Steamboat Springs If anything is for certain about this year's Class 3A state football playoffs, it is that it will not be a repeat of last year.
With defending champion CaCity's star running back out of its line-up and last year's semi-final teams Windsor and Woodland Park not even in the playoff round, Colorado should expect a whole different ball game from the 3A playoffs this year.
CaCity will be entering the state playoffs Saturday after a month without its star running back, Kane Smaller, who helped his team beat Woodland Park 39-12 in the Class 3A championship last year. Finishing 2-8 in the Southern 3A league, Woodland Park was not one of the five in the 12-team league to capture a play-off spot.
Neither was Pine Creek, a team that last year beat Western Slope's Palisade to advanced to the quarterfinals. This year, Pine Creek finished 5-5 and one place shy of the playoff berth, but head coach Mike Roof said that just shows how competitive the league is this year.
"It's a good indication," Roof said. "I still think we're one of the top teams in the state."
For the Southern League, it is Alamosa that is the surprise of the season as it beat top-ranked teams CaCity and Liberty to capture the conference title. At 10-0, it is one of only two teams in the playoffs with an undefeated record.
Also at 10-0 is Fort Morgan out of the Tri-Valley League. Fort Morgan, which beat Rifle 28-19 during the preseason, is looking to redeem its 28-7 loss to CaCity in the semifinals of last year's playoffs.
Missing the third spot for the Tri-Valley playoff berth, Sterling head coach Mark Bauder said he sees Fort Morgan as being one of the final four teams again in the playoffs on Nov. 24.
Bauder also had praise to give Tri-Valley's Niwot, the team Steamboat will be facing Saturday in the first round of the playoffs.
"They are a pretty good (team). The team is balanced as far as offense passing and throwing the ball. Their defense is a hard team to run against; there's a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Bauder said.
Besides the Western Slope, the playoffs will see two teams coming out of the Metro league and three out of the New Jeffco league.
Conifer, which beat Steamboat 17-7 in the first round last year, will be the third-ranked team in the New Jeffco League. It was one of four teams tied for third place with a 4-4 league record.
But the absence of CaCity's Smaller, and Rifle's close game to Fort Morgan early in the year, has Roof believing this year's playoffs will be much closer.
"It's much more balanced. Last year, CaCity and Woodland Park and Fort Morgan were very strong. This year, things are a lot closer," Roof said. "We're liable to see some upsets in this class."