One of the final perks for any championship-winning team is its automatic berth into the early discussions of next season's title favorites.
Last fall, New Canaan put together one of the most impressive campaigns in recent Connecticut high school football memory, which culminated in a 44-12 Class L championship win over arch rival Darien. Many critical players from that run are now gone, however -- 28 to be precise.
As a result, Rams coach Lou Marinelli has publicly denied his team of its last reward as 2013 champions.
"I would say Darien. They have a lot coming back," Marinelli said of this season's FCIAC favorites . "Right behind them are Greenwich and Staples."
Whether the 34-year head coach was attempting to apply some outside pressure on his primary rivals while alleviating those facing his own club, or simply telling the truth remains to be seen. What deserves more immediate determination is how New Canaan fills its roster holes starting next Friday against fellow state power Daniel Hand as part of the FCIAC-SCC Challenge. On that night in Madison, there will be a lot to learn, beginning with the answers these to five questions.
Do the Rams have enough to remain championship contenders following the departure of such a talented senior class?: The 2014 version of the Rams includes four returning starters on defense and five on offense. Senior co-captains Zach Allen and Alex LaPolice could start for any program in the state, but they will need help to overcome worthy opponents such as Hand and later Greenwich, which travels to New Canaan in Week 3.
If the Rams come out of September undefeated, there is no doubt the program reloaded this summer instead of rebuilt. Anything less than that and the shadow of last 2013 will loom for the rest of the year.
Who replaces Nick Cascione under center?: Over the summer, LaPolice and junior Mike Collins split time calling signals when the program hosted its seventh annual "Grip It and Rip It" 7-on-7 passing tournament. Since that time, Marinelli has been adamant about getting upcoming sophomore quarterback James Crovatto game-ready. Collins currently appears to hold a slight edge in a two-man competition, having taken the majority of first-team snaps in practice last week when LaPolice strictly played out wide.
Can the Northwestern-bound Allen carry the pass rush?: Allen registered 11.5 sacks last season playing alongside fellow stud defensive lineman Connor Buck, who's left a huge void behind since going on to play at Colgate. Allen's effectiveness will not only depend on Buck's replacements, but also his own health. Expect to see the 6-foot-6 Allen occasionally playing two ways as a tight end to add another threat to the New Canaan passing attack. He's got the ability to dominate, but football is known as the ultimate team game for a reason.
When will injured Frank Cognetta return to the backfield?: Reportedly, the hope is for Cognetta to return after the Rams' first few games after breaking his foot over the summer. He was originally expected to miss half of his senior campaign, one year after rushing for over 1,200 yards. Whenever Cognetta does return, he will undoubtedly provide a big boost to the offense, which may need it under the direction of an inexperienced signal caller.
Will New Canaan end its two-year Turkey Bowl losing streak to Darien?: By the time everyone sits down for turkey on Nov. 27, we'll know.
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