Preseason No. 18: Prairie Ridge

Last season: 11-2 overall, 6-0 Fox Valley Fox, lost in the Class 6A state semifinals to Rockford Boylan, ranked No. 14 in final ESPNChicago.com final 2010 poll.

Season ahead: Prairie Ridge holds the unfortunate distinction of losing in the Class 6A semifinals to the state champion for the past two seasons. In 2009, the Wolves lost to Cary-Grove in the state semifinals. Last year, Rockford Boylan knocked them off and then won state.

Prairie Ridge isn’t going for three in a row. It would like to be on the winning side come the 2011 playoffs.

“When you get so close, it’s pretty disappointing,” Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. “Two years ago when we faced Cary-Grove, we were at the point we were happy to be there.

“Last year, we felt we were in the position to win. We had five fumbles against Boylan, and we still only lost 14-7. The only thing we’ve had with losing that game is we’ve been extremely focused in the offseason.”

Star power: Senior Connor Greenwald has proven he can be an effective power running back, rushing for 1,172 yards last season. But look for him this year to show he also has some speed and can out-run defenders. “I think there’s another burst of speed he didn’t have last year,” Schremp said. “I think this year his 6-8-yard runs are going to turn into 15-20 yards.”

Breakout performer: Opponents may not recognize linebacker Collin Corcoran from last season. In the past year, he’s grown nearly four inches and put on 25 pounds. “The amazing thing is the kid can still move,” Schremp said. “Corcoran is just an all-around, big, fast kid. The kids and coaches call him, ‘The Freak.’ ”

Defensive difference-makers: All three of Prairie Ridge’s linebackers have started since their sophomore year. Corey Peterson, Collin Corcoran and Brad Simms will be the strength of the Wolves’ defense. Their goal will be to match last season’s mark of allowing just eight points a game.

Newcomer to watch: Nick Nissen takes over at quarterback for Prairie Ridge. He’s one of the team’s smartest and fastest players. The Wolves hope his speed will assist in their option running game.

Schedule breakdown: Prairie Ridge moves into the Fox Valley Valley this season. The Wolves’ schedule is back-loaded with them playing all three of the conference’s 2010 playoffs teams after Week 5. They’re at Crystal Lake South and Jacobs and host Cary-Grove.

Key game: Oct. 21 vs. Cary-Grove -- Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove are among the Class 6A favorites this season. Both return a number of skilled players. The two teams last played in the 2009 state semifinals. “Our Week 9 is the first week of the playoffs, I would say,” Schremp said.

What they’re saying:“I think there’s a difference between talking about being a contender in the state and legitimately being one,” Schremp said. “I think we’ve proved the last couple years we can compete with anyone when we’re on our game.”