Here's our preseason statewide MIAA football Top 25 poll, as selected by our panel of staff writers and correspondents. (Updated 8/24):
1. Marshfield (12-1) Rams return nearly everyone from last season's dominant run to the Division 2 state title, including Penn State-bound tight end Danny Dalton and Boston College-bound center Shane Leonard. Defensively, the Rams return one of the state's best linebacking corps, led by Freddy Allen, while Jack Masterson has been a wizard under center the last three years.
2. Xaverian (13-0) There are holes abound to fill on both sides of the ball coming off the Hawks' incredible 2014 team, which bulldozed its way to its first D1 state title since 2009. You don't simply replace an All-American like defensive end Joe Gaziano, but the Hawks' defensive line will be nasty behind Elijah Pierre and Nick Allsop, and Mekhi Henderson makes this one of the region's better secondaries once again. The elusive Coby Tippett is also back at receiver and returner; it should be interesting to see how he's utilized on the offense.
3. Everett (9-2) Two years without a state title is an eternity in Crimson Land. After reaching the D1 state final last season, and with the D1 field expected to be wide open in 2015, you best believe the Tide feel like they can seize the opportunity. Jordan McAfee is the crown jewel of a loaded 2017 quarterback class in Massachusetts, and he ought to dazzle with receivers like Theo Zidor on the perimeter. Overall, the Tide have some pretty special underclassmen coming through the ranks.
4. St. John's Prep (8-3) The Eagles' first season under head coach Brian St. Pierre was a wildly successful one, ending at Everett Memorial Stadium in a last-minute thriller for the D1 North title. What will Act Two bring? Gone are top targets Jake Burt (BC) and Owen Rockett (Colgate), but back are the improvisational skills of Ollie Eberth under center. This should be one of the state's better defenses, with Brown-bound lineman Jay Carnevale providing a force in the middle.
5. Leominster (8-3) This could be arguably the most talented team of the Dave Palazzi era in the Plastic City. Virtually the entire secondary returns, led by safety Derek Franks and twin cornerbacks Keith and Kyle Jackson. Under center, junior Noah Gray is one of the more promising signal-callers of the much-celebrated 2017 class. But after getting beat on their home turf for the D2 CMass title the last two seasons, here's the biggest question: Do the Blue Devils have enough fortitude to avoid another letdown in 2015?
6. BC High (6-5) After backpedaling their way into the D1 South tournament, the Eagles threw a huge haymaker in the opening round by shutting out favorite Brockton, en route to the D1 South final. There are some questions on Morrissey Boulevard, but there's a lot to like, between Brown-bound guard Phil Lynch, linebacker/tailback Steven Timmins, and returning All-State wide receiver Nick Gill.
7. Brockton (7-4) There is but one name to know this year in the City of Champions: Kerry Raymond. The returning All-State tailback was one of the state's most punishing in 2014, with vigorous downhill running that reminded some of past Boxer legends. With a D1 South field that's expected to be open, the question as always is can they navigate their way through the field without falling into any traps.
8. Walpole (11-1) After capturing the D3 Southwest title, a wild last-second Dartmouth comeback snatched the Rebels from their first Gillette appearance since 2007. Will 2015 bring a different fate? There is speed abound in Walpole, led by the two-headed tailback attack of Steve Cuqua and Lovey Salvant. Also keep an eye on receiver Amir Loftus, who could be in for a breakout campaign this fall.
9. Central Catholic (9-2) Raiders have been holding a bitter taste in their mouths since getting blown out by St. John's Prep in the D1 North semifinals last November. There are a number of holes to replace on both sides of the ball, but they should have a strong rushing attack once again behind the elusive Omar Deschamps.
10. Duxbury (7-4) After a prolific sophomore season last fall, throwing for 34 touchdowns and over 2,600 yards, quarterback Bobby Maimaron is ready to kick it into overdrive. The Dragons move down to D3 this season, and should have one of its most dangerous passing attacks, with top target Ryan Reagan (45 catches, 858 yards, 14 TD) bringing a legitimate deep threat.
11. Mansfield (6-5) Two underwhelming seasons in a row just doesn't happen in Mansfield, which is why we have good feelings about the Hornets, just two years removed from winning the D2 state title. They beefed up their non-league schedule, adding powerhouse St. John's Prep on opening weekend, and there are high hopes for the running back corps, led by Connor Finerty.
12. Shepherd Hill (10-2) Returning All-State tight end Sean McKeon was a sensation on the recruiting landscape this offseason, ending his courtship with a commitment to Michigan. The defending D4 CMass champs are once again stacked with talent. Keep an eye on junior Alec Lindstrom, younger brother of last year's ESPNBoston Lineman of the Year Chris Lindstrom, who is already turning some heads in spite of his limited playing time last fall.
13. Haverhill (7-4) The Hillies are eyeing the Division 2 North title behind quarterback Broughan McGovern. And watch out for the passing attack this year after head coach Tim O'Connor promised to air it out a bit more after last year's loss to North Andover in the sectional final.
14. Springfield Central (7-3) The Golden Eagles will draw a challenges from traditional rival Longmeadow and East Longmeadow in a wide open Division 2 West race.
15. North Attleborough (8-3) The Red Rocketeers will vie for the Kelley-Rex division title with a potent, two-headed rushing attack with Bobby Mylod and Nick Rajotte.
16. Andover (6-5) Look for the Golden Warriors to put up big numbers in the passing attack with quarterback E.J. Perry IV. They'll challenge Central Catholic for the MVC Division 1 title.
17. Bridgewater-Raynham (7-4) The Trojans enter the year with a rather young offensive line, which means more will be asked of junior running back Shawn Noel Jr.
18. Reading (8-3) The Rockets were bounced by Haverhill in the Division 2 North sectional semifinals, but will be back again this year. A youth movement, which saw up to four sophomores starting at one point last year, will pay dividends this year, with Corey DiLoreto returning at quarterback.
19. St. John's of Shrewsbury (8-3) The Pioneers were the first team beset by Fitchburg on its surprise run to the Division 2 Central title last year. A tough and physical offensive line, led by preseason All-State Sean Ragan, will be a strength.
20. East Bridgewater (10-2) Once again, the South Shore League, and, by extension, Division 5 South likely runs through East Bridgewater and/or Abington. There's not much to not like about this Vikings squad, which returns quarterback Ryan Graham and running back/outside linebacker Jared Vargus.
21. Stoughton (9-2) The Black Knights enter as the favorites in the Hockomock's Davenport division with a deep stable of athletes, led by running back/safety Ryan Sullivan.
22. Attleboro (4-7) The Blue Bombardiers are hoping to bounce back from a hiccup last year, but they could emerge as a dark horse in what figures to be a wide open Division 1 South derby, thanks in no small part due to lineman Kyle Murphy.
23. Middleborough (10-2) The Sachems, coming off a couple of playoff wins in Division 4 South last year, are a trendy pick to win the district this year. Led by UMass baseball commit Eddy Hart, this offense will again be fun to watch.
24. Needham (8-3) The Rockets will have some of the biggest lines in the state. Anchored by tackle Carter Hildreth and Thomas Baker, they'll be a handful to contend with in D2 South.
25. Millis/Hopedale (8-3) Don't let the Mohawks' D6 classification fool you, this is a team of monsters. Led by Villanova commit Peter Fallon, they'll be able to run the ball at will with All-State running back Josh Pierre-Charles in the backfield.
Last 10 Out: Abington (12-1), Concord-Carlisle (9-1), Dennis-Yarmouth (7-4), East Longmeadow (9-2), Fitchburg (6-6), Longmeadow (11-2), North Andover (8-4), Northbridge (12-1), Peabody (8-3), Tewksbury (9-3).