Prairie Ridge celebrates after defeating Hinsdale South, 38-14, in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs last season.
Prairie Ridge celebrates after defeating Hinsdale South, 38-14, in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs last season. — Matthew Apgar -

Optimism abounds around the state as football practices, along with those for other fall sports, begin.

Some teams will look to continue winning traditions; others will try to turn their programs around in the right direction.

The McHenry County area has flourished in recent years, with three state championships from Fox Valley Conference schools, and a state runner-up and semifinal appearance from Kishwaukee River schools.

Here are five storylines to watch for the 2019 local football season.

Another state champion?

Prairie Ridge won back-to-back Class 6A state titles in 2016 and 2017, then Cary-Grove won the 6A state championship last season.

The area never had three consecutive state champions before. Marian Central (1986, 1987) and Prairie Ridge are the only teams to win back-to-back titles.

So will any area team keep that streak alive this season?

Prairie Ridge is loaded with 16 returning starters from an 8-3 team, and C-G, although it lost a lot, has a strong tradition.

Huntley is always a factor in the FVC race and has a huge offensive line and plenty of talent, but the Red Raiders play in Class 8A, the most volatile group, for the playoffs.

Marengo, the KRC champion and a 4A quarterfinalist, and Richmond-Burton, the KRC runner-up and 4A semifinalist, will again be teams to reckon with in that class.

Those are some of the top candidates to end the season at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, where the title games are played this year.

FVC is locked in

The FVC welcomes Burlington Central into the league this year, which brings the membership back to 10 schools. That means there are no nonconference games in football.

That provides an advantage in that any team reaching five wins is guaranteed 40 playoff points. The cutoff has only reached 40 one time and only a few schools did not make it at 40.

The FVC was 3-6 in nonconference games last season. Burlington, with an enrollment of 1,063, will be much smaller than the other nonconference opponents last season.

FVC’s big three

Since the 2014 season, when the FVC was still split into two divisions, C-G, Huntley and Prairie Ridge have not finished lower than third in the league.

Prairie Ridge shared an FVC Fox Division title (2014) won one outright (2015), then won two FVC championships in a row when the FVC went back to one nine-team league.

C-G and Huntley shared the FVC Valley title in 2014, Huntley won it in 2015, then had FVC finishes of third, second and second. C-G was second, third and first in the FVC the past three seasons.

Those three look like the power of the league again this season, with perhaps Jacobs and Crystal Lake Central as the next best teams.

Crystal Lake South was the fourth FVC playoff team last season. With the conference-only schedule, the chances are better for five playoff teams.

New look for CCL/ESCC

Two of the state’s most powerful private-school conferences are joining forces for football, creating the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference with six four-team divisions.

The idea was to make things more equitable for the smaller schools in the CCL and ESCC by aligning them with schools of similar enrollment.

Marian Central is in the Purple Division with St. Viator, St. Patrick and Carmel. The Hurricanes, who were 3-6, have Johnsburg and Chicago Lindblom in nonconference games, then get St. Rita, defending Class 8A state champion Loyola, St. Ignatius and Marian Catholic in crossover games.

That schedule could be slightly more favorable for the Hurricanes than their rugged ESCC slate from last season that included 7A state champion Nazareth, 8A quarterfinalist Marist and 6A semifinalist Niles Notre Dame.

Who will rule in the KRC?

Marengo leaped from 2-7 in 2017 to 9-3 and the Class 4A playoff quarterfinals last season.

Richmond-Burton lost to Marengo by one point and took second to the Indians, then advanced to the Class 4A playoff semifinals.

They look like the teams to beat again in the KRC, where Johnsburg and Woodstock North also were playoff teams.

Marengo will lean on 1,700-yard rusher Finn Schirmer, one of the fastest players in the state, along with Jagger Ferden, an NCAA Division I prospect on the offensive line.

R-B running back-linebacker Dalton Wood led the Rockets in tackles last season and rushed for 1,164 yards, which was second on the team, and will be one of R-B’s leaders.