Because many of the opening-game nondistrict opponents will be different for Bay Rivers schools, we attempt to share a glimpse of what's ahead by rating the difficulty of the contests from 10 (easiest) to 1 (hardest).
10. Southampton at Poquoson (Aug. 30). With all but two starters returning, Poquoson, a playoff team a year ago, is expected to be much better. The Islanders won their meeting 20-0 a year ago as the Indians, a playoff opponent of the Islanders in 2011, dropped to 2-8.
9. Smithfield at Southampton (Sept. 6). Smithfield's game with Southampton is rated slightly tougher than Poquoson's because the Packers are on the road in Courtland. But even after graduating more than half of its starters, and despite the absence this season of star QB Jermaal Wells, Smithfield should win again, if by slightly less than last year's 34-7 margin.
8. Lafayette at Brunswick County (Aug. 30). The trip to Lawrenceville might not be the 49-12 cakewalk it was for the Rams a year ago. Virginia Preps has ranked Brunswick No. 10 in state Group 2A, and the Bulldogs boast a Virginia Tech recruit in linebacker Xavier Burke. Still, Lafayette returns too much from its Bay Rivers co-champions to lose this one.
7. Denbigh vs. Tabb (Aug. 29 at Bailey Field). The fact that this isn't rated in the tougher half of the 10 games doesn't mean the Tigers are favored. Denbigh returns numerous key players and figures to be improved from a 2-8 team a year ago. But Tabb returns many of its best players, too, and has played Denbigh evenly or better in scrimmages for years, so this game will be close.
6. Bruton at Amelia County (Sept. 6). After years, many of them successful, battling in the playoffs against larger schools, Bruton is now part of Group 2A and will play in the postseason against schools its own size. Amelia, another 2A school, is just two years removed from a Group A Division 2 state final appearance, so Bruton faces a stiff but manageable challenge.
5. York at Churchland (Sept. 6). York is one of the few Bay Rivers schools with the skill-position depth to match former Eastern Region teams such as Churchland. A defense that allowed fewer than 15 points on average the past two regular seasons won't hurt York either. That said, Churchland is a far tougher nondistrict opponent for York than Greensville the past three years.
4. Warhill at Churchland (Aug. 30). After three consecutive playoff seasons in Group AAA, Churchland has won just three games in each of the past two seasons. But the Truckers hail from the athlete-laden Eastern District and scored 40 points in a loss last season to Division 5 state champion Lake Taylor. A Warhill defense that was porous at times last season faces a tough test.
3. Hopewell vs. Grafton (Sept. 6 at Bailey Field). Were this a year ago, it would be rated the Bay Rivers' toughest nondistrict game, because Hopewell beat Dinwiddie by 19 points in the playoffs. But Hopewell lost nine starters on offense and eight on defense. That softens the task, albeit slightly, that the Clippers face in Matt McLeod's debut as Grafton's coach.
2. King William at New Kent (Sept. 6). Since the former Tidewater District foes renewed their longtime rivalry in 2009, King William has won four meetings by an average of 19 points. The Cavaliers are in the midst of a four-year run in which they've won 43 games, compared to just four for New Kent.
1. Jamestown at Dinwiddie (Sept. 6). Dinwiddie enters this game ranked No. 3 in Group 4A by Virginia Preps, not bad considering Lake Taylor is ranked first and Phoebus second. The difference in experience is huge. Jamestown was hit hard by graduation, particularly on the lines, while Dinwiddie, twice a Division 5 state semifinalist the past five years, graduated only two offensive starters from a 7-4 team that averaged 33 points.