Schedule-wise, the La Cañada High football team's 2013 season is nearly the exact same as the one before.
Second-year Spartans Coach James Sims hopes to see big changes from the team, though. They'll play the same 10 opponents from 2012 with the only changes being the home-and-away shifts and shuffling the order of the Rio Hondo League schedule.
"I am sure people will see a much better La Cañada football team because we've had a full year working with them now," said Sims, who's made changes to the passing game and in the weight room to prepare for the new year.
While the Spartans enjoyed some home cooking last year, they'll take to the road in their first two games and three of their first four in 2013.
That may not be a bad thing.
Sims would rather play Alhambra, Glendale and Eagle Rock on the road and host Crescenta Valley and Arroyo, which is how things have shaken out for the upcoming year.
"Out of our first five games that we play, those are the two lightest teams, not easy but lightest," Sims said of the Moors and Nitros. "I think that will be better for us this year, because we'll have the tougher teams at home. We'll see how it works out for us."
Following a preseason scrimmage with Sotomayor, La Cañada will open 2013 at Alhambra at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6. The Spartans got off on the right foot with a 17-7 win over the Moors last year, but lost their next eight games before finishing at 2-8.
The losing streak started with a 21-3 home loss to Glendale, which is where La Cañada will play at 7 p.m. Sept. 13. Sims felt his team overlooked the Nitros last year and is determined to not make that mistake again with any team.
"We have to go out every game and play every game like we're playing Monrovia or San Marino," Sims said. "We're not in any position at 2-8 to take anybody for granted."
La Cañada will face Pacific League opponents back to back when it hosts its home opener and the fourth annual Gordy Warnock Memorial Game with nearby rival Crescenta Valley at 7 p.m. Sept. 20.
The Falcons have defeated La Cañada the past six years in a row, including last year's 48-21 blowout. The Spartans last topped CV in 2006 and haven't played their rival tough since a 38-34 loss in 2010. Sims hopes to make the game competitive again.
"I don't call it a rivalry because CV's won too many games for it to be a rivalry," Sims said. "It's a community war basically, and the kids are really fired up this year and they're ready to play that game."
There's plenty for La Cañada to avenge this year, including losses to Eagle Rock (25-7) and Arroyo (42-7) from 2012. The Spartans will travel to take on the Eagles and host the Knights on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4, respectively, to wrap up the nonleague campaign.
Another difference in La Cañada's new schedule is how the Rio Hondo League season will play out. Last year, it opened with the top two teams in the league, San Marino and Monrovia.
This year, the Spartans open Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. when Blair — the other squad they defeated last year, 42-0 — comes to town.
While La Cañada may be able to ease into Rio Hondo play a bit more this year, it will be short-lived, as it will take on San Marino and Monrovia in the following weeks. Both teams figure to be the Spartans' biggest tests again in 2013.
La Cañada will travel into Titans territory at 7 p.m. on Oct. 18 after suffering a 42-17 loss to them at home last year. The Wildcats won big over the Spartans, 49-3, in 2012 and will travel to La Cañada for a 7 p.m. game on Oct. 25.
"We're working every day to be able to compete with San Marino and Monrovia," Sims said. "We're building. … This year we're going to match them with size and speed."
As has been the case in previous years, La Cañada may be battling for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in Rio Hondo over the final two weeks. It will face the two teams sandwiched in the middle of last year's standings, South Pasadena and Temple City.
The Spartans will travel to South Pas Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. and host Temple City Nov. 8 at 7 p.m.
The Tigers (35-8) and Rams (44-26) both posted lopsided victories over La Cañada in 2012. With fewer mistakes, mainly taking care of the football, Sims believes his team is in position to "surprise some people" this year.
"If we start out early with a lot of confidence, watch out," he said.