New Hampshire's high school football season will kick-off Wednesday, when teams are allowed to hold their first practice in preparation for the 2013 season.
Football in the Granite State has a drastic new look this year. The New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association scrapped the six-division format it had used since 2008 in favor of three larger divisions that have four conferences in each division. The divisions are still based on enrollment and here's how the teams were divided:
East: Exeter, Winnacunnet, Dover, Spaulding and Timberlane.
West: Keene, Nashua North, Nashua South, Bishop Guertin and Alvirne.
North: Concord, Manchester West, Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial and Bedford.
South: Pinkerton, Salem, Londonderry, Goffstown and Merrimack.
North: Kennett, Hanover, Plymouth, Laconia and Lebanon.
South: Milford, John Stark, Windham, Souhegan and Trinity.
West: Monadnock, Con-Val, Hollis-Brookline, Sanborn and Kearsarge.
Central: Portsmouth, Pembroke, Merrimack Valley, Kingswood and St. Thomas.
South: Pelham, Campbell, Bow and Somersworth.
Lakes: Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough, Gilford, Winnisquam, Franklin and Newfound.
West; Raymond, Epping-Newmarket, Bishop Brady and Farmington/Nute.
East: Mascoma, Newport, Fall Mountain and Stevens.
“From the conversations I've had, more coaches like the new alignment than don't like it,” Manchester Memorial coach Peter Colcord said. “I''m just not happy that we've gone down from tenB (regular season) games to nine. That's a lot of work, and you want to play as many games as possible.
“I also understand that you can't please everybody.”
New Hampshire teams will no longer have room for a non-league game, so the Pinkerton-Brockton rivalry is among the casualties of the new alignment.
Eight teams will make the playoffs in each division (two from each conference), so the number of playoff teams (24) is the same as it was last year, when four teams qualified from each of the six divisions. The top two teams from each conference will meet in the quarterfinals. Teams will be reseeded for the semifinals using a point-rating system that will factor in each team's record and strength of its victories. A victory over a strong team is worth more that a victory over a lesser opponent.
“I like it,” Nashua South coach Scott Knight said. “I'm not one of those guys who's afraid of change.
“The only thing I don't like is the two teams in one conference playing in the (quarterfinals). I don't see why you have to play a team twice in a 20-team division. I'd like to play different teams in the playoffs.
“After this year I'm sure they'll tweak it, but we're definitely headed in the right direction.”
TEAMS TO WATCH
Here are 10 teams that should be in the hunt for a championship this season:
PINKERTON ACADEMY -- The Astros have the state's premier running back in senior Manny Latimore, who rushed for 1,477 yards last season.
NASHUA SOUTH -- South quarterback Trevor Knight, a three-year starter, has committed to the University of New Hampshire.
EXETER -- The Blue Hawks are seeking their third straight Division I title.
WINNACUNNET -- The Warriors won last year's Division II championship. They make the move to Division I this year.
CONCORD -- If there's a surprise team in Division I this season it will likely be the Crimson Tide.
PORTSMOUTH -- Clippers are also stepping up in class (to Division II) after winning the last two Division III championships.
TRINITY -- Quarterback Carmen Giampetruzzi is headed to Boston College … to play baseball.
PLYMOUTH -- Plymouth coach Chuck Lenahan has guided the Bobcats to 19 state titles.
BISHOP GUERTIN -- There's plenty of talent left over from a team that reach the Division II semifinals last fall.
BEDFORD -- The Bulldogs competed in Division III two years ago, moved to Division II last year and are in Division I this season.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
First-year head coaches this season: Mark Phillips (Alvirne), Dante Laurendi (Merrimack), Rob Pike (Salem), Jeff Hunt (Spaulding), Rich Bergskaug (Hollis-Brookline), Brian Pafford (Portsmouth), Mike Lochman (Souhegan), Greg Gush (Campbell), Vance Sullivan (Manchester West), Jeff Kaplan (Franklin) and Chris Marden (Gilford).
Pinkerton Academy in Derry has added lights around its football field and, with one exception, will play its home games on Friday nights this season. Pinkerton's game against Londonderry will be played in Derry on a Saturday night, Sept. 28.
Last year, Pinkerton was the only Division I school without lights.
Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and publishes the New Hampshire Football Report. Follow him on Twitter: @603SportsMedia.