Steamboat Springs There seems to be a consensus among football coaches on the Western Slope this season.
If a team wants to win the Western Slope League, at least in Steamboat's division, it will have to play better than the defending champion Palisade Bulldogs.
"They are the big dogs," Sailors coach Mark Drake said. "They have a bunch of players coming back and when you have 1,000 to 2,000 kids to pick from, you normally have a pretty good football team."
Palisade went 7-0 last year in league play and posted an impressive 9-2 overall record. Bulldogs coach Todd Casebier expects his team to be strong again this year, and all of the other coaches in the league agree that Palisade will be the team to beat.
"We have got a good bunch of kids coming back this year," Casebier said. "I think anytime you are the defending league champion, there is an expectation that you will repeat."
The Bulldogs will again rely on their running game and line play to wear teams down.
"Our strength is our offensive and defensive lines," Casebier said. "Our success will depend on controlling the line of scrimmage."
Among teams that are expected to have the best chance at challenging Palisade in the league are Steamboat, Rifle and Moffat County.
Delta, Glenwood and Battle Mountain all struggled in 2000, but all three return large senior classes.
Rifle lost 18 seniors from last year's team but will return two key elements of their offensive attack in quarterback Ryan Whittington and senior running back Ryan Enright. Last year, Enright rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
Whittington passed for 1,300 and added another 700 on the ground.
The Bears defense will also return key players such as Anthony Alfini and Nick Bosworth.
Moffat County will be looking to improve on last year's average season. The squad, which went 5-5 (4-3), lost six seniors. Returning players include quarterback Mike Charchalis, fullback Chris Fields and tight end Johnny Counts.
John Haddan, Moffat County head coach, said he expects his team will compete for the league title. Anything else, he said, would be a disappointment.
"Our goal is to win the Western Slope League title period," he said.
In Glenwood, coach Craig Denny is focused on making the playoffs and rebuilding a winning tradition for the Demons. The squad has 60 players out this year, including six starters on the defensive side of the ball and seven more on offense.
"I know we will be competitive this season," Denny said. "I think our biggest goal will be earning the respect of the other teams in the Western Slope League."
Among the 15 seniors on the team are Ben Kleager, Jeremy Wilson and Brandon Chicione.
Delta will be trying to avenge last year's disappointing 4-6 finish.
First-year coach Derek Carlson said he expects the team to be much improved this season. With 17 seniors returning, Carlson said the Panthers' offensive attack will be loaded.
At Battle Mountain, first-year coach Dwayne Butcher takes the helm of a team that finished 4-6 last season.
Butcher, a former assistant with the Palisade program, only has 42 players out this season. The coach expects the team will be strong when the starters are on the field, but Butcher is concerned about depth. His goal is to improve on last season, especially in league play.