Nazareth's Tyler Morris weaves through Mt. Carmel's defense Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, during the IHSA Class 7A State Football Championship at at Huskie Stadium in Dekalb, Ill.
Nazareth's Tyler Morris weaves through Mt. Carmel's defense Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, during the IHSA Class 7A State Football Championship at at Huskie Stadium in Dekalb, Ill.

Even though we are just over six weeks removed from the conclusion of the 2019 football season, it's never too early to look forward and see what might be in store for 2020.

From the first preseason snap until the conclusion of the season last year, one team reigned at the top of the Friday Night Drive Top 25 Poll: East St. Louis.

Will the Flyers keep that roost heading into 2020? Or does another team have the necessary elements to make a case for top billing?

Any discussion of a potential 2020 No. 1 ranked team has to start once again with the team that possessed the top spot in 2019 in East St. Louis.

The Flyers will lose some incredibly talented players to graduation in the spring, most notably running back DaMonta Witherspoon and wide receivers Antonio Johnson and Lawaun Powell Jr. The Flyers also graduate nine defensive starters including monster talents in linebacker Kendrick Scarbrough and defensive lineman Kevon Billingsly.

But the bigger factor to consider in regards to East St. Louis is in what it returns. The offense will once again be anchored by extremely talented quarterback Tyler Macon, Friday Night Drive's Offensive Player of the Year. Macon put together one of the more prolific performances in state history for a quarterback in his junior campaign and despite losing some threats to graduation others remain such as heavily skilled Dominic Lovett and Keantez Lewis.

The biggest logical threat to the East St. Louis throne resides in the retaining core of one of the state's most prestigious programs. Mount Carmel, who marched to the Class 7A state title game with massive contributions from a junior class that provides a major foundation heading into next season.

Quarterback Justin Lynch will be entering his third season under center of the Caravan and when coupled with talented running back Kenenna Odeluga along with three returning starters on the offensive line, Mount Carmel is clearly stacked heading into next year.

The defense is also slated to return five starters including playmaking linebacker Austin Maciel-Haygood.

This discussion would be remiss to not include the team upended by Mount Carmel in the Class 7A state title game in Nazareth.

Nationally acclaimed quarterback recruit J.J. McCarthy (Michigan) returns for his senior season and there's no reason the offense won't be prolific in his final high school campaign.

Not only is McCarthy returning but he also returns six other offensive starters along with his two favorite receiving targets in Landon and Tyler Morris.

The biggest question for the Roadrunners will be how it replaces almost its entire defensive unit as graduation hit the ranks on that side of the ball quite substantially.

Nazareth didn't put its best foot forward in the loss to Mount Carmel and would like nothing more than to get another crack at the Caravan down the line. Nazareth lost just one regular season game last season, to Cardinal Ritter, a loss that was later reversed into a win after Cardinal Ritter was discovered to have used an illegible player. As of this writing, Nazareth was still looking for a Week 1 opponent to fill that schedule vacancy.

They might have a hard time finding a willing opponent to sign on.

There's only one school in the state of Illinois that has won 40 games over the past three seasons, Lincoln-Way East, a testament to how strong this program has built itself in recent campaigns.

A quick glance at the Griffins roster might lead one to believe that the graduation losses might be too large for Lincoln-Way East to continue to perform at the high level of excellence that the program has established.

Replacing A.J. Henning (Michigan) and a defensive unit that may have been the best unit in the state isn't going to be easy, but the same critique that could be made after this year was made last year after a strong senior class departed the program following a loss to Loyola in the semifinals.

Lincoln-Way East is a program that doesn't seem to take on rebuilding projects, they just regenerate.

The slumbering giant in this conversation is Loyola. Although the Ramblers only reached the Class 8A quarterfinal round after a loss to Marist, a program that has reached six of the last nine championships in Class 8A simply can't be ignored when discussing teams that might find themselves at the top of the heap at some point.

It also doesn't hurt when you consider that the Ramblers have a number of returning players from a talented junior group that was just starting to find their footing in the second half of last season.

For more local news, visit Friday Night Drive at https://www.fridaynightdrive.com.

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