If I got asked one thing more than anything elsethis offseason, it was this: when is the Grab Bag coming back?
My answer was always the same: I know, riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight?
So here it is, Season 2, Episode I of your predictions, projections and for many of you excited to be reading, palpatations.
This is our preseason installment, with picks on the Dandy Dozen games, some 2011 carryovers to keep an eye on and nugget after nugget of interesting high school football info.
It should tide you over until Friday. Enjoy.
1. Plant at Jesuit: Panthers and Tigers, oh my, this is a difficult one to pick. But because I like that Plant defense so much, and Jesuit is untested at quarterback, that makes up my mind for me: Plant takes a close one 23-17.
2. CCC at East Lake: Marauders and Eagles, oh my, this is a difficult one to pick. Does CCC have the answer for the DiNovo to Scott connection? I think they might. I think this one is a real chess match, and in the end, John Davis is the one yelling checkmate. CCC by a 29-27 score.
3. Robinson at Jefferson: The Knights should have one of the best running attacks in Tampa Bay, but I see their passing game as the thing that puts them over the top. Robinson 28-13.
4. Gaither at Alonso: The Cowboys are always tough to figure out this time of year. The Ravens aren't. Alonso 21-20.
5. Tampa Bay Tech at Newsome: We'll find out right away how good Tech's defense is, because Wolves QB Will Worth is a force. Not sure if the Newsome defense, however, is up to the task of Tech's fast offense. TBT 35-21.
6. Bradenton Southeast at Largo: The Seminoles return 13 starters, and RB Courtney Allen, who burned the Packers last year, is a budding state star. But Largo should match up well on the interior, so in a battle of skills players, I think the Packers compete. And win. Largo 24-20.
7. Steinbrenner at Sickles: The Warriors continue to impress, from summer success to scoring 35 points on Newsome last week. Still, this Sickles team has some real breakthrough potential. Gryphons 34-17.
8. Fivay at River Ridge: The Falcons will have a nice rushing attack, but questions at quarterback dog them. I saw Sunlake break off too many big running plays to think River Ridge's capability to open big holes isn't the difference maker. Knights 27-20.
9. Wesley Chapel at Wiregrass Ranch: This is actually a better rivalry than you might think. But the Bulls have lost a recent rush of players out of Dodge, and that gives the Wildcats the best chance to open with a win. Wesley Chapel 26-14.
10. Tarpon Springs at Dunedin: I was impressed with the Falcons Friday. They lacked explosiveness on offense, but they have three great running backs. The defense, though, is what won me over. Dunedin 28-14.
11. Gibbs at St. Pete: Both teams had forgettable preseason performances that didn't reflect on the talent on each roster. I'm not sure Gibbs knows its identity yet, but I know the Green Devils do. I'll take St. Petersburg 23-19.
12. Blake at Leto: Both teams have been in the dumps for a few years, but seem to be headed in the right direction in climbing back out. I think Leto, though, has a little further to climb. Blake 23-13.
Upset of the week
Yep, I'm going with Zephyrhills over Land O'Lakes, which was actually quite good to me last year in my upset specials. I think the Bulldogs are ready to make some serious noise and have a handful of really nice looking athletes. The Gators are still the better overall team, but it would be an upset if they weren't, right? Zephyrhills 24-21.
More fun for readers
I started a HomeTeam Pick-Em Challenge over on our blog. I expect the results and shenanigans that ensue will end up here in the Grab Bag, so you might want to get over there and make your picks. Trust me, it'll be fun. And we give you four ways to enter. I've already had folks post their picks in the comments (1), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (2), and send me a message on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam (3). You can also leave your picks on Facebook.
Check it out right here. Miss the first week and you'll be kicking yourself.
Picks to click
Guys I think are going to start the season with a bang.
1. Maurice Hemingway (St. Petersburg) will be the main man for the Green Devils against Gibbs. I see 150 yards and two scores in his future.
2. Eric Moate (Spoto) averaged 11 yards a carry last season. I see him picking up where he left off.
3. Eddie Burgos (Sunlake) had a couple of big runs last week against Fivay. He'll score twice from longer than 50 yards out this week.
4. Jordan Sherit (Hillsborough) will have two sacks, deflect a pass and recover a fumble this week.
5. Ryan Yates (Countryside) will score three touchdowns; two short ones and one from about 20.
A new king?
East Lake quarterback Pete DiNovo is eyeing some records as the season starts.
DiNovo enters the season with 3,753 career passing yards and 34 touchdowns according to stats on MaxPreps, though DiNovo says he is at 4,030 yards. Either way, he looks like a good bet to break the all-time passing record in Pinellas County held by former Gibbs and Tampa Bay Buc star Shaun King.
In three seasons for the Gladiators, King threw for 5,736 yards and 60 touchdowns.
Using the MaxPreps stats, which are inputted by his coaches, that leaves DiNovo needing only 1,983 yards to become No. 1, or if his total is accurate, he needs 1,706.
He threw for more than that last season, even without his three playoff games.
DiNovo's 2,426 yards were also close to the unofficial single-season mark in Pinellas County, held by Pinellas Park's Tony Rucker, who threw for 2,445 in 1990. (Rucker's total that year included 436 yards against Bradenton Manatee, by the way. Impressive).
But if DiNovo is correct and he threw for 2,505 yards last year, the record is already his.
1. Plant running back Wesley Bullock enters the season with a streak of seven straight 100-yard games. More impressive, five of those were playoff games.
2. Spoto running back Eric Moate scored a touchdown in each of the last five games on 2011.
3. Alonso's Marcus Mosley has caught a touchdown pass in three straight games. His quarterback, Brandon Hawkins, threw a touchdown pass in the last four games.
4. Quarterbacks Deiondre Porter of Jefferson and Wharton's Chase Litton are working on streaks of three straight 200-yard games.
5. East Lake linebacker Brad Goettel ended last year with seven straight games with 10 or more tackles, including 20 in the season finale against Plant.
Countryside hasn't lost a regular\-season home game since East Lake beat the Cougars 21-13 Nov. 2, 2007. That run will get a serious test as Countryside gets East Lake, Largo and Palm Harbor University at home this year.
Sickles wide receiver Deandre Mathis had a solid summer, and you have to wonder if his finish last year -- five catches, 153 yards, three touchdowns in the last two games -- isn't a precursor to a big season.
Longest regular-season win streaks entering the season
*wins were stripped by the FHSAA
**forfeit by Armwood included in total
Did you know?
Because of two Armwood's forfeits, Hillsborough enters the 2012 season with the longest win streak, playoff games included, in Tampa Bay with 10.
If you have something Grab Bag worthy, a performance you think deserves mention or an accomplishment that demands the spotlight, let me know at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.
Photo: Sunlake's Eddie Burgos