Big Eight Conference

2017 conference standings: Sun Prairie 9-0, Middleton 8-1, Madison West 7-2, Verona 6-3, Janesville Craig 4-5, Madison La Follette 4-5, Madison Memorial 4-5, Beloit Memorial 2-7, Janesville Parker 1-8, Madison East 0-9

Top returning players: Craig junior Keeanu Benton charged up the recruiting lists to become one of the top prospects in the state as a defensive lineman. The University of Wisconsin commit will also play on the offensive line for the Cougars.

Beloit Memorial senior Matthew Wedig can do it all. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior, and son of head coach Rodney Wedig, is a tight end on offense, an outside linebacker/edge rusher on defense and is used as a weapon in the special teams game as a punter and long snapper, as well.

Sun Prairie receiver Cooper Nelson is one of the state’s top receiving recruits in the state, according to

Kayvion James-Ragland, of La Follette, is the league’s top returning rusher and also piled up more than seven tackles a game as a linebacker.

Verona linebacker Dylan Bourne hit triple digits in tackles a year ago.

The favorite: There seems to be lots of talk about Sun Prairie’s losses to graduation. Rightfully so, but a look at the all-conference picks from a year ago will show that lots of seniors are gone from just about every team.

So that has me thinking Sun Prairie remains the team to beat in the Big Eight. The Cardinals advanced all the way to the Division 1 state championship game last year, losing there to Kimberly, 27-7.

Top contenders: Speaking of players lost to graduation, Middleton was hit as hard as anybody, with five first-team defensive players and eight first-teamers overall that were seniors.

But it’s been a while since Sun Prairie or Middleton didn’t at least share a piece of the Big Eight title, so I like the two Cardinals up top with a host of teams below them hoping to knock them off their perch.

Sleeper pick: This might be an easier questions to answer after Friday night.

Janesville Craig opens at Beloit Memorial, and Madison La Follette takes on Madison West. The winners of those two games, I think, set themselves up with some nice early-season momentum and an early win against those middle-of-the-fray teams hoping to make some noise.

Beloit Memorial has four wins in four years under Wedig, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Purple Knights get four this year. Craig must take them seriously in the opener.