Anne Arundel football coaches said Annapolis would be improved. They said Northeast had enough talent to surprise people, Southern could win games with defense and Severna Park would make a run at the playoffs.
But one thing -- one very key thing -- somehow got lost in all the preseason hype and prognostication, and that's become clear in the first three weeks of this season:
Some teams might rise; some might fall. But Anne Arundel football is still primarily about Broadneck and Old Mill.
Both the Bruins and the Patriots remained undefeated last weekend by posting impressive shutout wins over strong area teams. Broadneck beat Arundel, 30-0; Old Mill handled Northeast, 38-0. A month into the season, both teams have the makings of playoff contenders: established stars, experience and athleticism.
"Those are the teams everybody's just trying to get a piece of," said Brian Brown, head coach at Annapolis, Anne Arundel's only other undefeated team. "They're the cream of the crop. Everybody knows that. They show it week to week."
Rarely, though, do they flaunt their dominance like they did last weekend. Old Mill played at Northeast, a team that had cruised to wins in its first two games. "Honestly," Northeast Coach Mike Cotham said, "it felt like we had a really good thing going."
Against Old Mill, though, the Eagles couldn't get anything going. They ran fewer than 40 plays all game -- and turned the ball over four times. Old Mill, meanwhile, countered with perhaps the county's most talented offensive player. Ryan Callahan, a junior who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, ran 25 times for 252 yards and five touchdowns.
"That was pretty special," Old Mill Coach Mike Marcus said. "He's the type of back that can do everything. As a team, we were just hitting on all cylinders. You won't see games like that too often."
Unless you strolled over to Broadneck two days later to watch the Bruins put on a similarly complete performance. Against Arundel -- a team that came into the game with the county's leading passer (Nick Palmer) and rusher (Jimmy Rhodes) -- Broadneck forced six turnovers and allowed only four first downs.
"Our defense is what has impressed me most," Broadneck Coach Jeff Herrick said. "We have so much speed on that side of the ball, and that's what's really paying off for us. Our kids are quick to get to the ball."
They're also quick to score with it. Broadneck put up 17 points within five minutes against Arundel and, during that spurt, showed some impressive offensive diversity.
Tailback Brandon Johnson, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, broke two tackles and sprinted into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown run.
Quarterback Tony Marino, a smart leader with an underrated arm, heaved a 35-yard pass to Tyrone Johnson, who ran in for a score.
Kicker Chris Desautels, an all-state selection a year ago, split the uprights for a 46-yard field goal, setting a school record and sending a handful of teammates running onto the field in celebration.
"That's what's great about this team," Marino said. "You can't say, 'Oh, stop Broadneck on the run or on the pass and then they're in trouble.' You might stop one thing, but you can't stop it all."
"We're playing so well," Desautels said. "I think we're proving that we're the force in this county."
And other than Old Mill, nobody seems to be catching up -- yet.
For Anne Arundel football coaches, parity is this year's buzzword. They think the conference is evening out, with teams like Annapolis, Southern and South River competing at a playoff level. "There are no easy games," Brown said, "because everybody in this league can play."
But until a team knocks off Broadneck or Old Mill, those two schools will continue to sit atop the county hierarchy. The Bruins marched all the way to the state championship game last year, and Old Mill has made the playoffs five years in a row.
The way both teams are playing this season, they seem headed for similar success; they play on Oct. 15 at Old Mill.
"In my mind, Old Mill and Broadneck are a step ahead right now," Cotham said. "Those two teams are very good. Really, they're always very good. Until somebody proves otherwise, they're the favorites. The always find a way to keep winning."