The last time Bettendorf was in the conversation for a state wrestling championship, it had some of the program's best walking its hallways.
Fredy Stroker, Jay Schwarm and Jack Wagner — all with multiple state championships — were at the forefront of the Bulldogs' 2014-15 squad.
In recent seasons, Bettendorf has had strong representation at the state tournament, but it hasn't been a major player in the trophy chase.
That might change this winter.
Coach Dan Knight's program is the top-ranked team in Class 3A by The Predicament and second by IAWrestle to start the season.
"We're talented, but not unbelievably talented like past Bettendorf teams with Fredy and so forth," junior heavyweight Griffin Liddle said. "But this group can really do damage this year if we keep our minds in it and stay positive through everything."
The ranking is based on the state tournament experience in its room coupled with the additions of Clinton transfer Ethan Barry and Pleasant Valley transfer Josh Pelzer.
Liddle was state runner-up last winter. Aiden Evans took third. Dustin Bohren placed sixth. Logan Adamson finished seventh.
There are six other wrestlers in its program who have qualified for the state tournament at some point in their career.
"(A state title) is very possible," junior Kane Schmidt said. "With everybody's skill set and how much we want it, it is within reach. We're not just training for these (weekend) tournaments. We're training for the end goal to win a state title."
The Bulldogs have lacked talent or depth at several weights in the past few seasons, but there don't seem to be any glaring holes in this lineup from Bohren at 106 to Liddle at 285.
"We're solid in almost every single weight," Adamson said.
That should make the Bulldogs quite formidable in duals, too. Bettendorf was 24-4 and placed fifth at the state duals last season.
"I don't see a spot in our lineup where we won't have somebody compete," Evans said.
It has led to a more competitive environment in the practice room. Schmidt said workouts are much more grueling than a season ago.
"The intensity has definitely picked up from last year and the previous years I've been here," Evans said. "Everybody is ready to scrap and get better."
Unlike most programs who hold practice after school, Bettendorf conducts workouts from 5:45-7:45 a.m. each day.
"It weeds out people that don't want to wrestle and makes for better competition," Schmidt said. "If we're practicing all week at that time, it is going to have us ready for the weekends, ready to compete early."
Even with its state meet experience, Bettendorf has nobody on its roster with a state championship.
That in itself leaves motivation.
"It is in the back of our minds every day about how we finished last year as individuals and as a team," said, Liddle, who placed second in the 16U national freestyle finals this past summer in Fargo. "It leaves a sour taste in our mouth, and we're reminded of it every day."
Liddle came the closest to a championship, losing to Waverly-Shell Rock's Andrew Snyder 2-1 in the final.
The Iowa football recruit said he learned a considerable amount from that experience and his performance on the mat last season.
"I've just got to relax," he said. "I'm so uptight about everything and tend to overwork myself a lot. I've got to be more mature this year and learn how to handle myself in certain situations.
"I had negativity in my head last year. I've got to completely erase that. The biggest key to this season as an individual and as a team is to have positivity."
For others, there is another type of urgency.
Evans has been a three-time state qualifier. He was sixth as a sophomore and third as a junior. He has one more opportunity to reach the top step of the podium.
"I've got tunnel vision set on the end goal of what I need to do to get there," Evans said. "Every day is a step in the right direction to make sure I'm getting the little things right. If I keep doing what I'm doing now, I'll be pretty satisfied at the end of the year."
Knight said it has been a coachable group, one that isn't afraid of the work required to reach the next step.
"We're always wanting more," Adamson said. "I got seventh last year and I was happy with what I have, but I know I can do a lot better."
The preseason rankings make for good fodder, but it all boils down to what happens in February. Southeast Polk and Fort Dodge appear to be the biggest roadblocks to a championship.
Liddle believes the Bulldogs have the pieces to join the 1981, '82, '12 and '14 teams as state champions.
"We're worthy of that ranking, but it doesn't mean anything at all until you wrestle," Liddle said. "It is a totally different animal when you get to state.
"We're going to gradually chip away at the stone and keep going until we can do it."