Preseason Top 20: No. 8 Carmel

Jordan Kos rushed for 16 TDs and 1,500 yards for Carmel in 2010. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

Last season: 10-2 overall, 6-0 East Suburban Catholic, lost in the Class 7A quarterfinals to St. Rita, ranked No. 9 in the final ESPNChicago.com 2010 poll

Season ahead: Carmel coach Andy Bitto had to stop and think when asked whether he had ever possessed so much backfield experience.

After a moment's time, Bitto found his answer.

"We've never had as much experience," Bitto said. "All of them are three-year starters. That's kind of rare."

While Bitto describes it as rare, it's likely opposing defenses will find other adjectives for Carmel's rushing attack this season. With the Corsairs return three-year senior starters Jordan Kos, Michael Panico and Matt Maher in the backfield, defenses will have their work cut out of them with Carmel's option offense.

"Once you got kids who know what they're doing, you can use multiple formations," Bitto said. "You don't have to run different plays. You can use different kinds of motions. You can confuse the defense and make them prepare for more stuff."

With some size in the offensive line and another speed weapon in senior quarterback Brian Brennan, the Corsairs will look to improve on last season's 34.8 points per game.

Defensively, Carmel also possesses speed all over the field from its linemen to its linebackers to its secondary. Linebackers Tyler Lees and Kevin Cox will likely be leading the hunt on each snap.

"I heard Wayne Gretzky was so fast he could correct himself if he made a mistake before it fell apart," Bitto said. "When you got that kind of speed, you can make up for it. But we don't want to make too many mistakes."

Star power: Jordan Kos rushed for 16 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards last season. He's on track to break the school's all-time rushing mark. In the offseason, he added some bulk to his frame. "Jordan is 10 pounds heavier and 10 pounds stronger this season," Bitto said.

Breakout performer: Senior Brian Brennan was Carmel's quarterback on the sophomore team, but was moved to the secondary on varsity last season with the Corsairs already having a quarterback in place. Now, Brennan gets his opportunity at his original position. "He's another runner," Bitto said. "He's quicker than heck."

Defensive difference-maker: Tyler Lees was among the area's elite linebackers last season and made more than 100 tackles for the Corsairs. With the graduation of Luke Venegoni, Lees steps into the leadership role for Carmel. "Some kids can run," Bitto said. "Some kids can hit. He can run and hit. He makes plays."

Newcomer to watch: Senior Jack Schoen opted to run cross country instead of playing football last season. He was on the sophomore football team the year before. Now as a senior, he's returned to football and will be a starting wide receiver. "It's rare for a kid that doesn't come out and starts," Bitto said. "He's probably the biggest surprise in camp."

Schedule breakdown: A lot of attention will be paid to Carmel's season opener against Joliet Catholic, but the rest of the East Suburban Catholic should be tough, too. Starting this season, the East Suburban Catholic will play eight conference games and one non-conference game. Carmel is playing Wayzata from Minnesota in its non-conference game.

Key game: Aug. 26 at Joliet Catholic -- One game doesn't decide a season, but it could determine the East Suburban Catholic title. Carmel went undefeated in conference last season and was followed by Joliet Catholic and Marian Catholic, which each had one loss. Carmel won last year's meeting with Joliet Catholic, 31-28. In 2009, Joliet Catholic won 19-16. "It's a good chance right away to go to their stadium and play in front of a huge crowd on TV," Bitto said. "You get to know where you're at right away."

What they're saying: "At the end of last year, we were kind of disappointed on losing [to St. Rita,]" Bitto said. "It really came down to, ‘Are we tough enough?' We have to be tough physically and mentally."