As the calendar flips over to the second week of July, the countdown to the first football Friday is now at 53 days. And, while the COVID-19 pandemic has made for a great deal of uncertainty, Christmas came this week with the release of the 2020 football schedule.
Without further ado, let's break down the top games in the Suburban Life coverage area for the upcoming season, week by week.
Week 1: Batavia (9-3 in 2019) at Montini (8-3), Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.
Perhaps the most enticing opening-night matchup in the state is this new get-together of powerhouse programs. Batavia won state titles in 2013 and 2017, and last season reached the Class 7A quarterfinals. Wide receiver Trey Urwiler, an NIU recruit, is the player to watch offensively for Batavia, while Arizona commit Matt Weerts anchors the defense at middle linebacker. DiAndre Harris is a talented defensive back for Montini who could also get time on offense. Rising sophomore quarterback Tre Jones was recently offered by Arizona State.
Week 2: Neuqua Valley (9-2) at Wheaton Warrenville South (8-4), Sept. 4, 7 p.m.
Two former DuPage Valley Conference rivals renew aquaintances in this new matchup. Neuqua, defending DVC champ, graduated star quarterback Mark Gronowski, but there's plenty of talent left with running back Armani Moreno and linebacker Trey Borske. WW South, coming off back-to-back quarterfinal appearances, has talent returning at the skill positions with quarterback Parker Brown and receiver Kaleb Clousing, and at linebacker with Tommy Barnett.
Week 3: Nazareth (13-1) at Fenwick (6-5), Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Two teams with a ton of talent back, but new faces at key leadership positions. Nazareth, Class 7A runner-up in 2019, has one of the top receivers in the country in junior Tyler Morris, and the state's best defensive end in Rylan Keeler, both loaded with high Division I offers, and most of its offensive line back. But five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy left Nazareth for IMG Academy in May, leaving a huge void behind center. Fenwick has an ultra-talented young quarterback in junior Kaden Cobb, one of nine starters back offensively from a team that reached the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Friars have a first-time head coach in Matt Battaglia, who was previously an assistant at Kent State and was a four-year starter at NIU.
Week 4: Montini (8-3) at St. Rita (10-3), Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Last year's matchup between these two CCL/ESCC Green rivals was one of the wildest of the season, the Broncos scoring the game's last 28 points to rally for a 45-35 win behind Deontay Bell's 508 yards of total offense. Bell has graduated, one of several significant losses offensively for Montini. St. Rita last season won nine straight games to reach the Class 5A championship game where the Mustangs lost to Rochester. Junior running back Kaleb Brown, who has offers from Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State, among others, is one of the state's most electric talents.
Week 5: Hinsdale Central (8-2) at Downers Grove North (6-5), Sept. 25, 7:30 p.m.
The Red Devils have won 13 straight meetings in the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game, but last year's game went down to the wire, Hinsdale taking the 35-26 win. Hinsdale has a talented quarterback in Michael Brescia, who was offered by Colgate in June. Downers North last year earned its first playoff win since 2013.
Week 6: Wheaton Warrenville South (8-4) at Batavia (9-3), Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m.
The road to the DuKane Conference title goes through Batavia, as WW South knows. The Tigers will look for a better outcome than last year's 42-21 loss.
Week 7: Marist (8-5) at Nazareth (13-1), Oct. 9, 7 p.m.
Nazareth last year took care of a recent nemesis, its 39-29 win the Roadrunners' first in the rivalry since 2015. Tyler Morris had three touchdowns in Nazareth's big win, and is one of the state's top talents. Marist last season needed a Week 9 upset of Loyola to reach the playoffs, then made a run all the way to the Class 8A semifinals. Junior quarterback Dontrell Jackson is a player to watch.
Week 8: Glenbard West (10-1) at Hinsdale Central (8-2), Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m.
This has been the game of the year in the West Suburban Silver in recent seasons, and last year's was a good one, the Hilltoppers' 20-17 overtime win on Nic Seifert's touchdown run clinching at least a share of Glenbard West's 11th league title in 12 seasons. Jalen Moore and Samson Zander both return in a deep Hilltoppers' backfield, running behind Syracuse recruit Wes Hoeh. Senior defensive back Jack Costello is among the Red Devils' to watch.
Week 9: IC Catholic Prep (10-2) at St. Francis (10-2), Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m.
St. Francis hosts an IC Catholic Prep team surely out for revenge. The Spartans last season snapped the Knights' 33-game regular season winning streak. St. Francis returns standout quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse while ICCP has playmakers in running back Kyle Franklin and wideout/defensive back Chauncey Lee.