Having Britain Covey back is like having five starters back on offense. —Cary Whittingham

Whatever region Timpview is in, the narrative almost never changes. It certainly hasn't changed heading into the 2014 season.

The Thunderbirds are the team to beat in Region 8 and there’s little-to-no debating that fact.

“It’s the same thing every year, and until someone knocks them off it’s going to be that way,” said Spanish Fork coach Kirk Chambers. “It’s obviously an outstanding program up there, so yeah, there’s no question Timpview is the favorite and I‘m certain everyone else would agree with that.”

Chambers is right.

A quick survey of Region 8 coaches reveals a strong consensus that the region is the Thunderbirds' to lose.

“Timpview is obviously the team to beat and the rest of us are working hard to get up to where they are as a program,” said Provo coach Tony McGeary.

Always a top program, Timpview has rarely ridden higher that it is coming into the 2014 season as the winner of two straight 4A state championships. Nothing short of another state championship this season — and every season — is the expectation Thunderbird coach Cary Whittingham has become familiar with.

“You get used to high expectations here, but it’s never as easy as I think a lot of people think,” Whittingham said. “We lose guys every year, like everyone else, and this year — well, we lost a lot of guys off of last year’s team and we’re now working to find guys who can play.”

Indeed, Timpview lost every starter on offense from a year ago save quarterback Britain Covey, whose return should prove huge.

“Having Britain Covey back is like having five starters back on offense,” Whittingham said. “He’s obviously a great playmaker and he’s a very good start on offense.”

Challenging Timpview for the Region 8 crown are some up-and-coming teams like Salem Hills, Maple Mountain and Spanish Fork. All three programs are blessed with extraordinary talent at quarterback, which could provide ample ammunition to take the next step.

For Salem Hills, big-time prospect Porter Gustin will play on both offense and defense. He's expected to play at quarterback. For Maple Mountain, Jaren Hall, who was recently offered by both Utah and BYU, will star at QB. For the Dons, Jason Money leads the charge along with his two years starting experience and his 6,250 career yards of total offense.

“Almost every school in region has a real good guy playing quarterback,” Whittingham said. “Each is a unique challenge and hopefully we’re up to it.”

While not having a well-known quarterback, Springville appears poised to contend once again after its second-place finish a year ago. The Red Devils lost some good starting talent, but players and coaches are confident heading into the season.

“Springville is always tough no matter what it seems,” Chambers said. “They have a great program there and they’ll be up there again this year.”

Looking to make some headway are Wasatch and Provo. The Wasps made the leap from 3A to 4A last season and struggled to adjust to the higher level of competition.

“It just takes time to catch up to the size and speed of a new classification,” said Wasatch coach Steve Coburn. “We’ve got to be more consistent. ... We’ll play at a real high level and then we’ll play at a low level, and we’ve just got to be consistent playing at a high level all the time."

As for Provo, it welcomes former Lone Peak coach McGeary to head the program and hopefully rebuild a program that has struggled mightily in recent years.

"It's going to take time. It always takes time, but I like the system we developed at Lone Peak and we'll bring that here," McGeary said. "It's a process and we hope to begin on the right foot with that process this year."

Deseret News projections for 3AA North football teams in 2014

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

1. Timpview: As mentioned, there's little-to-no question Timpview is the team to beat in Region 8. While the offense, and Britain Covey, received most of the pub for last year's 4A championship, it was the defense that remained solid throughout and drove the Thunderbird engine. The defense lost some talent, but returns prime playmakers such as defensive ends Gabe Reid and Devin Kaufusi. 2013 RECORD: 13-1. PLAYOFFS: Defeated East in the 4A championship 33-28.

2. Salem Hills: The Skyhawks turned heads last year with an unexpected fourth-place finish in region and a first-round playoff win over Orem. The team looks to get back to the playoffs and go even further. It should be primed to do as much with an impressive slate of returning starters headed by quarterback and linebacker Porter Gustin. 2013 RECORD: 8-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Woods Cross 21-7 in the 4A quarterfinals.

3. Spanish Fork: The Dons had little trouble proving competitive in 4A last season after making the leap from 3A. A big reason was the play of quarterback Jason Money, who returns to start as a senior. Other expected standouts on offense include receivers Ryan Golish and Joe Anderson, along with offensive linemen Adrian Rodriguez and Tanner Parker. 2013 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Corner Canyon 42-21 in the first round of the 4A playoffs.

4. Maple Mountain: It was a down year for the Golden Eagles last season, but things look good for a rebound in 2014. It starts with returning quarterback Jaren Hall and good experience on both sides of the ball. Maple Mountain is used to exceding expectations and could do so again this season. 2013 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

5. Springville: The Red Devils lost a lot of starting experience off of last year's team, but remain hopeful to repeat on last year's success and then some. Key returners include running backs Scott Averett and Jackson Stepp along with receivers Parker Johnston, Garrett Clark and Adam Rodriguez. Rodriguez also hopes to contribute big to the defensive side, along with Leni Neiufi. 2013 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round of the 4A playoffs to Olympus 43-37.

6. Wasatch: The Wasps hope to be more competitive in 2014 and are hopeful offensive weapons like running back Matt Tate help provide excitement and more wins. Junior quarterback Garrett Davis is expected to start behind an offensive line that returns good experience from last season. The defense returns five starters, including Ben Bos, Jace Wright and Payton Mair on the defensive line that is expected to lead the charge. 2013 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

7. Provo: First-year coach Tony McGeary will install a new system on offense and what he hopes is a new attitude for the struggling program. McGeary plans on playing a lot of underclassmen his first year, including quarterback Villiami Iongi, who will also play on defense. Big things are also expected from speedster Chase Heiner at receiver and tight end Bo Dailey. 2013 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney