Besides death and taxes, almost nothing has been so certain in recent years as a county title for the Oakland Mills boys basketball team.
The Scorpions shoot for their fourth straight county championship this year and their second straight state Class 3A title.
Oakland Mills appears to have the talent to accomplish both objectives.
But the team must fight off strong challenges expected from Wilde Lake, Hammond and Howard. Mount Hebron, Atholton and Centennial also could challenge, but appear more likely to be battling for playoff spots.
Here is a team-by-team analysis:
The Raiders posted the third-best record in Howard County at 15-10 last year, but they lost to Middletown in the Class 2A Region I final.
The Raiders return seven lettermen, including two starters.
Atholton's strength is its frontcourt, where 6-2 senior Jermaine Reynolds and 6-0 senior David Snyder are back. Reynolds averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds last season. Snyder also scored in double figures.
Reynolds is the team's best athlete and top rebounder, scoring 25 points and managing 16 rebounds in a big win over Wilde Lake last year.
Coach Jim Albert will need to find help in the backcourt if he expects another winning year, however. Junior guards Brian Van Deusen, Brian Smith, Chris Poe and senior Kori Hunter must be able to get the ball up the court and inside.
"We lack size and won't be as quick, but we have better depth and a strong frontcourt," Albert said.
Atholton usually employs a fierce press but may back off a bit from that style because it won't have as much quickness.
The Eagles have one of their most talented teams ever, but they don't exactly have a history of powerhouse clubs.
Centennial won only three league games a year ago, and returns just five lettermen. But an influx of talent from a strong junior varsity team has coach Jim Hill optimistic.
Charlie Stewart, a 6-0 junior forward, and Damian Biggs, a 6-1 sophomore forward, are two of the better new players, along with sharpshooting 6-0 junior guard Tod Downen.
Chad Harris is a a 6-2 senior shooting guard who started last year. And 5-9 point guard Austin Groves also saw a lot of playing time.
Sean West, a 5-10 junior forward, is a tremendous leaper with a lot of strength who played halfback for this year's football team. Another football player is 6-2, 235-pound senior center John Myers.
"We're small but talented, with good outside shooting, fair speed and good aggressiveness," Hill said. "We should be competitive with every team."
The Eagles will miss 6-2 senior forward Brian Reid, who was injured in a car accident a couple of months ago and is out for the season from a ruptured quadriceps.
"Brian was our leading scorer last year (12 points) and would have given us experience in the middle," Hill said. "We'll really feel his loss."
The Gladiators return seven lettermen from their most successful team since 1983, but only one of the seven started. He's 6-2 senior guard Juan Dorsey.
Glenelg probably will go with a young starting lineup that includes three juniors up from junior varsity. They include 6-3 forward Jeff Slack, 6-3 forward Kevin Roland and 5-9 guard Craig Flurry.
"We lack rebounding strength, so Dorsey and Slack must help on the boards," Coach Terry Coleman said. "We're inexperienced but have more quickness and depth, so we should be able to play man-to-man defense this year instead of our usual zone."
Dorsey is quick and possesses great leaping ability. Roland was the leading junior varsity rebounder and second-leading scorer. Flurry is an excellent defensive player.
The Gladiators won 14 games last year, the most since winning 15 in 1983. They look like they are a year away from having another strong winning season.
"We have five good sophomores on the junior varsity this year, and when they come up next year we'll have a strong team," Coleman said.
The Bears lost in the state Class 2A finals to Central in overtime, 79-77, after beating Middletown in the semifinals 78-75.
Hammond returns seven lettermen, including two starters from a team that won 19 games and a regional title.
Forward Kyle Jefferson averaged 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds last year, and the 6-3 senior, who has tremendous quickness, should be one of the area's premier players.
Jefferson averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds in Hammond's last five games during the playoffs. He also shot 65 percent (15-of-23) during the two-game state tourney.
Shooting guard Adam Walker is the other returning starter. He can hit from three-point range, as can Jefferson.
Coach Jack Burke can put a tall lineup on the floor, including 6-9, 250-pound Ira Burcham; 6-6, 215-pound Greg Keiner; 6-5, 210-pound Richard Williamson; and 6-4 210-pound Andrew Teteh.
But he plans to start a smaller, more mobile team of 6-3 Karl Williams, 6-2 Mike Sanders and 5-4 Tom Costell along with Jefferson and Walker.
With that mobility Burke plans to switch from a zone to a man-to-man defense this year.