Paint Branch's Bene't Willis breaks a tackle for a short gain in this 2009 photo. (JOEL RICHARDSON/FOR TWP)
Favorite: Paint Branch (6-4)

QB David Smith and RB Bene’t Willis provide an experienced and explosive tandem on offense.

Contender: Sherwood (10-2)

Warriors have won at least 10 games for six consecutive seasons but have an overhauled roster.

Dark horse: Springbrook (7-4)

Made the playoffs last season but will be young and inexperienced this fall.

Around the league

The balance of power could be shifting in eastern Montgomery County. While Sherwood is 67-12 with one state title over the past six seasons, Paint Branch is considered the team to beat in the 4A East Division. The Panthers have just four returning starters on offense and two on defense, but Coach Mike Nesmith played 18 sophomores last season and many are stepping into the starting lineup. Also, Paint Branch has some talent in the backfield with Smith (1,569 yards passing, 22 touchdowns last season) and Willis (856 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns). T Will Smith, David’s twin brother, returns after missing most of last season because of a knee injury. . . . Sherwood first-year coach Mike Bonavia takes over a program accustomed to winning but lost 30 seniors, including 21 starters, from last season. Look for WR-DB Abdoulie Jallow and RB-LB Fernando Smith to be leaders on offense. . . . Springbrook has some talent in WR-TE-OLB Chris Coffie and FB-LB Brion Robinson, but the Blue Devils must replace their entire offensive line and will have many sophomores getting plenty of playing time. . . . Blake (1-9) has yet to qualify for the postseason since opening in 1998, but the Bengals could make some noise this season. The Bengals are young but have a roster bolstered by players who went undefeated on the junior varsity last season, including RB William Scott, who will team with RB William Sewell in the backfield. . . . QB Robert Clingman is Blair’s only returning starter on offense and the Blazers (4-6) will lean on a defense led by LBs David Chow, Shailesh Bogati and Simeon Vilmar and FS Peter Gondor. . . . Paint Branch, Sherwood, Springbrook and Blake could benefit from the MPSSAA’s latest realignment, as they move to the 4A North Region with schools from Baltimore that traditionally have not fared well in the postseason.

— Josh Barr