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Predicted order
1. Carroll
2. East Noble
2. Homestead
4. New Haven
5. Norwell
6. Columbia City
7. Bellmont
8. DeKalb
East Noble won five of its last seven games and will be one of the teams looking to knock Homestead off in the NHC.

Teams taking aim at perennial favorite

East Noble clicked under coach Luke Amstutz, who enters his third season.

– They haven’t lost a NHC game since 2010. It’s been seven years since they failed to win at least a piece of the conference title. So, yeah, that bull’s-eye must once again be the size of Jupiter on the backs of the Homestead Spartans.

The difference this time is there seems to be a tug of war over it.

Isn’t that right, Tyler Hands?

“Yeah, I think there’s a bull’s-eye on our back,” Carroll’s senior defensive end says. “Every team’s coming for us.”

And if that discounts the Spartans’ 7-0 traipse through the conference last year – and their 49-27 win over the Chargers along the way – it’s also an acknowledgment that the Chargers come back loaded from a 10-3 season in which they beat perennial Class 5A power Penn on the way to a sectional championship. And it’s an acknowledgment that the bull’s-eye-on-Homestead’s-back narrative is perhaps more about the past than the present – at least at present.

“It’s a compliment to say that, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with the guys we’re working with this year,” Homestead coach Chad Zolman says.

“We’re going to be very young as far as starters returning from last year’s squad. I think everybody knows what Carroll’s got and everybody knows what East Noble’s got; I’m not sure anybody knows what we’ve got since we graduated so many kids.”

Carroll, on the other hand, has Purdue recruit Drue Tranquill and a host of others coming back. And East Noble, which won five of its last seven games to finish 7-3 behind second-year coach Luke Amstutz’s potent spread offense, will again be a handful after averaging 39.7 points last year.

“I think it’s going to be a tough conference as usual,” Zolman says. “From top to bottom, it’s going to be a pretty competitive conference.”