With Mark Pierce (11) back at quarterback, the defending Maryland 4A state champion Jaguars are the team to beat. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Favorite: Northwest (12-2)

The Maryland 4A state champions return most of their starters from last year, including junior quarterback Mark Pierce, who took over in the middle of the season and threw for 1,407 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Jaguars also have leading rusher E.J. Lee back on offense. They key for the Jaguars last season was being healthy when other teams were coping with injuries, and Northwest is taking care to do the same this season through hydration and conditioning.

Contenders: Quince Orchard (10-2), Clarksburg (7-4)

Around the league: Quince Orchard has just four starters returning on both sides of the ball, but under first-year coach John Kelley, the defensive coordinator last season, the Cougars will lean on their traditionally stout defense. Defensive lineman Adam McLean, a Penn State commit, and linebacker Jason Heyn will anchor the defense, and Kelley said the team has good depth at offensive line. Carson Knight will be the new quarterback this season and the Cougars will have a new running back in Kyle Green. . . .

Clarksburg will be a run-oriented team as it returns a rushing tandem of seniors Tyler Fenslau and Tavis Holland, who combined for 1,550 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. . . . Gaithersburg is thin on offense, having to replace quarterback Nick DeCarlo and running back Solomon Vault (Northwestern), but the Trojans have defensive end Kamonte Carter, a Penn State commit, who may play on both sides of the ball this season. After graduating 34 seniors from last year’s 8-3 team, the Trojans will have players in their first year on varsity starting at several positions.

Host Jessica Honesty and Chelsea Janes preview high school football for the 2014 season in the Montgomery County area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

More high school football preview content

First-year quarterbacks take the reins for contending teams

Montgomery 4A East | 4A South | 3A/Independent

Anne Arundel | SMAC | Prince George’s 4A | 3A/2A/1A

Howard | WCAC | IAC | MAC | MIAA | CAFC