The usual guessing as to whether an opponent will add unexpected wrinkles to its game plan in a season opener might be magnified this weekend, especially considering scrimmages were cut or eliminated altogether because of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic-related changes to the preseason.
Upper Arlington football coach Justin Buttermore said that is the case as he prepares for his first game with the Golden Bears on Friday, Aug. 28, at home against Westerville Central.
"Really, there's no film to exchange so you're going in differently. You have to prepare for as much as you possibly can, but there will be a ton of unknowns on both sides," Buttermore said. "You hate to say it, but you will be guessing a little bit at what the other team is doing.
"There's always a little bit of that in Week 1 because people hide some things in scrimmages, but more than ever there will be a ton of unknowns and teams will have to react on game night and have to adjust more than we ever have."
Compounding the unknowns for Warhawks coach Brent Morrison is that not only have the teams not played since 2017, but the Bears will run a spread offense under Buttermore, a marked departure from their run-oriented schemes in recent years.
"We're not exactly sure what to expect. We hosted a playoff game here with one of his (Dresden Tri-Valley) teams about five years ago and that's about all the experience we have with what his teams look like," Morrison said. "We thought about looking at some film from Granville (where Buttermore coached the past two seasons) but in all honesty, those are different players. There certainly will be some similarities, but every system is different. The good thing is we'll have some scrimmage film to exchange."
This is the third installment of a series that is tied at 1. Central won 31-21 in 2017 and the Bears won 24-20 in 2016.
Warhawks quarterback Judah Holtzclaw returns after completing 153 of 264 passes for 2,110 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions as a junior. Classmate Luke Swaney had 45 catches for 628 yards and nine touchdowns and was named third-team all-state, as was senior linebacker Zeke Healy (81 tackles).
Junior Carson Gresock is expected to lead UA's ground game, coming off a season in which he rushed for 529 yards and four touchdowns on 92 carries. Junior Chris Reynolds added 40 carries for 315 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears also return three of their top four tacklers in senior linebacker Matt Weaver (70), senior linebacker Marco Landolfi (62) and senior defensive back Shea Keethler (58).
This is the lone non-league game for both teams, both of which will play their final five scheduled games of the regular season within their OCC divisions. UA remained in the OCC-Central as part of conference realignment, but Central now is in the OCC-Ohio.
The Bears and Warhawks originally were scheduled to play in Week 4, but games set for that week were moved to Week 1 for most of the league by the conference.
That canceled scheduled games for Central against Westerville North and Westerville South.
"We'd had a lot of excitement for those two games so we lost the rivalry buildup for those, but this is a good test to start the season," Morrison said. "We're all in uncharted territory."
Buttermore expected that the altered preseason might produce another consequence in the first few weeks of the season.
"I hate to say it as a coach but I do think you'll see a lot of sloppy play, a lot of things you'd see in the first and second scrimmages," he said. "Whether it's a big special teams play or sloppy play in general, those things will help determine winners and losers in Week 1."