Is it McDonough's turn to take a SMAC crown?

The past two conference champions -- Westlake in 2003 and Northern last season -- were first-time winners built around an experienced nucleus. With nine returning starters and 11 seniors, McDonough fits the mold. "We've had our shots at times in the past, but things tend to falter when you have overconfidence," Rams Coach Matt Petricoin said. "We don't have that this year."

Can the conference continue to produce college-caliber players?

Last school year, Lackey sent two-time All-Met A.J. Delagarza to Maryland and Wes Dyson to Bucknell. Calvert's Jeffers Frazier is playing at George Mason, Patuxent's Shane Malamphy at Mount St. Mary's and Leonardtown's Leland Raum at Drexel. The Class of 2004 included Leonardtown's Danny Poe (Clemson), Patuxent's Jake Rozran (Drexel) and Westlake's Ryan Russell, who had an offer from then-national champion St. John's but is trying to play professionally abroad. "There's always been spurts, but the quantity" over the past couple of years is much higher, said Northern Coach Jaime Webster, whose seven seniors from last season are all playing college ball.

Will the rest of the state see a SMAC team thrive on the big stage?

Since Thomas Stone shared the 1998 3A championship, no SMAC team has won a game in the state tournament. Last season, no conference team won a region title, for the first time since 1990. Realignment might give the conference a shot; the traditionally strong Anne Arundel County schools are no longer in the 3A South Region with seven SMAC teams, and four Prince George's County schools have taken their place.