Carney Column: Football is back in the valley, and excitement is high

Football is back, baby!

No, I’m talking about just college and NFL football, I’m talking about high school football returning on Friday nights here in Garfield County.

A new season is upon us, and with a new season comes renewed excitement, and rising expectations from Glenwood Springs to Parachute.

Glenwood and Coal Ridge break in two new coaches in Pat Engle and Paul Downing, both of whom have plenty of coaching experience at the varsity level in Colorado. Engle coached at Battle Mountain before the turn of the decade, while Downing held the coaching job at Highland in Ault before stepping away due to a battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Both coaches step into talented programs, albiet with different expectations at this point in the season.

Glenwood returns 16 seniors this year, while Coal Ridge sees just six with varsity experience return. A majority of Glenwood’s returning players have varsity experience, while more than half of Coal Ridge’s program is made up of fresh faces to the school district, making for different degrees of challenges for Engle and Downing.

In Rifle, the Bears drop down to the 2A Western Slope League, but face a daunting schedule under veteran head coach Damon Wells. Despite facing a tough schedule, expectations won’t change for the Bears, as many media outlets in the state consider the Bears a serious contender for the 2A state championship.

With more than 3,000 rushing yards returning in the backfield this season, Rifle will once again be one of the highest scoring teams in the league. That alone should push them near the top of the state in 2A. For a program that has won 70 games in seven seasons, a deep run into the 2A state playoffs should be on the horizon.

Far west in Parachute, the Cardinals are breaking in a new quarterback under fourth-year head coach Tim Lenard, but with the amount of returning talent across the board, this could be a big bounce back year for the Cardinals.

Unfortunately, you won’t find Roaring Fork in this Garfield County football preview. With uncertainty surround the Rams, in terms of being able to field a junior varsity program, I decided to hold off on putting the Rams in the preview. Personally, I truly hope the Rams are able to bounce back in the long run, reestablishing themselves as a true football powerhouse. Anyone that knows me knows I’m a big history buff, and the Rams are a program with a long, proud history. Seeing them struggle to field a junior varsity team after dropping down from varsity for the next two years pains me. Football means a great deal to the older generation in Carbondale. I’d hate to see it go away for good.

Basalt is outside of Garfield County, so they don’t exactly fall into my coverage area, but they’re sure going to be prominent this fall as they battle the Bears for 2A WSL supremecy. Coach Frerichs does a fantastic job down there. Sure, Rifle and Delta slide into the 2A WSL with Steamboat and Roaring Fork dropping out, making for a loaded league, but Basalt isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Plus, Trevor Reuss might be the best quarterback on this side of the state. He’s a guy to get out and watch as much as possible.

Moving away from high school football, the Pac-12 is interesting to me this year, simply because it seems so wide open.

I’m not a huge believer in Washington, mainly because of Jake Browning, and I don’t think USC recovers as quickly as many expect without Sam Darnold leading the charge. You can write off Chip Kelly and UCLA this year, simply because Kelly didn’t inherit a talented roster, and didn’t do too well in his first recruiting period with the Bruins.

Oregon is going to really surprise some people this year, largely because of Justin Herbert. He’s the best quarterback in the Pac-12, and possibly the nation. I like Colorado this year too, even after losing a ton of talent to graduation. Steven Montez is going to be one heck of a quarterback this year, and Mike McIntyre seems like the right coach for that program from a scheme standpoint. The Buffs should bounce back well this year.

In the Mountain West, it’s pretty clear that Boise State, San Diego State, and Fresno State are the top dogs in the conference. It’s hard to envision any of the three going undefeated this year and crashing the New Year’s Six bowls list, but they’re a strong trio on top. Colorado State is an interesting case this season. The Rams have to replace a number of key offensive pieces, and Mike Bobo is dealing with health issues this summer. It’s a talented program, but it might be too much to overcome this year.

That leads me to the NFL. I, for one, am excited about the Broncos’ chances this season.

The defense looks to be back to its dominant self, at least on paper, with a pass rush of Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Shane Ray all back and healthy. The offense could be the calling card this year though. Case Keenum seems like the type of quarterback Denver needs right now. No moment is too big for him, and he’s smart with the football. Pair that with a rebuilt offensive line and a loaded receiver room, things are looking up for the Broncos.

I thing the Broncos can make the playoffs this year as the last Wild Card team. The division is tough, but Denver is due for a rebound. There’s no better time than now.

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