Orange Glen, Vista, Poway and Torrey Pines were mentioned most prominently as teams that could supplant defending champion Mt. Carmel.
But wait . . . one coach did venture out on a limb.
Rik Haines of Torrey Pines, who do you like to win this thing?
"Us," he said. Haines paused, and then scrambled back.
"Well, I don't know. To be real honest, I can't tell you who."
The coaches agree, however, that Torrey Pines quarterback John Lynch and Vista lineman Tamasi Amituani each is capable of delivering the title to his school.
Last season's record: 7-3, 4-2 in league.
Coach: Tom Pack.
Top returners: Greg Hukari (6-2, 245, Sr., OG), Tom Nix (5-11, 220, Sr., C), Brian Cornelius (6-4, 220, Sr., OT), Terry Sherman (6-2, 235, Sr., T), Aaron Hopkins (5-11, 170, Sr., S), John Tipton (6-1, 195, Sr., NG).
Top newcomers: Greg Martin (6-1, 175, Sr., QB), Kelly Fieux (5-11, 170, Jr., QB).
Outlook: The lines should be imposing, but Pack, who enters his 11th season, said he has not decided who would be in the starting backfield. Martin and Fieux were the top candidates at quarterback. The defense, which has four starters returning, has looked good in practice. The Warriors are seeking their seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs.
Last season's record: 8-1, 5-1 in league.
Coach: Bill Christopher.
Top returners: John Tejcek (5-10 175, Sr., TB/FS), Marcus Lee (5-10 198, Sr., ILB) Jojo Reyes (5-10, 190, Sr., ILB), Jared Wright (6-1 235, Sr., T), Brian Dean (6-2, 195, Sr., T).
Top newcomer: Jeff Hamm (5-8, 160, Sr., QB).
Outlook: Christopher, whose Mt. Carmel team in 1982 reached the section semifinals in his first year there, returned last year, and the Sun Devils reached the semis again, losing to eventual 3-A champion Point Loma. Mt. Carmel spoiled Vista's 50th anniversary celebration with a 15-14 decision and beat every league opponent but Fallbrook. Gone, though, is a talented senior class. Three-year starters Tejcek, Lee and Reyes return.
Last season's record: 6-3-1, 3-3 in league.
Coach: Dave Lay.
Top returners: Shane Copeland (6-2, 190, Sr., HB), Jake Nyberg (6-1, 178, Sr., WR), Dennis Esposito (5-11, 185, Sr., FB), Lenny McGill (6-2, 185, Sr., DB).
Top newcomer: Cree Morris (6-6, 210, Sr., QB).
Outlook: The presence of Lay and a balanced, experienced roster have put the Patriots in the top five of most preseason predictions for the county. "Anytime you return your secondary, you feel pretty confident," Lay said. Lay, who coached at powerful Sweetwater from 1968-77, enters his second season at Orange Glen. Though Morris divided time at tight end and backup quarterback last year, he has the size and arm strength to excel and excellent targets. Shannon Vinje was one of the top kickers in the county. Esposito rushed for 816 yards and was named to the all-league team. Depth should be a plus, too, and the Pats' passing scheme usually is excellent.
Last season's record: 4-5-1, 2-4 in league.
Coach: Brad Elrod.
Top returners: Mike Beam (5-9, 160, Sr., QB), Jose Castro (5-9, 165, Sr., CB), Mark Faust (5-10, 165, Sr., RB), Doug Schwenke (6-0 180, Sr., WR), Bret Christensen (5-10, 175, Sr., S).
Top newcomer: Richard Earl (6-2, 225, Jr., OG).
Outlook: Twenty-two players return, 15 who started at least once. Christensen has been a starter since his sophomore year, and Beam should benefit from last year's experience running the wishbone. Elrod, who enters his third season, implemented that offense last summer. "I wasn't disappointed at all last year," he said. "Experience may make the difference this time." Castro was a first-team all-league selection.
Last season's record: 6-4, 2-4 in league.
Coach: Ed Burke.
Top returners: Tom Pellegrino (5-10, 205, Sr., DT/OG), Tim Patterson (6-4, 217, Sr., ILB/C), Matt Brown (6-1, 175, Sr., OLB/QB), Tim Kechter (6-0, 175, Sr., S).
Top newcomers: Sean Newcomer (5-9, 150, Jr., WR), Adam Knox (5-9, 150, Sr., WR).
Outlook: "I would be happy with third," said Burke, who enters his ninth season. An experienced defense led by Pellegrino--"He should be all-CIF," Burke said--will be asked to carry the young offense, for which Patterson is the only returning full-time starter. Brown had the early lead over two others for the quarterback spot. San Dieguito's first three games are against schools that made the playoffs last year.
Last season's record: 5-4-1, 2-4 in league.
Coach: Rik Haines.