The Southern Idaho Conference dominated the 5A classification last season, claiming all four spots in the state semifinals for the first time in history. And Pod A in the 5A SIC can crow even louder as both state finalists — Mountain View and Capital — hailed from its division.
Mountain View and Capital return as the heavy favorites in the division once again, but they’ll have plenty of competition as they rebuild.
See the full team-by-team previews for the 5A SIC Pod A below. Teams are listed by their order in the preseason coaches’ poll.
MOUNTAIN VIEW MAVERICKS
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Last season: 11-2, 4-1 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Beat Capital 48-21 in state championship
Coach: Judd Benedick, 11th season
Career record: 76-30
The Mavericks reached their third straight state championship game last fall and broke through for the first state title in program history. But graduation hit Mountain View hard, robbing it of seven first-team All-Idaho members and starters at 18 of 22 positions.
The Mavericks will rely on the ground early with two offensive linemen returning — Gatlin Condie (second-team all-conference) and Kyle Pinkston — to block for Caden Hansen, the team’s leading rusher a year ago. The line also remains a strong point on a defense led by defensive end Cade Ray, who racked up six sacks last fall.
Mountain View has built itself into one of the state’s premier programs the past five years, winning at all levels. It deserves the preseason favorite moniker. But it enters 2017 with far more question marks than in years past.
“We just don’t have much experience at all,” Benedick said. “Even if they are seniors that should contribute, they haven’t played much varsity football.”
Last season: 10-2, 5-0 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Lost to Mountain View 48-21 in state championship
Coach: Todd Simis, 14th season
Career record: 108-88
Graduation also hit the defending state runner-up hard as Capital returns just one starter on offense (guard Drew McGuinn) and two on defense (safety Jordan Godeny-Scott and corner Carter Johnson).
Capital brings up plenty of reinforcements from the JV squad, which went 9-0 last season. But JV isn’t varsity. Simis said it’ll take time for the younger players to get up to varsity speed and dismissed any talk of redemption from a state championship loss.
“For these guys, it’s going to be all about game experience and snaps and playing on the varsity stage,” Simis said. “We’ve got to clear that hurdle first before we start thinking about redeeming ourselves.”
Capital held opponents to 16.4 points a game last year. But with two returning starters in the secondary and another four players who saw key minutes during the playoff run, Simis said the Eagles could be even better on defense this year.
Last season: 4-6, 3-2 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Lost to Madison 31-8 in first round
Coach: Porter Lacey, fifth season
Career record: 41-40
The expanded 5A playoffs have benefited Meridian, which has reached the postseason three years in a row. But the Warriors are still searching for their first playoff victory since 2007, when they won the 5A state title.
Leading the charge this year is senior quarterback Nate Weddle, who is entering his third year as a starter. He keys the Warriors spread offense and completed 61.4 percent of his passes last season for 934 yards with eight TDs and three interceptions despite battling injuries.
Lacey said Meridian will feature a deeper backfield this fall, but the key improvement could come on defense after allowing 29 points a game in 2016. The Warriors return six starters on defense, including defensive ends Reese Crabtree and Joey Lyman.
“We also have some good experience in the secondary with seniors like Kordell Crawford and Bridger Walter that will step into important roles,” Lacey said.
Last season: 4-5, 2-3 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Coach: Jerry O’Mahony, first season
Career record: 24-48
A dramatic offseason saw head coach Bob Clark depart after 13 years, offensive coordinator Jerry O’Mahony take over and the team’s starting quarterback the past two years, Will McMullin, transfer to Rocky Mountain.
O’Mahony, who led Emmett from 2004 to 2011, said he’ll bring a run-pass balance to the traditionally pass-heavy Braves offense. That should translate into more carries for senior running back Salimu Dahiri, who ran for 681 yards (4.9 per carry) and one TD last fall.
A renewed focus on offensive balance and ball control also should help the Braves’ defense, which has surrendered 30 or more points a game eight years in a row. Boise will remain strong up front with senior Luke Nemec and junior Alex Ojukwu leading the defensive line.
Last season: 0-9, 0-5 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Coach: Dan Holtry, second season
Career record: 0-9
The Bulldogs enter the season on a 14-game losing streak. But five returning starters on offense, four on defense and a crop of young talent have Holtry excited for the season.
Nampa went 5-2 at the Potato Bowl 7-on-7 challenge this summer. Holtry said that shows the Bulldogs have the talent at the skill positions to turn the corner in the 5A SIC after scoring eight points a game last season.
Junior running back Brian Carrillo will lead the offense, but junior quarterback Braden Minor and sophomore receiver Cade Smith also add an explosive vertical element.
“We will be young, but we have the ability to move the ball through the air,” Holtry said.
Last season: 2-7, 1-4 5A SIC Pod A
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Coach: Rich Davis, third season
Career record: 2-16
Columbia took a massive step forward last season, snapping a 25-game losing streak, winning its first 5A SIC contest and remaining in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season.
The Wildcats return eight offensive starters and five defensive starters from that program-changing team. Included in that bunch are junior Allamar Alexander, who ranked third in the 5A SIC in rushing yards (950), and senior tight end/linebacker Michael Davis, a second-team all-conference selection and Columbia’s leading receiver (44 rec., 470 yards, two TDs).
“We believe for the first time in a while that if we can avoid injuries in some key spots that we have a chance to be very competitive in many games this year,” Davis said. “If we get a few bounces to go our way, who knows what could happen?”