Running back Qwynton Johnson sprints through a drill on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Providence Catholic High School in New Lennox, Ill.
Running back Qwynton Johnson sprints through a drill on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Providence Catholic High School in New Lennox, Ill. — Geoff Stellfox for Shaw Media

(Last year's records in parentheses)

St. Rita (7-6, 0-4 Chicago Catholic Blue) at Joliet Catholic (10-4, 4-3 East Suburban Catholic)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last matchup: Joliet Catholic 30, St. Rita 20 (2018)

About the Hilltoppers: Joliet Catholc had a tremendous bounceback season last year, punching their playoff ticket with a win in the final week of the season and rode that momentul all the way to the Class 5A Championship. But the Hilltoppers did so with a very senior dominated lineup so it will be interesting to see whether or not they can reload quickly. JCA had counted on a breakout season from then junior running back Kenyetta Williams who was sidelined for the season on the second offensive series of the year, look for him to breakout in a big way. The biggest thing to watch might be the play of the offensive line that replaces all but one starter from last year.

About the Mustangs: St. Rita is probably on everyone's radar as a sleeper team as a young team gelled late last season and made a run in the Prep Bowl Playoffs, winning that title with an easy victory over Taft in the title game. In the regular season things didn't go as smoothly as the as St. Rita started the season 1-4, which included the season-opening 30-20 loss to JCA. But several players return with valuable experience under their belts and the Mustangs have one of the more-eagerly anticipated regular season debuts (he only played in Prep Bowl games) coming from sophomore wide receiver Kaleb Brown, who already has offers from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Illinois.

Pick: Joliet Catholic

Providence (5-5, 1-3 Chicago Catholic Blue) at Willowbrook (11-1, 6-0 West Suburban Gold)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Mustangs: The Warriors have quietly built a bit of a monster program in the Western Suburbs having netted 29 wins over the last three seasons, including a quarterfinal appearance in last year's Class 7A playoffs. And there's still some pieces in place from that squad last year, most notably dual-threat quarterback Sam Tumulty. They might have trouble matching up with Providence in the trenches, but they very well could have an advantage with speed and athleticism.

About the Celtics: The Celtics aren't using it as an excuse, but their season was largely defined by injury last season. Several key players were sidelined for long stretches, which at the time was a gut punch they never totally recovered from. But the upside of those injuries was that a whole bunch of upperclassmen earned more playing time than they may have previously, and now Providence has a returning starter at nearly every position. Keep an eye out for tight end Jameson Geers whose recruitment exploded over the summer and is now drawing interest from many major Division I schools.

Pick: Providence

Joliet West (3-6 Southwest Prairie) at Minooka (7-2, 7-2 Southwest Prairie)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Minooka 17, Joliet West 6 (2018)

About the Indians: There's a ton of optomism around the Indians program and there's very good reason for it. A weatlh of experience returns for Minooka on both sides of the football, and while the Indians had a seven-game winning streak snapped in a loss in the opening round of the Class 8A playoffs, it came at the hands of the eventually state champions from Loyola. The skill positions should be manned by experienced players such as Seth Lehr at quarterback and running backs like Connor Etzkorn and Noah Ellens. Jake Shipla gives Minooka dynamic play on both sides of the football, particularly on the defensive line.

About the Tigers: This looks like a rough opening night draw for the Tigers, but they are determined to establish early on that they are a playoff capable team. In order to make that happen they will likely rely on what looks to be a potential strength in the trenches. Hunter Brooks leads the offensive line that has three returning starters, while Danarius Poole looks like a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball. Bill Lech feels like his defense is ahead of the offense and if he's right they will need to be sharp from the first whistle here.

Pick: Minooka

Joliet Central (3-6, 3-6 Southwest Prairie) at Yorkville (8-3, 2-2 Northern Illinois Big 12)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Foxes: Yorkville has experience and skill at the positions you like to have when entering a new conference. The Foxes are a new addition to the Southwest Prairie after playing in the Northern Illinois Big 12 a year ago. Quarterback Josh Beetham provides a steady hand to guide the offense, while South Dakota State recruit defensive back Cale Reeder should anchor a sturdy Yorkville defense.

About the Steelmen: Joliet Central will be counting on youthful exuberance to carry them along especially in the early going. First-year coach Fred Gandy admits he may be pressed into playing some sophomores regularly until some depth can be developed. Several key players are also moving around the field to fill voids in different position, the biggest one possibly being Andrew Murphy's conversion from wide receiver to quarterback. Murphy will have playmaking wide receiver Jaylin Berry as a primary option.

Pick: Yorkville

Plainfield Central (2-7, 2-7 Southwest Prairie) at Oswego (10-1, 9-0 Southwest Prairie)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Oswego 35, Plainfield Central 0 (2018)

About the Wildcats: Plainfield Central has considerable experience returning on both sides of the football, but the troubling fact of the matter is many of those returners, at least early on, may be looked upon to play on both sides of the football. The Wildcats do appear to have plenty of depth at the wide receiver position in Dillon Koty, Logan Palmiter and Brandon Shoemaker so finding a way for those players to get involved early and often in the offense will be a big key.

About the Panthers: Oswego is the king of the Southwest Prairie until proven otherwise after winning eight consecutive league titles. Graduation did hit hard, but certainly didn't leave the team barren. A huge anchor for the Panthers will be Northern Illinois bound defensive tackle Jack Hugunin, as an opposing coach declared him "the best high school defensive lineman he'd ever seen." Offensively, the Panthers will have to rebuild quite a bit, but has a good piece to build around in wide receiver Jack Lemke.

Pick: Oswego

Plainfield East (3-6, 3-6 Southwest Prairie) at Plainfield North (4-5, 4-5 Southwest Prairie)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Plainfield North 28, Plainfield East 20 (2018)

About the Tigers: Plainfield North suffered a number of close losses last year and this is exactly the sort of game that the Tigers will need to collect a win in if they hope to get themselves back into the playoff field. New coach Anthony Imbordino was given the keys to an offensive attack that has plenty of potentially potent offensive weapons to lean on. If new quarterback Adam Smith successfully engineers the offense it is hard to see a scenario where the Tigers won't be able to post some points.

About the Bengals: Another new coach takes the reins here as Brad Kunz moved over from Plano. Kunz has stressed building a team culture and will lean early on a defensive unit where he feels he's got a number of anchor type players in defensive back Brian Tape and linebackers Sam Amponsah and Dale Dambek to lead the way. The offense is a bit of a mystery and the Bengals may rotate quarterbacks, but the Bengals do have a number of outside threats led by returning All-Conference performer Nick Smith.

Pick: Plainfield North

Plainfield South (7-3, 7-2 Southwest Prairie) at West Aurora (9-2, 8-1 Upstate Eight)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Blackhawks: West Aurora's welcome to its new league is to challenge one of the league's stalwarts right out of the gate. To combat their new foe, West Aurora will lean on the quarterback/wide receiver combo of Will Tammaru and Logan Mont to set the tone on offense, while on defense Northern Illinois-bound Matt Johnson provides a real obstacle for opponent's blocking schemes.

About the Cougars: The Cougars thrive on playing aggressive hard-nosed football and there's no reason to expect that's going to change. On offense, athletic Niko Schultz takes over the play calling duties and he should make life hard with his dual playmaking abilities. On defense, a number of players should contribute and the Cougars hope Ahmad Thompson can continue his knack for making huge plays.

Pick: West Aurora

Romeoville (0-9, 0-9 Southwest Prairie) at Oswego East (7-3, 7-2 Southwest Prairie)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Oswego East 41, Romeoville 0 (2018)

About the Wolves: The Wolves have some potent pieces on offense, most notably explosive wide reciever Keion Battle, son of former NBA player Kenny Battle. He looks poised for a breakout season. He's not the only Wolves player with Division I capabilities as offensive lineman Alex Wollschlaeger is committed to Bowling Green. The defensive line also looks fairly well stocked for the Panthers who are hoping to make their fifth consecutive playoff field and do some damage once they get there.

About the Spartans: Romeoville has some solid pieces, but in recent seasons the Spartans have really struggled to put all the pieces together. As always seems to be the case, the Spartans are hoping the offensive and defensive lines can form a solid unit. It's especially needed on the offensive line to give some protection to some potentially potent offensive weapons in quarterback Zach Gibson, wide receiver Keedan Foster and tight end Donovan Dehoyos.

Pick: Oswego East

Proviso West (1-8, 0-6 West Suburban Silver) at Bolingbrook (7-3, 5-2 Southwest Prairie)

When: Friday, 6:30 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Raiders: The Raiders didn't get this game until very late in the offseason which allowed them to avoid locking horns with a premier program instead. It's hard to blame the Raiders for not really wanting yet another powerhouse on an already loaded schedule. The Raiders may throw the ball a bit more than usual with Yale-bound quarterback Devon Suggs fresh off a solid summer of work. But Bolingbrook's offensive line will likely set the tone for whatever success the team has.

About the Panthers: Proviso West is under a new head coach in Scottie Ware and the program could probably use the shake up. The Panthers lone win last season came over district rival Proviso East, another program that has struggled mightily in recent seasons. The Panthers gave up 40-plus points in six of their nine contests last season and odds are they will have trouble holding the Raiders down as well.

Pick: Bolingbrook

Richards (12-1, 6-0 South Suburban Red) at Lincoln-Way Central (6-4, 4-2 SouthWest Suburban)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last matchup: Richards 17, Lincoln-Way Central 7 (2018)

About the Knights: The Knights are dealing with a lot of familiarity on both sides of the ball, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. An experienced offensive line should help ease the transition for new starting quarterback Liam Higgins. Lincoln-Way Central's defense should be stout and they will have a chance to prove it.

About the Bulldogs: Richards has officially returned to elite status and with 14 starters back from last year's Class 6A playoff semifinalist its easy to see how it could stay there. Running back Leshon Williams, an Iowa recruit, should be very difficult to contain and offensive lineman stalwart Jalen Lee should make the quest of slowing Williams even harder.

Pick: Richards

Stevenson (6-4, 4-3 North Suburban) at Lincoln-Way East (12-1, 7-0 SouthWest Suburban)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Griffins: Even though Lincoln-Way East reached the Class 8A semifinals last season its still a very hungry group. A.J. Henning, a Michigan recruit, appears to finally be healthy and capable of doing damage more to the level of his explosive sophomore season. He's got help in the backfield too if he needs a break. On the other side of the ball, running into an impressive defensive line that includes Division I recruits Adrian Wilson (Bowling Green) and Sean McLaughlin (Northwestern) shouldn't be an enjoyable task for any opponent.

About the Patriots: Stevenson has slipped down a few notches from the elite, but it is still more than viable as a strong program. New coach Brent Becker takes the reins of a program that has a solid returning base. Eastern Illinois commit Justin Vincent should play a big part in the Patriots plans, while Harvard bound lineman Ean Norenberg is a key cog.

Pick: Lincoln-Way East

Lincoln-Way West (8-3, 6-1 Southwest Suburban) at Hersey (9-2, 4-1 Mid-Suburban East)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Huskies: Hersey has emerged as a steady program capable of doing some real damage when given the opportunity. The Huskies have reached the 7A quarterfinals in each of the last two seasons and last season saw them absolutely dismantle Lincoln-Way Central in the opening round of the playoffs. Expect nothing less of Hersey than consistent solid play to continue.

About the Warriors: Lincoln-Way West has a lot of starters to replace and this team might experience some growing pains early on. But there's still a whole load of talent that must be contended with including bruising two-way player Caleb Marconi and explosive wide receiver Billy Dozier. If a young, inexperienced line can put it together quickly the Warriors could be a real problem for foes.

Pick: Hersey

Grandville (Mich.) (4-5) at Lockport (0-9, 0-6 SouthWest Suburban)

When: Friday, 7:15 p.m.

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Porters: The Porters weren't your typical 0-9 team last season and were competitive in many of their games last season, but simply couldn't find the win column. Now the program gets a bit of a jolt with a new head coach in George Czart, a former Lockport defensive coordinator who quickly built Lincoln-Way North into a powerhouse before the school consolidated. The Porters have a difficult slate awaiting them and a early win would do wonders for a program that really needs a boost.

About the Bulldogs: Grandville makes for an interesting opponent for Lockport to try to start the season off on the right foot. They were the definition of about a .500 team last season finishing there in league play and just one game below overall. On paper, they don't look like a particularly physically imposing squad and might have a hard time matching up in the trenches as they are a school about half the size of Lockport per their enrolllment.

Pick: Lockport

Lemont (5-5, 5-1 Southwest Suburban Blue) at St. Charles East (5-5, 3-4 DuKane)

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Fighting Saints: The triple option offense preferred by the Fighting Saints can be a tricky one for teams to slow down, particularly in the opener. And St. Charles East has an experienced option quarterback in B.J. Crossen to run the attack. It also doesn't hurt to have a Wisconsin commit in Dylan Barrett there to anchor the offensive line.

About the Indians: Lemont felt the little things kept them from being better than a .500 team last season and they'd better be sharp from the get-go to avoid an early misstep in their schedule. Offensively, Lemont will look to Western Michigan recruit wide receiver Anthony Sambucci to lead the way, while the defense will need several players to step in to more substantial roles.

Pick: St. Charles East

Coal City (10-2, 4-0 Interstate Eight Large) at Morris (4-5, 0-4 Northern Illinois Big 12 East)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Morris 21, Coal City 7 (2018)

About the Redskins: Morris is headed to a new league in the Interstate Eight which on paper looks like a better fit for the program. But before they settle into the nonconference slate they have to deal with an imposing nonconference schedule. Zach Reddinger assumes the role of quarterback after serving as an understudy to the graduated Mitchell Mayberry. Reddinger is a top notch athlete who led the team in receiving and likely gives the team a bit more of run/pass threat.

About the Coalers: The Coalers have an imposing roster of returning players in the fold and they look like a serious threat to make a run in Class 4A. Experienced quarterback Payton Hutchings should be able to engineer an offense that has a multitude of choices for Hutchings to pick from. Defensively the unit looks a strong as usual for a team that tossed six shutouts last season so that's saying something.

Pick: Coal City

Peotone (4-5, 2-2 Interstate Eight Small) at Peoria Manual (1-8, 1-7 Big Twelve)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Peotone 57, Peoria Manual 12 (2018)

About the Rams: Manual has struggled for years to compete in the Big Twelve and there's not a lot of reasons to be optomistic for a massive turnaround. The Rams were beaten badly in most of their eight losses last season with the only bright spot coming in a win over Urbana, a team that finished 0-9.

About the Blue Devils: Peotone's schedule isn't exactly a breeze so this is one the Blue Devils will need to sew up to set their season off on the right foot. Peotone was ravaged by injury so having their full arsenal or returning players available will be a welcome change. Running back/linebacker Ben Balmer looks poised to have a big season.

Pick: Peotone

Fieldcrest (5-5, 2-3 Heart of Illinois Large) at Reed-Custer (2-7, 0-4 Interstate Eight Small)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Fieldcrest 34, Reed-Custer 20 (2018)

About the Comets: It's going to be an interesting challenge for the Comets to rebuild the offense as while the wins weren't frequent the yardage chewed up by the graduated duo of quarterback Josh Loomis and wide receiver A.J. Cherry was certainly impressive. Wide receiver Blake Foster should fill some of that void, but early on the Reed-Custer defense needs to be as solid as a rock while the offense grows up.

About the Knights: Fieldcrest has an experienced core, particularly in the trenches where they seem to hold a significant advantage over the Comets. The Knights are probably going to rotate quarterbacks which also makes things interesting for the opposing defense while receivers Jaxon Cusac-McKay and Keegan Robbins will likely be productive targets whomever is under center.

Pick: Fieldcrest

Evergreen Park (7-5, 2-4 South Suburban Red) at Wilmington (6-4, 2-2 Interstate Eight Small)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Wildcats: It's getting harder and harder for Wilmington to find willing nonconference foes which explains the scheduling of a school with a significant enrollment disparity. Odds are the Wildcats will come prepared though with an experienced backfield of players schooled in Wilmington's vaunted double wing attack. Quarterback Keaton Hopwood returns for his third season runs the Wildcat offense.

About the Mustangs: When looking back to the Mustangs 2018 campaign, all you can really say is that is was a bit odd. Evergreen Park benefitted from a pair of forfeit victories then got an extremely soft draw in the first two rounds of the playoffs before being routed by Montini in the quarterfinal round. They have an significant enrollment advantage over Wilmington, but that might be where the advantages end.

Pick: Wilmington

Dwight (6-4, 4-2 Sangamon Valley) at Ottawa Marquette (10-1, 6-0 Northeastern Athletic)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Last matchup: Ottawa Marquette 28, Dwight 7 (2018)

About the Crusaders: The Crusaders have bulit a heck of a Class 1A program over the past few seasons and while it might stand to reason that they might take a step back without the services of graduated dynamo Jack Snook, that's probably a mistake. The Crusaders still appear to have the makings of a massive offensive line to provide running room for a productive runner from a year ago in senior fullback Preston Aukland.

About the Trojans: The Trojans enter the season as a bit of a wildcard. A senior laden Dwight team reached the 3A playoffs a year ago, where they bowed out with an opening round loss to Lisle. Dwight will be a young and inexperienced group which will likely have junior Carson Crouch playing a big part in the attack. Dwight also elected to end its cooperative aggrement with Gardner-South Wilmington this season which may hurt its overall numbers.

Pick: Ottawa Marquette

Shelbyville (3-6, 2-5 Central Illinois) at Seneca (4-5, 3-3 Sangamon Valley)

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Last matchup: First Meeting

About the Fighting Irish: It was another narrow miss for a playoff slot last year for the Fighting Irish who finished one win short of the playoff qualifying standard for the the third time in the last five seasons. To break through and get back into the field they will lean heavily on the ground game as they typically do. Cole Underhill and Miles Mitchell will likely lead that attack.

About the Rams: The Rams will be making a long trip for their season opener as the school is located south of Decatur. They will bring a few dangerous playmakers with them as senior quarterback Kentrell Beck makes the conversion from explosive receiver to under center. Rope Hatfield also showed flashes of skills as a freshman out of the Ram backfield.

Pick: Seneca