It's the first year of statewide high school football realignment, and that means weeks one and two are almost exclusively non-conference match-ups. Here are some of the best match-ups in southern Wisconsin for the 2020 season's opening slate of games, should there be a season.
As always, the 2020 high school football series continues until the season begins, or until it's called off officially; as of publication (July 13), the WIAA has not announced any plans to cancel fall sports.
For a look at the new conferences for the Madison area in 2020 and 2021, you can click here.
For a look at the head coaching changes in the area for the upcoming season, you can click here.
Thursday, August 20
Middleton (8-3, 7-2 Big 8) at Bay Port (13-1, 9-0 FRCC-North, Division 1 State Runner-up)
Both teams graduated outstanding running backs from a year ago. Bay Port advanced all the way to the Division 1 championship behind Isaiah Gash, who averaged nine yards per carry en route to 1,916 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns. Middleton fell to Madison Memorial in Level 2, but Kallion Buckner led the Cardinals with a nearly eight yards per carry average and 1,721 yards rushing to go with 26 touchdowns on the ground, three more receiving, and another on a punt return. Both schools bring back some talented offensive linemen to lead the way for returning players stepping into larger roles, such as Middleton quarterback T.J. Bauer, an incoming junior, and Bay Port running back Matt Grzybowski, who finished with 853 yards rushing in his junior season last year. Defensively, Bay Port pitched six shutouts last year, and failed to score offensively fewer than 42 points just once: in the state championship, against Muskego. It's an interesting opener and one of the top games on the first official day of football season. Both teams will stay in their respective conferences this year.
Friday, August 21
Stoughton (8-3, 6-1 Badger South) at Oregon (4-6, 3-4 Badger South)
The Battle For 138 takes on a non-conference tone for the next two seasons as Oregon will play in the Badger Large, while Stoughton will be a part of the Badger Small. There's always a lot to enjoy about these meetings, partly because there's only a few miles that separate the schools and partly because each program has had solid success in multiple athletic programs across the board, extending the rivalry beyond the gridiron. The next edition will be the first as head coach for Stoughton's Jason Becker, who moves up from assistant to lead the Vikings. Dan Kissling is no stranger to the rivalry, as a player, coach, and parent at Oregon. Stoughton welcomes back several key pieces, such as Brooks Empey, Konner Knauf, Jack Rilling, and Barrett Nelson, but also loses the services of Adam Hobson. Oregon returns several big pieces as well, including Erik Victorson, Teague Szudy, and Donovan Johnson, so unlike some of the other teams in the area that had senior-packed lineups leading the way, the Vikings and Panthers each will have plenty of experience coming back in 2020.
Reedsburg (8-3, 5-2 Badger North) at Waunakee (12-2, 6-1 Badger North, Division 2 State Runner-up)
All three of Reedsburg's losses in 2019 came to either DeForest or Waunakee, teams that played in state championship games. Waunakee, meanwhile, lost just twice: a 35-13 loss to eventual D3 champion DeForest that was a one-score game well into the fourth quarter and a one-point loss in an all-time classic in the D2 title game. Both teams had their usual top crop of seniors, and for Reedsburg, in a few ways. For starters, the Beavers will be without longtime head coach Brian Pottinger, who resigned after a wildly successful run at the school. Reedsburg will have co-head coaches this season: Quinn Hobbs and Mike Riberich. The Beavers graduated their top three rushers from a year ago in their option-heavy attack, but between Griffin Elder, Zach Bestor, and Connor Schyvinck, Reedsburg gets back about 700 yards of offense between the trio. Waunakee had an injury-plagued year that ended with a silver trophy in 2019, and bring back one of the state's top quarterbacks, Caden Nelson, who missed four games in 2019. Leading receivers Isaac Schaaf and Andrew Keller return, as do depth-tested pieces of the defense, as the Warriors plugged and played during a tough middle stretch of the 2019 campaign before going on their run back to the state title game. Waunakee will compete as a likely favorite in the Badger Large this season, while Reedsburg will be a part of the Badger Small in 2020 and 2021.
DeForest (14-0, 7-0 Badger North, Division 3 State Champions) at Madison East (3-6, 3-6 Big 8)
Madison East grad Aaron Mack debuts as head coach against his alma mater as head coach of the reigning Division 3 champions, DeForest. Both teams have to replace a great number of longtime contributors on both sides of the ball, including multi-year starters at quarterback. DeForest figures to lean into running back Gabe Finley, the team's leading rusher a season ago with 1,353 yards, as well as some returning defenders who provided key depth during the Norskies' title run. Madison East counters with a Purgolder alum of their own at head coach in Jeremy Thornton, and some of the names on the roster will be familiar to fans of other sports at the school. Last year's leading receivers were Keonte Jones and Jevan Boyton, key members of the basketball program. Boyton returns for East. This year, Madison East stays in the Big 8, while DeForest moves to the new Badger Large as the smallest school in the conference.
Monroe (7-5, 4-3 Badger South) at Sauk Prairie (6-4, 4-3)
Two of the most impressive challengers in their respective sides of the Badger Conference in 2019 will meet as members of new conferences in 2020 and 2021. Monroe will join Edgewood in moving from the old Badger South to the Rock Valley Conference and instantly becomes a conference contender, while Sauk Prairie joins the new Badger Small for 2020. Each team runs the football, and when they're done running, they run some more, as evidenced by their rush:pass ratios (Sauk Prairie roughly 4:1 in total yardage, Monroe roughly 3.5:1). Monroe brings back virtually all of their skill position players, with a notable exception in Nick Bansley, a 1,140-yard rusher (who also netted seven picks on defense) in 2019. However, the Cheesemakers do return their top passer, rusher, receiver, and a number of other contributors up and down the roster, after competing well in the deep Badger South last year. Sauk Prairie elevated to playoff status in 2019 under first-year Eagles coach Clay Iverson, riding a small but talented senior class to a first-round playoff exit against Stoughton, but showing flashes of perhaps where the program is heading after playing teams like Waunakee, DeForest, and Reedsburg tough for long stretches in the old Badger North. Both teams are considered playoff contenders in 2020. This is also the first game on Sauk Prairie's new turf field.
Lodi (6-3, 2-3 Capitol North) at McFarland (6-4, 6-3)
These teams used to meet annually before McFarland became part of a closed conference. Lodi will compete as part of the Capitol Conference this year, while McFarland stays in the Rock Valley. Lodi loses top rusher Colton Nicolay from last year's squad, but brings back Lucas Heyroth, Quinn Faust, and Connor Faust, among others, on offense. McFarland graduated a healthy amount of its yardage from a season ago, but the program has been more consistent as of late and the defense has returning talent up front, led by Zach Gunderson.
Cambridge (9-2, 4-0 Capitol South) at Belleville (4-5, 1-3 Capitol South)
One of the better small-school match-ups of the past few years, the teams are being broken up into new leagues for the next two years. Belleville will move west and join the SWAL, while Cambridge forms part of the Eastern Suburban, a mash-up of old Capitol South, Rock Valley, and Trailways schools. Belleville's new coach should be familiar for Wildcats fans: Michael Nolden was a standout player for Belleville before playing wide receiver in college at Upper Iowa University. He'll inherit a senior-laden squad full of multi-sport athletes. Speaking of multi-sport standouts, Cambridge has long had a number of its track stars stand out on the football field as well, fueling last year's nine-win season and conference championship. Like most small schools, the Blue Jays have a mix of two-way stars back in the fold for 2020.
Hudson (4-6, 4-3 Big Rivers) at Sun Prairie (8-4, 6-3 Big 8)
An interesting non-conference showdown between schools separated by about three hours of interstate travel, Hudson runs a tough-to-defend veer option that will give Sun Prairie a good look at what they might see from teams with such talented runners as Verona or Madison West once Big 8 play begins. The Cardinals welcome back one of the state's top quarterbacks, Brady Stevens, who was sixth in yards and fourth in touchdowns through the air in 2019 statewide. This will be the first game played on the new turf field in Sun Prairie. Both teams will play in their same conferences this year.
River Valley (11-2, 7-0 SWC) at Edgewood (1-8, 1-6 Badger South): It's Edgewood's first foray into a football season as a member of the Rock Valley Conference, and first up is perennial medium-school powerhouse River Valley of the SWC.
Neenah (5-6, 4-4 VFA-West) at Madison West (4-6, 4-5 Big 8): Both schools compete in difficult conferences, each reaching the playoffs last year, and each playing a different brand of football. West will get a great opponent to begin 2020.
Kenosha Tremper (2-7, 1-6 Southeast) at Verona (7-3, 7-2): Verona's new field opens with a match-up against a program with solid history. Badgers recruit Jackson Acker is back for the Wildcats.
Evansville (9-2, 8-1 Rock Valley) at Edgar (12-2, 4-1 Marawood, Division 7 State Runner-up): Evansville's new head coach, Garth Coats, a former UW-Whitewater standout and Blue Devils alum, gets one of the state's greatest programs in his debut on the sidelines. It's an intriguing match-up because Evansville is a D3/D4-sized school while Edgar, which used to compete up in Division 4, has fallen in enrollment down to D7.