For many of the area's high school football teams, the preseason is in the rearview mirror and all eyes are on the beginning of district play.
Several programs began their respective conference schedules this week, while others rest up during the bye week in anticipation of opening district action this Friday. That includes the local teams competing in 5-6A, which includes Allen, Little Elm, McKinney ISD and Prosper, while 6-6A runs it back with Plano ISD, Lewisville ISD and Coppell.
As those programs get their respective district schedules underway, the Star Local Media sports staff weighed in on what could be in store for those local teams.
The Big Three
There aren't many districts in the state that can boast a more formidable top three than Denton Guyer, Allen and Prosper — all of whom rank in the state's top 20. Those three advanced to at least the regional final round of the playoffs last season following a conference schedule that saw them all beat up on one another (Allen beat Guyer who beat Prosper who beat Allen).
All three are coming off impressive wins over fellow state-ranked opposition to conclude the preseason, with Prosper and Guyer sitting at 3-0 prior to their head-to-head district opener and Allen at 2-1.
Prosper's defense remains stout at just 241 yards and 12.7 points per game during the preseason, shutting down the likes of Rockwall and Euless Trinity, while Allen has responded nicely after a rough opener against national No. 1 St. John Bosco. Guyer, meanwhile, has been on the warpath with three wins by at least 23 points.
History favors Allen in any district title race as winners of 16 straight league titles, but Guyer's top-level play at quarterback and in the secondary gives them the edge right now. But Allen is something of a wild card given their ceiling under first-year head coach Lee Wiginton is still something of an unknown.
The Allen that we see this week could look quite different from the one in mid-October prepping for back-to-back weeks against Guyer and Prosper.
But who's 4th?
Matt Welch: Whereas Guyer, Allen and Prosper have earned the benefit of the doubt with respects to the 5-6A playoff picture, how the remainder of the district's pecking order shakes out will be just as compelling.
McKinney Boyd has held down a playoff spot each of the past two seasons but is still trying to find its footing amid an 0-3 start, while Denton Braswell, McKinney, Prosper Rock Hill and Little Elm have submitted some highlight moments during their respective preseasons.
Even with three games under everyone's belts, a case can be made for several teams as who could round out the district's prospective playoff picture. Braswell dominated its first two weeks before a surprising lapse against a surging Byron Nelson squad, McKinney has elevated its play following a sluggish opener, Rock Hill seems to be getting better with each week, and Little Elm's resilience is apparent after a roller-coaster preseason.
My preseason pick for 5-6A's last playoff spot was McKinney. When the Lions' ground game is rolling, they're going to be as tough an out as anyone in the district, and not just because of blue-chip rusher Bryan Jackson and dual-threat quarterback Keldric Luster. Defensive lineman DK Abrams and Malachi Frazier have emerged as productive change-of-pace options, and there's plenty of room for growth elsewhere with McKinney soldiering through its preseason with multiple top-end defensive starters injured.
No school in 5-6A has seen as much roster turnover as Little Elm. The Lobos lost a big senior class to graduation this spring. But it wasn't just the Lobo roster that had to be retooled. Former North Garland coach Joe Castillo was hired in May as the Lobos' new head coach after former coach Kendrick Brown was hired as Little Elm ISD assistant athletic director.
Personnel changes and all, Little Elm has been competitive in all three games. Although the Lobos were 1-2 entering Friday's District 5-6A opener at McKinney, each of their last two games have gone down to the wire. Two weeks ago, Little Elm barely misconnected on a potential go-ahead touchdown pass in the final minute of a 27-24 loss to V.R. Eaton. Last week, Prestonwood Christian scored with 10 minutes left in the ballgame and went on to hand Little Elm a 42-41 loss.
One of the biggest changes for Little Elm this season is at quarterback. The Lobos lost their all-time leader in passing yardage and four-year starter in John Mateer to graduation, as well as all of Little Elm's leading wide receivers from last year's 5-5 team. Enter junior Kellen Tasby. Tasby has been firing on all cylinders. He's already thrown for 1,016 yards and seven touchdowns. Seniors Tay'lon Jackson, Franklyn Johnson, Chase Davis and juniors Aiden Samuels and Prince Ijioma have stepped up as top-tier wide receivers.
The Lobos have benefited from a great running game. Junior Semaj Jordan-Rector leads the way with 292 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
But after starting last season 5-0 before finishing with a 5-5 record, Little Elm seeks consistency, especially as it tackles one of the districts in the state.
Winners of the past three district championships, Marcus got a swift look at where it stands relative to some of the area's best football teams amid one of the most challenging preseason schedules in program history.
The Marauders are 1-2 entering their latest title defense, dealt losses to top 10-ranked Highland Park and Southlake Carroll before steering things in the right direction last week against Euless Trinity. There won't be a team as daunting as the Scots or Dragons on their district schedule, so time will tell how much Marcus' uptick in preseason competition means in the long run.
What the Marauders have shown is that they're plenty capable of throwing the ball, with Cole Welliver and Co. ranking 12th in the area among 6A schools at 260.7 passing yards per game. Isaac Khattab is averaging more than 18 yards per carry and more than a quarter of Ashton Cozart's receptions have produced touchdowns.
Three consecutive district titles will earn the benefit of the doubt, but Marcus' bid for a four-peat won't be easy. Lewisville is 2-1, faring similarly to the Marauders in their loss to Highland Park, and has been a handful defensively at 14.7 points and 286.7 yards allowed per game. Coppell, meanwhile, looks rejuvenated under Antonio Wiley with top-12 area ranks in total offense (439), passing offense (283) and scoring (43.3).
I still like the Marauders to come out on top, but a lot of that hinges on the development of a run game that's averaging just over 2 yards per carry so far. Marcus must be better there to keep its title hopes afloat.
There have been plenty of changes around Coppell since the end of last season, including at the top of the coaching tree.
Former Wichita Falls Hirschi head coach Antonio Wiley was hired by Coppell in February to take over for Mike DeWitt, who resigned at the end of this past school year. Wiley brought a winning pedigree to Coppell, which included the Huskies' second-ever appearance in the state semifinals last season.
So far, Wiley has carried over his winning ways to Coppell.
Led by an explosive offense that has averaged 46.7 points per game, the Cowboys entered their bye week at 3-0. Senior quarterback Jack Fishpaw has been on point, throwing for 849 yards with eight touchdowns against no interceptions. Fishpaw's eighth touchdown pass of the season was a 12-yard hook-up to junior Baron Tipton in the left corner of the end zone with 12 seconds to play in last Friday's 44-38 win against Keller Timber Creek. A 58-yard punt return by senior Zack Darkoch set up the winning score.
It was the second straight week that Coppell has won in the final minute of the game. Two weeks ago, senior running back Malkam Wallace scored from 3 yards out with 18 seconds left in the Cowboys' 30-26 home win over South Grand Prairie.
Coppell will look to shore up a run defense that has surrendered 301 yards per game, but the Cowboys have received timely plays from their secondary. Junior Matthew Williams returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown against South Grand Prairie. Senior Braxton Myers had four pass break-ups in Coppell's win against Sachse, while sophomore Weston Polk had two interceptions in that game.
After missing the playoffs last season, Coppell can be a force to be reckoned with if it can keep up its pace on offense and correct its mistakes on defense.
Plano ISD bounce-back year?
When Prosper eliminated Plano from playoff contention in November 2019, it marked the first time in three decades that Plano ISD wouldn't have a team in the postseason. It took just two years for that instance to resurface, with PISD left on the outside looking in at an all-Lewisville ISD playoff picture last year.
The Plano trio are off to a combined 5-4 start this year, highlighted by Plano East's first 3-0 start since 2018. Plano West and Plano, meanwhile, are 1-2 but just a few plays away from rising above .500. There's a renewed optimism around the Panthers under head coach Tony Benedetto, the Wolves are their usual scrappy selves, and the Wildcats shown enough in recent weeks to believe they can offer an improved showing in district.
But they're not alone. Coppell is 3-0 under first-year head coach Antonio Wiley, and Hebron has started to find its footing after a tough opener under new head coach John Towels III. All three Plano schools can be improved from last season and that still may not be enough with how slim the margins are between five or six teams in this district.
But of the PISD lot, it's hard not be impressed with what East has shown so far. The Panthers are multi-dimensional on offense, just as capable of attacking a defense vertically with quarterback Drew Devillier and Rushil Patel as they are burning the fourth-quarter clock behind some hard-nosed running from Daniel Fayombo.
And although I'm sure the fans' blood pressure would prefer otherwise, East has developed a late-game moxie with three wins by seven points or less.
It won't be easy, but at least one PISD program should be able to wedge its way into the playoff equation this year.