regular season last year for Tooele, and the players are hungry to make amends. With seven returning starters offensively and six defensively, the potential is there to compete for the region title. Ryan Brady and Nate Reynolds are both back after combining for nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 18 TDs last year. An experienced O-line with four starters returns in front of them with Taejohn Koffel, Colton Jensen, Carson Connelly and Donnevin Glaser. In games against upper-tier teams in 3AA last year, Tooele’s defense wasn’t that good. Unheralded linebackers Gunner Clegg and Ty Allred will try and solidify that side of the ball. 2014 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Cedar 34-22 in 3AA first round.

4. JUDGE: The two-time 3A champs are bumping up a classification to 3AA, and there are definitely some question marks. Last year’s team was led by six seniors who were three-year starters, but their departure has created many schools to fill. There’s a strong foundation returning on the line though, with big, physical guards Jacob Cline and Maisen Knight. Kelsin Pupunu and Sport Falemaka are returning contributors in the backfield, but Pupunu is in competition with Sam Garcia for the QB job. Two players who will be key are Keola Palau and Tofa Faingaa. Both will see time at fullback in the flex bone offense, and then both are critical to Judge’s defensive success. 2014 RECORD: 12-1. PLAYOFFS: Beat Juab 63-14 in 3A championship.

5. BEAR RIVER: The Bears are trying to simplify things a bit this year both offensively and defensively in hopes of being more competitive and avoiding quite so many blowouts. The strength offensive will be on the line with returning starters Hayden Hammons, Ben Navejas and Griffin Southern. Also returning offensively is leading rusher Gage Kaneko (605 yards) and leading receiver Bridger Beus (543 yards). Defense is where the biggest improvements need to be made, and Wade Detwiler will be at the heart of the hopeful turnaround. A starter himself last year, he’s expected to pick up the slack for the departure of leading tackler McKade Mitton. Defensive lineman Josh Madsen is another key piece for the Bears. 2014 RECORD: 5-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Desert Hills 56-13 in 3AA quarterfinals.

6. PARK CITY: The Miners took their lumps last year, but coach Mike Shepherd is cautiously optimistic his team can take the next step this year. Last season Park City couldn’t stop the run at all, allowing roughly 282 rushing yards per game. With an extra year of maturity an experience, returning starting defensive lineman Eli Alford and Parker Shea, along with returning linebackers Grayson Maddux and Jackson Burton hope to turn last year’s weakness into a strength. Seven starters return offensively, including three on the line with Shea, Alford and Cameron Gallagher. If Maddux can stay healthy in the backfield, he should benefit from that experience. Spencer Zur started the last couple games at QB last year, and Shepherd said he’s a calm player poised for a strong season. 2014 RECORD: 2-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hurricane 49-28 in 3AA first round.

7. BEN LOMOND: Entering his second-year as head coach, Eric Alder is encouraged by the progress this summer and fully expects his team to be more competitive this year. Six starters return offensively for the Scots, including Sean Smith and Jelani Williams, along with junior QB Kenyon Harris. Two of Ben Lomond’s top skill position players also return: RB Angelo Rios and WR Deontay Nish. Defensively this team allowed 42 ppg in its nine losses, but there’s more experience this year with five starters back, which includes defensive linemen Israel Garcia, Kadence Rentmeister and Alex Gray. 2014 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.