We're just five days away from the first high school football practice. Most players, coaches and fans are excited about the upcoming season, which officially starts on Sept. 5.
For me, one of the most interesting things of each football year is seeing how the conference races unfold.
At this point, each division of the SEMO Conference appears to be up for grabs.
In the SEMO North, it could be either Cape Central or Sikeston.
The Tigers are the easy choice, simply because they got it done last year.
A few studs were lost off that 10-2 squad, most notably Monroe Hicks, Jeremiah Dukes, Adrian Wren, Seth Hudson and Chris Conrad.
Other than that, proven talent returns. Cape has the area's top quarterback in Mitch Craft and his entire offensive line is back. At the skill positions, the Tigers have no shortage of talented speedsters that can step in and fill the void.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cape return five starters and several other players that saw extensive playing time.
The Tigers allowed just 13 points per game in '02 and could be equally strong this season.
The only team keeping Lawrence Brookins and Company away from the conference title is Sikeston.
The Bulldogs return virtually everything from their 7-2 squad and will be a major contender in the SEMO North.
With Jacob Priday, Blake DeWitt, Nathan Eaves, Scotty Keenan and Joe Johnson, Sikeston has the potential to go undefeated in the regular season.
And early on, I think they will look like the best team in the SEMO North, just because of the experience they return. But as the season progresses, I think Cape will get stronger with each game, like they have in recent years.
The conference title will be decided on Oct. 23, when the Bulldogs travel to Cape for a Thursday night matchup. The Tigers seem to have Sikeston's number recently, winning the last three.
Behind Cape Central and the Bulldogs in the SEMO North is Poplar Bluff and Jackson. At this point, Poplar Bluff has a little more to be excited about than the Indians.
The Mules lost Tony Webb, Cheron Pearson and K.C. LeGrand to graduation, but the other impact players from last year's 4-6 team are back.
Quarterback Mark Gum led the area last year with 2,019 passing yards. Of course, he put the ball in the air 285 times, which was 86 more attempts than any other QB in the area.
Expect the all-out air assault to continue this season, with Andrew Heuiser stepping up as his favorite receiver.
Other key returners include Steve Atteberry, Lucas Edington, J.J. Lewis and Todd Tinsley.
If any team is going to challenge Sikeston and Cape, it's going to be Bluff. I say they finish third in the conference this year.
That leaves us with the Jackson Indians, until last year, the premier football program in Southeast Missouri.
The Indians posted just two wins in '02, and one of those teams dropped them this year.
To make things worse, everybody graduated off their 2-8 squad. Quarterback Tyler Profilet and tight end Tyler McNeely are the only notable players coming back, painting a gloomy picture for the once-dominant program.
Even though they defeated Poplar Bluff last year, I don't see them beating anybody in the conference in '03.
Of course, we're still waiting for the first practice to begin.
It's way too early to start ruling teams out at this point -- it just makes for good conversation.