Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Summer is over, the days are getting (slightly) shorter, and the temperatures are dropping … at least, when the monsoons pick up.
As children young and old head back to school, that also means the return of one thing: high school sports are back.
Here's your reminder that high school football begins before school has begun in most districts this weekend, starting Thursday with the top-rated team in 4A, Desert Hills, traveling to 5A's Brighton.
After that, it's a full weekend of non-region play. So who are the teams to beat? What are the biggest storylines of the season? Will the media hate your favorite team or alma mater?
We can answer at least one of those questions, with the debut of this season's KSL.com Top 20+1.
Last season: 11-2, loss to Lone Peak in 6A semifinals
For full transparency's sake, the No. 1 team in the Top 20+1 was not unanimous among our sports staff. The Falcons are deserving leaders to start the season, with arguably the most talented lineup that includes six returning starters on offense (led by Utah State quarterback commit McCae Hillstead) and 10 on defense (led by four-star cornerback recruit Smith Snowden).
But they'll face some stiff competition this year, beginning Friday against Fremont, and a non-region slate that includes East, Orem and Timpview, and the gauntlet of the SEC of Utah high school football in Region 4.
Speaking of …
2. Corner Canyon
Last season: 12-2, loss to Lone Peak in 6A championship
The "down" year for the Chargers resulted in 12 wins and a berth in the state finals, but that's because Corner Canyon saw its state-record 48-game winning streak snapped by Lone Peak — and then ended again by the Knights at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
With four-star quarterback recruit Isaac Wilson leading the offense and recent BYU commit Owen Borg on defense, the "revenge tour" starts Friday at Herriman.
3. Lone Peak
Last season: 10-2, 6A champions
The Knights are the defending champions, but lost all but four starters on offense and return just one on defense.
And yet, it's hard to doubt head coach Bart Brockbank, who is 45-20 with two state titles in six seasons as head coach, as well as coordinators Ryan Denney (defense) and Gary Trowbridge (offense).
Last season: 11-3, 5A champions
The defending champs return 15 total starters, with eight of them on offense that include quarterback Jackson Brousseau. Ed Larson's ninth season with the Pioneers have them primed for his third title.
5. American Fork
Last season: 7-4, loss to Corner Canyon in 6A quarterfinals
Of the four losses suffered by the Cavemen in 2021, all four came to Region 4 rivals, including twice to the Chargers and a one-possession loss to Lone Peak. After losing half their offense and quarterback Maddux Madsen (Boise State), American Fork's biggest asset may be Stanford-bound defensive end Hunter Clegg, who also plays tight end.
Not a bad asset around which to build.
Last season: 9-3, loss to Lehi in 5A quarterfinals
The Thunderbirds will be tested early, beginning Friday against Lone Peak at Provo High. They also have non-region dates with 6A's Bingham and Skyridge before hitting Region 7 play, featuring Orem and Lehi.
Last season: 8-5, loss to Weber in 6A quarterfinals
Defending champion Weber is rebuilding, and the road to a Region 1 title will likely require one to cross the street at Zeppe's Italian Ice and get through four-year starter Sam Pula and an experienced Titans defense.
Last season: 7-5, loss to Lone Peak in 6A quarterfinals
New coach, same expectations for first-year head coach Eric Jones, the former Roy High defensive coordinator who brought ex-Royals coach Fred Fernandes to run the Miners' offense. But quarterback Jake Meyers and Riverton may stand in the way of a Region 3 title.
Last season: 11-2, loss to Lehi in 5A championship
A loss to the Pioneers has galvanized BYU quarterback commit Ryder Burton and the Red Devils to finish the job in Dave Valeti's first year as head coach.
Last season: 10-3, loss to Corner Canyon in 6A semifinals
The Warriors are young, but high expectations remain for the team picked to finish fifth in Region 1 by the league's coaches and the Standard-Examiner. But 6-foot-4 quarterback Aiden Carter will help ease the transition after throwing for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns en route to a 4-1 record as a starter last year.
11. Mountain Ridge
Last season: 8-3, loss to Syracuse in 6A second round
Dynamic running back Cade Uluave leads the Sentinels' first four-year senior class in school history that will be eager to make another jump.
Last season: 8-4, loss to American Fork in 6A second round
Meyers and the Silverwolves have high expectations, including 10 total starters and the coaches' pick to win Region 3. Bingham and Mountain Ridge won't make accomplishing those goals easy.
Last season: 7-6, loss to Springville in 5A semifinals
After a 3-0 start, the Tigers lost five of their next six before rallying with a late run to the state semifinals. Orem returns six starters on offense but will break in a new starting quarterback in Lance Reynolds, Jr.
Last season: 8-3, loss Orem in 5A first round
The Bengals brought in former Corner Canyon defensive coordinator Casey Sutera to guide an experienced team with eight returning starters on offense and five on defense.
Last season: 5-7, loss to Stansbury in 5A quarterfinals
The Leopards will try to rebound from their first losing season since 2014 with 11 returning starters on offense, including running back Amine Amone and quarterback Sione Vailahi.
Last season: 10-3, loss to Lehi in 5A semifinals
Quarterback Ezra Harris has the Stallions favored by the coaches to win Region 7.
Last season: 8-2, loss to Farmington in 6A first round
Quarterback Saia Suesue has the loaded Panthers favored to win a third consecutive Region 2 title.
18. Desert Hills
Last season: 9-2, loss to Pine View in 4A quarterfinals
The top-rated team in 4A is the clear front-runner in Region 10 but looks for its first state title since 2016.
Last season: 8-3, loss to Orem in 5A quarterfinals
The Redhawks were 5-0 in Region 5 a year ago and are favored to win the league again.
Last season: 7-5, loss to Corner Canyon in 6A second round
If anyone knocks off West in Region 2, it could be the Cougars who averaged 30.9 points per game en route to the No. 16 ranking in the RPI.
Plus-1. Layton Christian
Last season: 9-5, loss to Duchesne in 1A championship
If there's a 1A school to keep an eye on this year, it's Layton Christian. The Eagles were 4 points away from their first state title in program history last year and return eight starters on offense and eight more on defense intending to finish the job. The latter includes 6-foot-3, 315-pound Oregon commit Tevita Pome'e on the defensive line, and two-way defensive back Malik Johnson, who led the state with 10 interceptions a year ago.