COACH: Jason Gill (5th season)
2011 RECORD: 7-4 (Class M quarterfinalist)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. OL/DL Cal Daniels (6-foot-3, 240 pounds); Sr. OL Trevor Ochs (5-9, 190); Jr. OL Joey Piatnik (6-3, 205); Sr. OL/DL Pete Serencsics (6-2, 250)
REASON TO SMILE: Gill has guided the Wildcats to the state playoffs two of the last three years.
REASON TO WORRY: The Wildcats graduated more than 3,000 rushing yards with Brandon Schmidt (West Point), Brian Birdsell (Central Connecticut) and William Quinn.
OUTLOOK: The Wildcats are young and have some holes to fill from last year's team, which qualified for the Class M state playoffs and lost to eventual champion Ansonia in the quarterfinals. The play of the offensive line will be key to Bethel's progress. The same holds true for the defense. A big test will come Week 1 when the Wildcats travel to face Bunnell.
COACH: Rich Angarano (13th season)
2011 RECORD: 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB/DB Boeing Brown (6-3, 215); Sr. WR/DB Rick Hegarty (6-1, 175); Sr. WR/DB Nick Biasetti (5-11, 160); Sr. RB/LB Kory Brown (5-8, 185); Sr. RB/LB Sam Johnson (6-1, 235); Sr. C/DE Andrew Melby (6-1, 200); Sr. OL/DL Tom Salvatore (6-4, 290); Sr. OL/DL Hoon Kang (5-9, 200); Sr. OL/DL Chris Staffeiri (5-10, 225); Sr. RB/LB Kyle Spera (5-9, 180); Jr. QB/DB Brad Westmark (5-10, 180).
REASON TO SMILE: The Bobcats feature some big players up front on both sides of the ball.
REASON TO WORRY: Brookfield graduated nearly 1,800 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns with Leaon Gordon and Tyler Puglisi.
OUTLOOK: Brookfield is a team that expects to be in contention every year -- and usually is. Two years ago, the Bobcats went to the Class M state semifinals. Key to this year's success will be how well some of the younger players step up. Boeing Brown (1,332 passing yards, 10 TDs) is a versatile weapon who can help his team in all sorts of ways on offense, defense and special teams. The Bobcats will look to put the ball in his hands as often as possible.
COACH: Craig Bruno (11th year)
2011 RECORD: 8-2
REASON TO SMILE: "Bruno ball" always finds a way to put up points on the scoreboard.
REASON TO WORRY: Has the defense, which allowed 110 points in the Bulldogs two defeats last year, improved?
OUTLOOK: Bunnell, on the strength of Castelot's right arm and leadership abilities, should find a way to be in position for victory most nights. Can the Bulldogs win if all those games turn into shootouts? "We've had a lot of recent success and all the guys know how to win," Bruno said. "We'll rely on that heart and our previous success to carry us through."
COACH: Tom Taylor (1st year)
2011 RECORD: 0-10
REASON TO SMILE: Taylor, a proven winner in his two prior SWC stops, returns to the league after a decade away, committed to turning the Mustangs around.
REASON TO WORRY: Numbers are already up but still relatively low. The process of rebuilding the program might result in a couple more lean seasons.
OUTLOOK: Taylor will run his bread and butter on offense, the wishbone-based power option, which will give the Mustangs some much-needed identity. Wins against top-tier SWC opponents are crucial to the program's development, according to Taylor, but the climb to respectability will take time. A good start would be the snapping of the school's 26-game losing streak, which has swallowed up three head coaches in three seasons.
COACH: Rob Tynan (20th season)
2011 RECORD: 3-7
REASON TO SMILE: Nine Falcon ball-carriers rushed for 3,241 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Eight of them are back.
REASON TO WORRY: The Falcons' road schedule is tough and includes bus rides to Bethel, Bunnell, Brookfield and Masuk.
OUTLOOK: That running game last year sure was productive. Shaban ran for 1,092 yards and nine touchdowns and Lockwood collected 541 yards and four TDs on 61 carries. Lockwood also caught 11 of the Falcons' 15 completed passes for 171 yards and three scores. Another middle-of-the-pack finish is likely for the Falcons, who have gone 5-15 over the last two seasons after finishing 5-5 in 2009. A good measuring stick will be a Week 1 clash with New Fairfield in a battle of lacrosse powers whose football teams have struggled in recent years.
COACH: John Murphy (15th year)
2011 RECORD: 11-1 (SWC champ, Class L semifinalist)
REASON TO SMILE: There's no pressure to win every game 49-0.
REASON TO WORRY: Teams across the SWC are more than likely licking their chops for a chance to exact some revenge on the Panthers from the last few seasons.
OUTLOOK: Life after Casey Cochran begins at Masuk, but Murphy isn't all that worried. "We were pretty good before Casey got here and that's what I keep preaching to these guys. For 16 years (actually 15 for Murphy), we've done some pretty good things, we won a state championship two years before Casey got here."
COACH: Anthony Fata (3rd season)
2011 RECORD: 3-7
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jr. TB/LB Joe Pacheco (5-10, 205); Sr. FB/LB Nick Guardi (5-9, 210); Sr. TE/DE Nick Preble (5-11, 195); Sr. OL/DT Ryan Tharas (5-10, 195); Jr. OL/DT Chris Hernandez (6-0, 225); Sr. QB Mike Jamieson (5-10, 190); Jr. QB Mike McCourt (5-9, 170); Jr. TB/WR/S Collin Cioffi (5-10, 170); Sr. WR/LB Liam Moriarty (5-11, 180)
REASON TO SMILE: The Rebels feature some talented players at the skill positions.
REASON TO WORRY: The offensive line is young.
OUTLOOK: The Rebels have some dynamic weapons to work with, including Guardi, who rushed for 588 yards and nine touchdowns last year, and Jamieson, who passed for 706 yards and two scores. Pacheco is a standout sprinter on the indoor and outdoor track teams, and his speed and athleticism will come in handy. The Rebels' success this season will hinge on how quickly their young offensive line comes together.
COACH: Chuck Lynch (10th year)
2011 RECORD: 5-5
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Connor Shanahan (2,087 yards passing, 21 touchdowns); Sr. C Matt Gugel (6-0, 210); Sr. WR/DB Tyler Clark (5-10, 165); Sr. WR/DB Kameron Bradshaw (27 catches, 368 yards); Sr. WR/DE James Flynn (6-0, 182); Sr. RB/LB Kevin VanCoughnett (5-10, 190)
REASON TO SMILE: Shanahan, an elite passer who was perhaps overshadowed last year by some of the SWC's better-known signal-callers, threw two or more touchdown passes in all but three games last season.
REASON TO WORRY: Several of Shanahan's favorite targets graduated, leaving the load to a largely untested batch of receivers.
OUTLOOK: Despite a bevy of notable departures, the Green Wave are a veteran group led by a strong-armed senior quarterback that could shake up the SWC's established order. Newtown is a rough Week 1 matchup, but it could also serve to breed confidence for an offense that can be explosive. Expect shoot-outs.
COACH: Steve George (6th year)
2011 RECORD: 9-4 (SWC runner-up; Class LL semifinalist)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. WR/S Dan Hebert (5-9, 170); Jr. QB Andrew Tarantino (5-11, 165); Sr. WR/DB Justin Devellis (5-11, 165); Sr. WR/DB Chris Devaney (6-2, 205); Sr. OL/DL Pat Thornberg (6-1, 225); Soph. WR/OLB Julian Dunn (6-2, 205)
REASON TO SMILE: Hebert is an electric playmaker capable of scoring on every play.
REASON TO WORRY: In the absence of all-time leading rusher Lou Fenaroli, who tallied 284 attempts for 1,886 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior, the Nighthawks don't have a workhorse running back to assume that load.
OUTLOOK: No team is happier to see Masuk quarterback Casey Cochran go than the Nighthawks, who lost the last two SWC championship games in landslides led by the UConn freshman. On the heels of their first playoff win since 1992, a 36-22 thumping of Hall of West Hartford in last year's LL quarterfinals, the 2012 Nighthawks might have the firepower to make another leap. Tarantino (12 touchdown passes, 1,506 passing yards) broke out in the 54-48 win over Bunnell that clinched the Nighthawks' shot at the SWC title, completing 18 of 22 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. He'll spearhead a diverse offense armed with a slew of playmakers, including Hebert (1,120 all-purpose yards, nine total touchdowns), Dunn (19 catches at 20.4 yards a clip) and Devellis (22 catches, 396 yards, three touchdowns).
COACH: Dawon Dicks (1st year)
2011 RECORD: 1-9
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. OLB/TE Jelani Roman (6-2, 215), Jr. RB/CB Sean Edwards (5-8, 170), Jr. QB Matt Moffet, Soph. QB/TE Glody Tumba
REASON TO SMILE: ND dressed as few as 13 players for games in 2011, but has watched its preseason numbers balloon to as many as 42.
REASON TO WORRY: The Lancers' three best players -- running backs Frank Zumbo and Nigel Beckford and quarterback Daquan Coleman -- have all departed. Zumbo and Coleman graduated and Beckford -- the state's No. 18 rusher in 2011 -- is off to Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va.
OUTLOOK: ND is on its fifth coach in seven years, but Dicks was on Rico Brogna's staff in 2011 and his fire should inspire the team. The Lancers' first three contests -- Weston, Stratford and Joel Barlow -- are road games and should determine how successful their year will be. Dicks wants two years of camp, weight room and varsity play before he believes his club will compete for an SWC crown.
COACH: Joe Stochmal (4th year)
2011 RECORD: 3-7
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. LB Brennen Diaz; Sr. OL Bucky Gumbrewicz; Jr. OL Dan Carbonaro; Jr. FB/LB Jeff Haney; Jr. WR/DB Chris VanKamerik (361 receiving yards); Sr. OL/DL Josh Kupec; Sr. WR/DL Dave Lavorgna; Jr. RB/DB Steve Persson; Jr. RB/LB Marcus Esteves; Jr. OL/DL Justin Hanna; Jr. WR/DB Kevin Loschiavo.
REASON TO SMILE: Ten returning starters isn't a bad number to have but ¦
REASON TO WORRY: ¦those returning starters are young and have to grow up quickly.
OUTLOOK: The key word Stochmal is using for the Wolverines this season is maturity. If Oxford wants to contend in the SWC, it'll have to play with a sense of urgency, too, as it transitions to a new offensive system under the watch of Bob Kelo.
COACH: Dave Roach (2nd year)
2011 RECORD: 8-2
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB Eric Beatty (5-10, 170); Sr. RB/CB Carl Gatzendorfer (5-9, 140); Sr. RB/S Dylan McAllister (5-9, 170); Sr. C/DL Rob Torino (5-10, 230)
REASON TO SMILE: The Panthers transitioned seamlessly into the Dave Roach era last season, winning all five of their homes games and coming within a few decimals of a playoff berth. A downgrade, from Class LL to Class L, might help their chances of breaking through in 2012.
REASON TO WORRY: The first two weeks on the schedule are hellacious with a trip to Newtown following the season opener at Masuk. Lose both and the Panthers could find themselves in familiar territory come November: On the outside looking in.
OUTLOOK: Several key members of last year's 8-2 squad were lost to graduation, but those departures open the door for an unheralded yet solid senior class. Speedy tailback Dylan McAllister has big-play speed out of the trademark hammer formation (6.5 yards per rush in 2011) and Carl Gatzendorfer is a sure-handed possession receiver for quarterback Eric Beatty to lean on. When turned loose, Beatty's arm is effective. The defense is as rugged and hard-hitting as usual.
COACH: John Svatik (2nd year)
2011 RECORD: 2-8
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. C A.J. Leon; Sr. DB/RB Dana Smith; Sr. OLB Chris Whalen Sr.; Sr. OT Ben Gazzini; Sr. DL/TE Joe DeFrancesco; Jr. QB Mike Cannata (554 passing yards); Soph. RB/LB Sam Briner; Sr. OT Connor Boddington; Sr. DB/RB Noah Provo
REASON TO SMILE: With a new turf field being installed at Penders Field, Stratford's improved facilities will be in line with the rest of the SWC.
REASON TO WORRY: The turf won't be ready until mid-October, meaning no true home games for the Red Devils to start the year.
OUTLOOK: Practices have been good and Svatik likes his team's attitude. The question is how the Red Devils can transition this improvement into more wins on the scoreboard? "We have good kids," Svatik said. "They work hard, we just have to win some football games."
COACH: Joe Lato (7th year)
2011 RECORD: 7-3
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Sr. QB/DB Tyler Hassett (977 passing yards, 6 TD, 10 INT, 569 rushing yards, 8 TD); Sr. WR/DB Justin Schaeffer (15 receptions, 290 yards receiving, 3 INT), Sr. C Jack Hamilton (5-9, 215), Sr. RB/LB Aaron Pomerance (5-8, 160), Jr. WR/TE/LB Eric Dammen-Brower (71 tackles, 1 sack), Soph. RB/DB Sam Panton (5-8, 150).
REASON TO SMILE: The Trojans have stability at the sport's most important position in third-year starting quarterback Hassett. The dual-threat is the perfect ingredient in the team's triple option offense.
REASON TO WORRY: The Trojans watched their leading rusher and double-digit touchdown artist, Dan Rogers, wave goodbye in the offseason, along with his twin brother, Pat. Replacing their production is much, much easier said than done.
OUTLOOK: There was a lot to like about the Trojans' seven-win season in 2011 but the team was hit with a few new challenges in the offseason with the departures of the Rogers twins. The offense could struggle early on to fill the void left by Dan Rogers (788 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) and must receive a big year from Hassett at quarterback to compete. Hassett, like his teammates, will be expected to start on both sides of the ball with roster numbers down, but the Trojans have proved capable of handling that extra work in past seasons.
Compiled by the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers staff.