2017 High School Football Preview: Big 8

Big 8 Conference - Full Schedule Here

2016 Standings (Go to team name for full preview)

Verona - 9-2 (8-1) - Lost in Level 2 of D1 Playoffs to Badger

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 2/18

Verona graduates 18 players who earned all-conference honors, but will return their entire offensive line and a group of 40 seniors, as well as nine total starters of 22, to keep the momentum going for the Wildcats program

Sun Prairie - 8-2 (8-1) - Lost in Level 1 of D1 playoffs to La Follette

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 6/14

Coaches pick the Cardinals to be at or near the top of the conference, which isn't surprising given the returning talent to the Cardinals, especially on defense but also at kicker/punter, running back, and a mostly-intact offensive line. Sun Prairie is poised for another run at a Big 8 title.

Middleton - 9-3 (7-2) - Lost in Level 3 of D1 playoffs to Badger

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 4/11

Facing the two primary contenders for the Big 8 on the road appears to be the biggest challenge on Middleton's schedule, but the "home game" effect of hosting both Madison Memorial and Madison West is somewhat negated by the proximity of those schools.

Madison La Follette - 6-5 (5-4) - Lost in Level 2 of D1 playoffs to Middleton

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 3/7

Madison La Follette beat conference co-champion Sun Prairie and third-place finisher Middleton in 2016, splitting two contests against each, and also lost a close game on the road against the other co-champ, Verona, during the season. La Follette has now made the playoffs four seasons in a row, the longest playoff streak in school history.

Madison West - 5-5 (5-4) - Lost in Level 1 of D1 playoffs to Badger

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 5/8

West swept the three intra-city match-ups last year, a big part of the reason why they advanced to the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. While the Regents have plenty in place to make it five trips in six years, Coach Murphy was quick to point out how tough it is to win in the Big 8. "It should be very competitive throughout the conference," said Murphy.

Janesville Parker - 4-5 (4-5)

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 0/11

"We are looking to get back in the playoffs after our disappointing year in 2016. Our goal is to bring Janesville Parker back on top of the Big 8. The Big 8 Conference is one of the best in the state. Every single team in the Big 8 is a tough match on Friday night." - Janesville Parker Head Football Coach Clayton Kreger

Janesville Craig - 3-6 (3-6)

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 4/5

"The Big Eight should be competitive top to bottom again this year. There aren't any easy games on the schedule, and every program has talented athletes and is well-coached. I really like the group of kids we have and think we can be competitive with any team in the conference, and win some games this year." - Janesville Craig Cougars Head Coach Adam Bunderson

Madison Memorial - 3-6 (3-6)

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 3/7

"I believe we're better as a coaching staff. I believe we are teaching a better way. I believe we have the best scheme for the type of players we have. And I believe if we focus on those three things every day, with everything we do, then we'll be in all games and challenge for a conference championship in a very tough conference." - Madison Memorial Head Coach Adam Smith

Madison East - 2-7 (2-7)

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 0/8

"We will focus on building a team that is disciplined, assignment driven, and aggressive. Off the field, we will be examples in the school and out in the community. The city and surrounding area will become more familiar with our brand." - Madison East Purgolders Head Coach Jeremy Thornton

Beloit Memorial - 0-9 (0-9)

Returning/Lost All-Conference: 3/2

"We have to get over the mental hurdles of not winning. This will be the most talented team I have had here in four years, but we still need to put in all together in hopes to get out of the Big 8 basement." - Beloit Memorial Purple Knights Football Coach Rodney Wedig

Returning 2016 All-Conference Team

OFFENSE

QB: Keishawn Shanklin (SR), First Team - Madison West; Michael Toman (SR), HM - Madison Memorial; Davis Roquet (SR), HM - Middleton

RB: Draven Peeples (SR), First Team - Sun Prairie; Dion Huff (SR), Second Team - Middleton; Jacob Ngobi (SR), HM - Janesville Craig; RB Jaden Stephens (SR), HM - Madison West

WR: Matthew Wedig (JR), First Team - Beloit Memorial; Anthony West (SR), HM(ATH-QB & WR) - Madison La Follette; Jake Gilchrest-Kienitz (SR), HM - Madison La Follette

TE: Luke Malmanger (SR), Second Team - Janesville Craig; Seth Glissendorf (SR), HM - Janesville Craig; Armani Warfield (SR), HM/FB - Madison West; Ethan Ackley (JR), HM - Sun Prairie

OL: Jarrett Horst (SR), First Team - Middleton; Sam Jessup (JR), Second Team - Madison Memorial; Anthony Villanueva (SR), Second Team - Sun Prairie; Angel Zuniga (SR), HM - Beloit Memorial; Brennan Markwart (SR), HM - Janesville Craig; Andre Dyslin (SR), HM - Madison La Follette; Patrick Horvath (JR), HM - Madison West

DEFENSE

DL: Josh Dinga (SR), First Team - Sun Prairie; Angel Zuniga (SR), HM - Beloit Memorial; Brennan Markwart (SR), HM - Janesville Craig; Patrick Horvath (JR), HM - Madison West

LB: Mary Strey (SR), First Team - Sun Prairie; Jeremiah Jordan (JR), Second Team - Madison Memorial; Shane Bick (SR), Second Team - Middleton; Seth Glissendorf (SR), HM - Janesville Craig; Armani Warfield (SR), HM - Madison West; David Maravilla (SR), HM - Madison West; Ethan Ackley (JR), HM - Sun Prairie

DB: Bui Clements (SR), Second Team - Verona; Jacob Ngobi (SR), HM - Janesville Craig; Jaden Stephens (SR), HM - Madison West; Casper Clark (SR), HM/2015 - Beloit Memorial

SPECIALISTS

K: Alex Oakley (SR), First Team - Sun Prairie; Aaron Young (SR), Second Team - Verona

P: Matthew Wedig (JR), First Team - Beloit Memorial; Alex Oakley (SR), Second Team - Sun Prairie

Prediction Time

Based on information from coaches and returning players

Conference Favorite:

Sun Prairie: With a half-dozen players on WisSports.net senior watchlists, it stands to reason that the Cardinals, defending co-champs of the Big 8, will be a team to beat this season. The Cardinals play a balanced schedule, with a roughly even number of playoff contenders on each side of the home/away ledger. Defense should lead the way for Sun Prairie this season.

Contenders:

Verona: Despite the mass exodus of talent in graduation, Verona brings back its entire starting offensive line, a position that is notoriously difficult to maintain continuity at. It should allow the rest of the pieces on offense to find their groove. Defense is a hallmark of Dave Richardson-coached teams, and this year's version looks to be fairly solid as well. The Wildcats will host most of the contenders in the conference in 2017.

Middleton: Setting the injuries aside for a second, the Cardinals bring back an experienced, talented backfield, and some big-time players in the middle of the defense. How quickly an all-new offensive line can come together, and how fast their incoming juniors and seniors assimilate larger varsity roles, will tell the tale of the Cardinals in 2017.

Playoff Push:

Madison Memorial: Several of the Big 8 coaches have Madison Memorial in the contenders section, and with good reason. The Spartans bring back a host of experience across all of their 2018, 2019, and 2020 classes. Not only that, but their JV and Freshman teams combined to go 17-1 last year. Behind senior quarterback Michael Toman, the offense could surprise some this season.

Madison West: On the outside, the loss of an incredible multi-talented athlete like Terrell Carey would appear to be reason to send the Regents down the projections, but West actually brings back a good deal of its starting lineup from last year, including the outstanding Keishawn Shanklin at quarterback. If the lines can step up from last year, West could find themselves in a good place come season's end.

Madison La Follette: The Lancers lost a number of playmakers from last season, but it wouldn't be wise to count out a program in the midst of its longest run of playoff success, ever. Anthony West can line up anywhere on offense (or defense for that matter) and will be an interesting player to follow, and see the different kinds of impacts he makes on a week-to-week basis.

Youth Movement:

Janesville Craig: One of two teams in the conference with a new head coach, the Cougars bring back a few pieces to contend with in 2017, including two-way standout Jacob Ngobi and tight end Luke Malmanger. Janesville native Adam Bunderson, the team's offensive coordinator for the past three seasons, brings some continuity to the program.

Madison East: The other team with a fresh face leading the program, the Madison East Purgolders don't return a single all-conference player, but they do bring back several players with varsity experience. Under former quarterback and alum Jeremy Thornton, it's worth a follow to see how this team improves towards the back half of the season.

Janesville Parker: Coach Clayton Kreger has the unenviable task of replacing virtually every starter from last year, but the cupboard isn't bare. Jordan Bailey returns at quarterback, and the Vikings will have three returning starters in the back half on defense. However, the lines will need to be rebuilt for the upcoming season.

Beloit Memorial: Coach Rodney Wedig says this is the most talented team he's had in now his fourth year leading the program, which looks to end a 30-game conference losing streak in Big 8 play that stretches to prior to Wedig's arrival. Wedig's son, Matthew, is still only a junior but is a first-team receiver and punter. The Purple Knights will seek a win before setting out on their loftier goals this season.

Notes

The Big 8 is the only area conference not returning an all-conference player from the class of 2020, but this year's sophomores will play some huge roles on nearly every team in the conference. The coaches at the three top contenders (Verona, Sun Prairie, Middleton) have a combined 47 years of Big 8 head coaching experience, and each has over 100 victories in their careers (respectively: Dave Richardson at 137 and 166 overall; Brian Kaminski at 104; Tim Simon at 103). The remaining seven coaches have a combined 11 seasons in the Big Eight prior to this year, and only one coach (Rodney Wedig at Beloit Memorial) has had any head coaching experience prior to their current stint. Wedig, it should be noted, has 142 career head coaching victories, but only one so far at Beloit Memorial.

BIG Games

Week 1: Madison Memorial at Middleon (Madison Taxi Game of the Week): Last year, this was a Middleton rout. However, the Spartans enter the year healthy and the Cardinals do not, so it could be a more interesting affair.

Week 2: Madison West at Madison Memorial: The winner of the battle for Mansfield Stadium will have a big leg up in early conference and playoff positioning. This could be a highly entertaining game between two of the top passing offenses in the Big 8.

Week 2: Middleton at Sun Prairie (Madison Taxi Game of the Week): Close battles and conference title implications are the norm for this match-up, and this year figures to be no different.

Week 3: Verona at Madison Memorial (Madison Taxi Game of the Week): A 40-member senior class from Verona will take on the relatively accomplished youth of Memorial in an early-season showcase that will test the Wildcats' always-stout defense against the Spartans' spread attack.

Week 3: Madison West at Middleton: Both teams will have had some tests early on, and it could be an opportunity for the Regents to catch the Cardinals coming off of a big road game. Again, two of the top quarterbacks in the Big 8 will be slinging in this one.

Week 4: Madison West at Verona: For the Regents, in the midst of a very difficult run of games, they will have to contend with the sledgehammer of an offensive line the Wildcats toss out there. Can West get their pass game going in this one?

Week 4: Madison La Follette at Madison Memorial: By mid-season we may know the overall trajectory of the Spartans, but La Follette will be playing against the Madison city schools and suburbs for the first time in 2017 this week and may come in with a 3-0 record if they sweep the Janesville schools and Beloit. What may be a gut check for the Spartans could be a heat check for the Lancers, as it was last year when the then-winless Spartans defeated the then-unbeaten Lancers in week four.

Week 5: Madison La Follette at Madison West: An interesting game from the perspective of La Follette likely being in the mix playoff eligibility-wise and West continuing a rough stretch of games in the middle of the season. This may be one both teams point to as a reason why they did or did not make the playoffs.

Week 5: Janesville Parker at Janesville Craig: Monterey Stadium will be rocking for these programs, which both will likely have established an identity and direction by this point on the season under new coaching (Craig) or nearly all-new starting lineups (Parker). It could be that the winner of this game keeps themselves in the playoff participation discussion.

Week 5: Middleton at Verona (Madison Taxi Game of the Week): Both teams are expected to contend for the Big 8 title, and Verona will see most of the primary contenders in the conference come through their home field, including this week.

Week 6: Janesville Craig at Beloit Memorial: If the Purple Knights haven't found their win yet, this may be one of the opportunities, against another team that like Memorial will be working in some new starters as the season progresses.

Week 6: Madison East at Madison West (Madison Taxi Game of the Week): West will be celebrating the anniversary of a past state title team in what is a big rivalry game for both schools.

Week 6: Madison Memorial at Sun Prairie: Depending on how the season goes for each school, this could be a big late-season game for both schools as it relates to the conference title race.

Week 7: Maidson La Follette at Middleton: It's unlikely that the Cardinals will overlook the Lancers after what happened last year, with La Follette winning in the regular season to knock Middleton out of the conference title discussion, but with the Cardinals holding up for a big playoff win over La Follette.

Week 8: Sun Prairie at Verona (Madison Taxi Game of the Week): A possible conference title game, both the Cardinals and Wildcats will be very well-tested to this point. Both teams are picked to lead the conference this year.

Week 8: Madison East at Madison La Follette: Lussier Stadium will be an exciting atmosphere this night as East returns to their former digs on the Lancers' Homecoming. This could be a game with playoff implications.

Week 9: Madison La Follette at Sun Prairie: The Cardinals will have to wait all season to exact revenge upon the Lancers, who knocked them out of the playoffs courtesy of a huge 40-13 win last year, one week after La Follette missed a few key starters while getting trampled by the Cardinals in the regular season.

--Jimmie Kaska @jimmekaska

Information from WisSports.net was used in this preview. Visit WisSports.net for everything you need to gear up for the high school sports season.

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