With the return of high school football here in Richland County also brings back an annual tradition.
The Richland County Football Power Poll is back with the preseason rankings heading into Week 1. It is worth noting that these rankings do not indicate who would beat who in a head-to-head matchup considering schools representing Divisions III through VII are in the poll. It does, however, rank teams based on which is having the best season at the time when looking at win/loss record as well as strength of opponents in comparison to the size of school.
The preseason poll is a bit of a prediction of which team is expected to put up the best season in 2022.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's get to it. Here is the 2022 Richland County Football Preseason Power Poll.
The Cougars went 12-1 last season and a perfect 10-0 in the regular season. They return a plethora of talent, including third-team All-Ohio quarterback Hayden Kuhn and first-team All-Ohio linemen Owen Barker and Mason Ringler. They will have to replace 2,000-yard back Connor Morse, but there have been players waiting in the shadows for their turn to carry the football and this year is about to be their year. The Cougars are the two-time defending Firelands Conference champions and they fully expect to make it three straight. They host Loudonville in Week 1 on Thursday night.
2. Mansfield Senior
The Tygers might be the most talented team from top to bottom in Richland County. They only lost five players from last year's 9-3 team and bring back a defense as nasty and physical as they come. Mekhi Bradley, Leo Hess and Ricky Mills hit people so hard that they think twice about bringing the ball near them the next time. The Tygers will be breaking in a new quarterback in Duke Reese and have a nice offensive line along with some running backs who will make the transition to the varsity level a little easier. The Tygers travel to Norwalk in Week 1.
The Cubs are back at it again. With skill talent galore, the offense and defense shouldn't have any problem finding speed. The only question mark the Cubs have is who will step up on an offensive line that lost everyone to graduation last season. Lucas churns out great offensive linemen, and this year should be no different. Plus, with fullbacks who love to hit, that can make up for a lot of things. The Cubs host Clear Fork in an interesting Week 1 matchup.
4. Clear Fork
The Colts might return the most of any team in Richland County with nine starters on offense and eight on defense from a playoff team a year ago. So, needless to say, the expectations are extremely high down in The Valley. The Colts come in as possibly the favorite to win a Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference championship, and rightfully so — they bring back veteran talent at just about every position. The Colts travel to Lucas in Week 1, so right out of the gate we have a matchup of two top-four teams to kick the season off in style.
The Whippets return the least amount of lettermen of any team in Richland County and just one defensive starter is back, but with the success the Whippets have enjoyed over the last seven seasons the mentality in Shelby is not to rebuild but to reload. For those thinking the Whippets will have a down year, guess again. The motivation to win a fourth consecutive league championship for the first time in program history should be enough to make anyone run through a brick wall. They host Madison in Week 1 in the final game ever at WW Skiles Field.
The Big Red brings back a running back in Shae Sparks who would start on any team in Richland County — he is that talented and hard-working. They also have a receiver in Caiden Allen who has speed to burn. Plymouth has every tool in the box to make a run at a Firelands Conference championship and can make an early statement in Week 1 at Oberlin.
The Warriors had the youngest team in Richland County last season and still might, but at least those youngsters are a year more experienced than they were last year. They bring back a 1,000-yard running back in Chase Studer along with some athletes like Peyton Dzugan who are changing positions to provide play-making ability all over the field. One thing is certain — this team wants to win and win now and for a long time in the future. They can start things off in Week 1 against Lexington on Thursday night.
The Minutemen lost a lot from last year's playoff team, including their top two rushers, their quarterback and a good chunk of their offensive line. But with a new energetic coach and a young class ready to make an impact, don't expect the Minutemen to be an easy out in 2022. They are going to play a physical brand of football and just might surprise some people, even the guy making the Richland County Football Power Poll. They travel to Ontario in Week 1 and can make a statement right away.
The Rams went winless last season, but got serious about turning the program around in the offseason by landing legendary coach Scott Valentine. He has players in the right positions with Hunter Hutcheson playing middle linebacker. He will be the leader of this year's team that brings in a young and talented quarterback in Cameron Kuhn as well as a veteran offensive line. The Rams will be Richland County's surprise team. They travel to Shelby in Week 1 with a chance to really mess up the power poll right out of the gate.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Richland County Football Preseason Power Poll: Crestview Cougars No. 1