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Prep football is here, and so are the usual suspects

Doyle Woody
Bob Hallinen

Judging by Bartlett High co-head coach Daniel Esparza’s offseason tweets concerning his football team’s accomplishments in the weight room, my money’s totally on the Golden Bears if a bench-press competition breaks out at midfield this season.

Of course, in the unlikely event a 5-K is suddenly contested by coaching staffs, my money will be backing West’s Tim Davis, whose Twitter account makes him look like a veritable marathon man among Cook Inlet Conference coaches.

When it comes to actual football played by teenagers starting this weekend – yes, the season drops Friday -- we here at the typing factory are less certain of outcomes.

We are not completely without a clue – certainly, feel free to insert your own joke here – because recent history shows the CIC has dominated large-school football in Alaska.

Three CIC programs have particularly flourished lately.

West is the defending state champion, also won the title in 2010, has advanced to at least the semifinals in each of the last four seasons and has made the playoffs in its five straight seasons under Davis, who is 39-12 (.765 winning percentage).

Service, the 2008 and 2011 champion, has played in four consecutive state championship games. And South, the 2012 king, also made the final in 2011.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the state championship game has been an all-CIC showdown for the last five seasons. Also, a CIC team has won the last six state titles -- two for West, two for Service, one for South and one for Bartlett (2009).

Given the strength and consistency of the programs at West, Service and South, there’s ample reason to think all three will be contenders again. If so, that would account for three of the CIC’s five berths in the eight-team state playoffs. (Yes, truly, one conference gets 62.5 percent of the large-school berths. Also, about half the state’s teams overall make the postseason, which covers three classifications. That’s a gripe for another day).

Moving on -- we are annually curious which CIC team will emerge from its station in the depths of the standings and ascend into the postseason.

Last year, Dimond not only made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but advanced to the semifinals, where it lost to Service. The Lynx were not boring, in that you never knew quite what to expect from them. They lost at Eagle River -- that marked the Wolves’ only victory -- and gave West a regular-season scare before the Eagles scored 10 points inside the final three minutes to win 17-14.

Maybe Bartlett is the team that rises in the ranks this season. The Golden Bears deep into last season beat East to snap a 17-game losing streak that dated back to September 2011. They won their last three games, which presumably granted them self-esteem to carry into this season. It is worth noting that two of those wins came against East and Eagle River, which each won just one game last season, though Bartlett’s other victory was over playoff-bound Chugiak.

East, meanwhile, endured a plunge down the standings under third-year head coach Jeff Trotter, winning just one game, its season finale against Eagle River. The Thunderbirds made the playoffs in each of Trotter’s first two seasons. Given their decline last season, motivation should not be a shortcoming this season.

Meanwhile, both Chugiak and Eagle River begin the season under new head coaches. Those are the two smallest CIC schools by enrollment – and Eagle River’s enrollment is generally about 30 percent less than Chugiak’s.

Eagle River takes the annual award for schedule from hell. The Wolves open Saturday against defending medium-school champion Soldotna in a nonconference game. Three of the Wolves’ first four CIC games are against Service, South and West, so their schedule ramps up rather nastily.

Man, hope the Wolves worked out hard in the offseason.

This column is the opinion of reporter Doyle Woody. Reach him at dwoody@adn.com and check out his blog at adn.com/hockey-blog