This is such a classic Apollo Conference year.
The Apollo has as much parity as any conference in the area. Since Mount Zion's four-year run from 2008-11, the Apollo hasn't had an outright repeat champion (Taylorville tied Effingham in 2014 and won in 2015). In fact, five different teams have won the conference in that eight-year span.
Last year's champion, Taylorville, steamrolled the conference to a 6-0 record, but graduates two of the program's all-time greats in Brandon Odam and Justin Wright, plus a large senior class.
Don't expect Taylorville to fall off the face of the Earth, but a repeat will be a tall task.
This may be Mount Zion's year. The Braves have been a consistent contender the last five years, but only have one conference crown (2016) in that time. They've had the conference's best defense the past three seasons, but this year may have the offense to match it.
Sage Davis will be the Braves' workhorse running back, and a passing game that flashed potential last year with quarterback Ashton Summers and receiver Drew London should provide the balance Mount Zion needs to mow down opponents trying to keep pace with their defense.
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Effingham, though, will be formidable. The Hearts, for the second straight year, were hit hard by graduation. But Tristin Duncan is the conference's best returning playmaker — the Hearts' offense will have some teeth. And defensive line is also an area of strength, with Austin Herboth leading the charge.
There's plenty of room for a breakout team this year if Taylorville is rebuilding, though that's a pretty big assumption. The Tornadoes have shown the ability to bounce back before, and haven't had a record worse than 8-3 since joining the conference in 2014.
Mahomet-Seymour has been a sleeping giant since joining the conference in 2017. Before missing the playoffs last year for the second time in four years, the Bulldogs had made the postseason in 15 of 16 years.
Mattoon lost quarterback Jack Pilson from last year's second-round playoff team, but the Green Wave has been a consistent Apollo winner — just one losing season in conference (2-4 in 2017) since rejoining in 2012.
Lincoln has the H&R-area's longest playoff drought — 1984 was its last appearance. But the Railers return a bulk of a team that took its lumps last year, and could be ready for an upturn.
Charleston won the Apollo in 2012 to complete a two-year run where it went 20-4. The Trojans have won just five games since, including just one conference win — in 2016. They've lost 12 straight in conference and 19 in a row overall.