It’s hard to believe that the 2019 football season is just underway.

Already, two area games are in the books. Audubon proved to be about as good as advertised with an impressive win over a pretty good East Mills team. The pieces were certainly there, with quarterback Schuyler Schultes leading the way, and they showed they know how to break open a close game.

Griswold, meanwhile, led most of the night against an Ar-We-Va team that went undefeated in the regular season a year ago. Even though the Tigers ultimately fell victim to a rally and were beat in overtime, they have several playmakers that I believe could make a difference in some tight games down the line. Given they have a tough schedule that’s going to be crucial.

Now, Week 1 calls, with Atlantic hosting Saydel this Friday night at the Trojan Bowl. I’m looking forward to being there and seeing how Tyler Moen, Collin Mullenix and the rest all compete in what’s expected to be a rugged Iowa Class 2A District 9.

The Trojans’ team preview — and other area team previews, for that matter — are coming later this week.

But to get this ball rolling, I thought I’d use this special installment of “Ratskin’s Rumblings,” and take a look around the state to see what some of the best teams have. Every class has its share of three- and four-star athletes and talent that is going to some outstanding, if not elite football programs.

So without further ado:

8-man

Southwest Iowa could do well here, as Audubon‘s stud quarterback Skyler Schultes (2,090 total yards, 40 touchdowns) looks to only build on his impressive stats from a year ago. It’ll be his cast — twins Ethan and Joel Klocke and Jackson Jensen — who’ll make a huge difference in whether the Wheelers reach the UNI-Dome. Defensively, Luke Mosinski had 58 tackles last year and his leadership will also make a huge difference.

Fremont-Mills, a semifinalist last year, will probably be Audubon’s closest pursuer, as they have dual threat Seth Malcom (1,202 yards rushing as running back; 101 tackles, 18 solo for loss at linebacker). The combined Stanton/Essex program has three equally capable quarterbacks in Keygan Day, Colby Royal and Colton Thornburg.

The burning question for one of the state’s elite programs is one shared with Class 1A’s Iowa City Regina: How will state champion game regular Don Bosco respond to not playing for the big prize last year? Quarterback Cael Frost (2,223 total yards) and Thomas Even (1,500 rushing yards) will be looking to help lead the Dons back to where they believe they belong.

In my old Iowa County neck of the woods, Iowa Valley once again might be a team to be reckoned with. Senior quarterback Ben Smith put up 2,224 all-purpose yards last year and was in on 32 touchdowns. Although key pieces are gone from last year, there’s still plenty to fuel a District 4 run for Tigers, particularly in a district that also has defending state champion New London.

AGWSR of Ackley has a good rushing tandem of Jaden Penning and Cale Culver.

Easton Valley has the most weapons back, with quarterback Nathan Trenkamp (2,619 yards passing), wide receiver Cade Jargo (1,106 yards) and lineman Braydin Farrell (108.5 tackles). In a small school class where talent comes in waves, the number of returnees with experience makes a huge difference.

Class A

As noted earlier, the players are new and so is the coach, but AHSTW football is still AHSTW football. First-year coach G.G. Harris, who was outstanding as assistant under Davis Pattee, Three two-way linemen — Brady Canada, Gavyn Fischer and Leland Barr — and linebacker Seth Kiesel are capable of holding opponents in check until quarterback Blake Holst and the rest of the offense gets broken in.

The Vikings’ fellow District 9 teams have some talent returning as well, with Earlham running backCaleb Swalla (1,669 yards rushing) and Riverside defensive lineman Joel Henningsen (106 tackles) back.

Central Decatur could have one of the most improved teams with Cole Pederson as a dual threat; at quarterback, he combined for 1,932 total yards and was in on 22 touchdowns, but he’s being recruited by Iowa State for his work at linebacker.

Elsewhere, South Winneshiek (Noah Tieskoetter, 507 yards receiving; and Jacob Herold, 2,121 yards passing) and Wapsie Valley (Kobe Risse, 1,558 yards passing) and Blayde Bellis (504 yards receiving) are the teams with the most returning offensive weapons back. Like Class A, how much returning experience you have at a small school often makes a difference.

Class 1A

Defending champ West Sioux appears to be the team to beat, and quarterback Hunter Dekkers is phenomenal with a crazy 4,215 all-purpose yards and 55 touchdowns. His favorite target is Kade Lynott, who caught for 1,567 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Around these parts, it could be between Treynor and Underwood. The Cardinals have a lot of dual threats to help carry the offensive load, including with quarterback Jake Fisher (1,656 total yards, 23 touchdowns) and his cast including Will Halverson, Jack Tiarks, Luke Mieska and Jack Stogdill. The Eagles fell just short of the playoffs, but have quarterback Nick Ravlin (2,563 total yards including a Class 1A returning second-best 2,193 passing yards, 25 total touchdowns) and defensive end Jonathan Casson (44 tackles, six for loss).

Iowa City Regina and quarterback Ashton Cook — former Iowa Hawkeye great and current Regals coach Marv’s son — will be looking to return to the playoffs after a year’s absence.

Class 2A

Class 2A District 9 had three teams make the playoffs, but the tri-champions — Carroll Kuemper, Greene County and OA-BCIG — didn’t get past the first round. All three teams have enough weapons to change that this season.

Blaise Gunnerson is back for Kuemper after a year off due to injury, and already talk is that the Nebraska recruit is one the best defensive lineman in the state. Quarterback Cole Collison had 1,262 yards passing but will probably hand off more — perhaps to Kyle Berg (261 yards rushing) — until some new receives are in place.

OA-BCIG has wide receivers Cooper DeJean (1,023 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Jake Nieman (500 yards) back. Greene County’s Brent Riley has a monster arm with 2,242 yards passing and 22 touchdowns, and Carter Morton had 800 yards and seven TDs in that total; the Rams also have offensive lineman Tyler Miller, who helped block for a top-10 offense a year ago.

Early season, though, it appears 2017 champion Waukon — that team way in the northeast corner of Iowa — has the most tools to end the season on top and avenge a runner-up finish last year. They’ve got the top quarterback (Creed Welch, who threw for 2,457 yards as a sophomore), and the top dual threat back in Dawson Baures (1,255 yards rushing, 1,001 yards receiving).

Class 3A

You have to start with Cedar Rapids Xavier on top. The two-time defending champion did lose Quinn Schulte, last year’s captain of the IPSWA’s all-state team in the class, but they do have two Iowa commits in Josh Volk (offensive line) and Ethan Hurkett (linebacker) to lead the Saints to another title run.

The two powers on this side of the state are Council Bluffs Lewis Central and Sergeant Bluff-Luton, both semifinalists a year ago.

For SB-L, quarterback Daniel Wright is back with his 2,423 yards passing but Deric Fitzgerald, the team’s third leading receiver at 412 yards, will have to step up to replace the top two receivers, who graduated with 1,624 yards receiving between them.

Lewis Central may have a worthy successor at quarterback in Bret Kobes as he understudied Max Duggan a year ago, but no matter his ability those are pretty big shoes to fill. The good thing is Kobes will get a lot of help from Titan teammates Brady Miller (452 yards rushing), and the receiving tandem of Thomas Fidone and Jordan Wardlow. The defensive line is anchored by pre-season all-state pick Logan Jones.

Don’t count out Harlan. Interim coach Todd Bladt has to replace the quarterback, but Alex Schechinger (904 all-purpose yards), Brendan Bartley and Jonathan Monson will give a new signal caller plenty of support.

East side, you knew I was going to mention my alma mater, North Scott. They’ve got a couple of big studs — Northern Iowa commit Ben Belken at linebacker and Kansas recruit Jackson Stoffen as an offensive lineman — and wide-receiver Ty Anderson to anchor a team that is looking to finally break through to the UNI-Dome after reaching the quarterfinals three times in the past decade.

Western Dubuque, the team that derailed the Lancers’ Dome dream last year en route to a runner-up finish, has Calvin Harris (2,280 passing yards, second to Wright) back and other key pieces as well in all facets of the game that definitely puts them in the UNI-Dome conversation. Rounding out what might be the state’s most talented class top to bottom: Solon, with Cam Miller, A.J. Coons and Jace Anderegg the top offensive threats; and Clear Creek Amana and T.J. Bollers, whose potential is just beginning to be untapped.

Whomever reaches the UNI-Dome in Class 3A will have earned it.

Class 4A

The big question here will be, “Who can knock off West Des Moines Dowling?”

See, this is a major reason why I am against the proposed “Saber Metrics” proposal for creating a 16-team “super class” for football. At this point, even if you get it down to the 16 most prolific Class 4A programs in Iowa, it’s Dowling and everybody else.

That’s just the way it is, and when you add this Gavin Williams — he’s a transfer from Southeast Polk with 1,309 yards rushing last year — and the way coach Tom Wilson usually reloads, it’s just going to be a tough out to topple the Maroons. The offensive line — anchored by guys like Ryan Boles, Charlie Nank and many others — is one of the greats in high school football. They had a couple close calls last year, but the Maroons are well coached and should be in good line to repeat.

That said, several teams have standout players who can help their teams give it their best shot.

Cedar Falls and Waukee quarterbacks Cale Loecher and Mitch Randall, respectively, have almost an even split of 4,024 passing yards between them. Muscatine has the third-leading returning rusher (Timothy Nimley, 1,163 yards) and second-leading receiver (Eli Gaye, 862 yards) back.

Cedar Rapids Kennedy‘s Cade Parker has 110.5 tackles to lead a tough Cougar defense, while Connor Colby anchors the offensive line. Urbandale has three-star linebacker and future Iowa Hawkeye Jaden Harrell. And teams like Bettendorf, Iowa City West and West Des Moines Valley just simply reload year after year.

But again, do any of these teams have enough firepower to knock off Dowling? We’ll know in a little less than three months from now.

To reach Brian Rathjen, send correspondence to sports@ant-news.com or phone (712) 243-2624.