Last season, we picked up the WPIAL torch during the fall and rattled off some posts about local high school football. We're not insiders or experts, but we do love high school football, particularly in Western Pennsylvania. We're going to try to make a post or two every week to keep readers updated on WPIAL games. Unlike the NFL, we obviously won't be able to follow things as closely since the games aren't televised and we pretty much have to rely on the limited scores and stats that we get from reading the paper. We organized our previews by our predicted order of finish.
Quad-A football is a unique animal. In most conferences, there are 2 elite teams and everyone else fighting for the last two playoff spots. Last season, 3 teams got into the playoffs with losing records in conference play (Plum, Baldwin, North Hills). Four teams made the playoffs with overall records well below .500: Plum (3-7), Latrobe (4-6), Penn-Trafford (3-7), Baldwin (2-8). The top two spots in most Quad-A conferences are pretty much a lock, and the rest of the field will battle it out for the rest of the playoff spots. In our opinion, there are really 8 elite teams in Quad-A this year, and everyone else is just battling for position behind them.
The PIAA redrew the district classifications last year, so there was some movement of teams throughout WPIAL.
New to Quad-A: Altoona (Big East Conference), Erie McDowell (Northern Seven)
The Departed: none
Big East Conference
Woody High is the defending Quad-A champion. If they don't find their way back to Heinz Field this year, it will be a huge disappointment. They're clearly the class of the Big East.
They're probably the only team in the Big East that could challenge Woody High. This is a down year for the conference, and the September 24th game at the Wolvarena will decide the conference crown.
Making the playoffs in a 6-team conference isn't really saying too much. Plum was 3-7 last year, but their 2-3 conference record was enough to get them into the playoffs. They're no where near Woody High or Central, but Penn Hills is slated for a down year, giving Plum the opportunity to compete for the #3 spot in the conference.
Even in a down year, Penn Hills is still better than the other 3 team in this conference. Kiski hasn't won more than 1 conference game in 4 years. Fox Chapel went winless last year. Penn Hills will still make the playoffs and be a tough out in the first round.
Why? No reason. Teams moving into WPIAL have traditionally struggled, and Altoona isn't exactly coming off a stellar year. Fox Chapel could give Penn Hills a run for the last playoff spot, but ultimately fall short.
Another 1-win conference season for Kiski really isn't hard to imagine. They're nowhere near as talented as the top teams, but should at least be able to beat newcomer Altoona.
They went 2-8 last season in PIAA District 6, which doesn't bode well for their transition into WPIAL. They'll be lucky to win a game in this conference. If they do, it'll come early in the year when they get Fox Chapel and Kiski back-to-back.
If anyone other than the Gators is the favorite to win the Foothills Conference, then someone has reached a level of crazy we don't even want to know. We don't have to know anything about how many players graduated or the talent they have. Gateway will win the conference and collapse in the playoffs. No big shocker there.
They have been, and still are, the only real contenders to Gateway's stranglehold on the conference. Their Coach retired after last season and with a new man at the helm, their offense will likely go through a bit of an adjustment period. They're still better than everyone else and are headed for their annual season finale showdown with Gateway for the conference title.
Norwin finished last season with an overall record of 5-5, but a weak 2-4 performance in conference play caused them to miss the playoffs. They could have gotten in by beating Penn-Trafford in the final week of the season, but lost that game and the playoff spot. They return enough talent this season to make a solid run at the playoffs and avenge their loss to Penn-Trafford.
They finished 4th in the conference last year and have their quarterback and running back returning. That should be enough to carry them into the playoffs once again.
Not sure what to make of either Latrobe or Hempfield. Latrobe finished 3rd in the conference last season but had a horrendous point differential. No surprise, they got beat by North Allegheny in the first round of the playoffs. This year, they'll battle Penn-Trafford, Norwin, and Hempfield for the last two playoff spots.
They finished 6th in the league last year, but return enough players that they could be competitive in the race for the last playoff spot. There isn't much that separates these four teams, and Hempfield could just as easily make the playoffs as they could end up in 6th again.
This pick might be the easiest no-brainer of them all. Connellsville hasn't won since Week 1 in 2007. Even if they end the streak this year, they're still in the basement of this conference.
Great Southern Conference
If you're not picking the Blackhawks to win this conference, you're on acid. Bethel shocked the WPIAL world when they beat nationally ranked Gateway in the title game at Heinz Field two years ago. This is a school that's only lost 3 times in the last 2 seasons.
The Blue Devils are probably the best challenger to Bethel's reign as conference champions. They have a bunch of players that have either committed to or are being recruited by Division 1 colleges. Mark your calendars for October 15th when they face Bethel.
Upper St Clair
Graduation and transfers diminished the talent on this team, but they still have enough to be competitive. They get the benefit of playing Bethel Park at home, and an upset there followed by a win over rival Mt. Lebanon could spring the Panthers to a conference title.
Eight starters return from a team that went winless until the final week of the season when they beat Cannon Mac to keep them out of the playoffs. Last season was a good growing experience for the team, and with three weak teams at the bottom of the conference, they could just sneak into that last playoff spot. Peters actually finished last season with a winning record (5-4) but all 4 losses came in conference play.
Six starters return from a team that was one win away from the playoffs. Canon-Mac should be able to beat Baldwin again, leaving them in a showdown with Peters on the last week of the season, once again with a playoff spot on the line.
This team somehow made the playoffs last year. Despite losing to Cannon-Mac, the Highlanders got lucky when Peters upset Cannon-Mac in the final weekend, giving Baldwin the last playoff spot, despite their 2-8 overall record. Most Quad- A teams that play AAA teams should be favored. Baldwin won't be this season when they face AAA powerhouse Thomas Jefferson. At best, it's another 2-win season for the Highlanders.
Northern Seven Conference
The defending conference champions should be favored to run the table again. Their only real competition should be rival North Hills, but the addition of Erie McDowell to the conference adds some uncertainty to the race. North Allegheny has won 3 of the last 4 conference titles, and has the talent to win it again.
This is a bit of a sleeper pick, but North Hills has the hardest part of their schedule at the end with Erie McDowell, Seneca Valley, and North Allegheny. We're going out on a limb and picking Seneca Valley as a sleeper pick to surprise North Hills and finish second in the conference.
They had a lot of players from last year's team graduate, but they're still good enough to finish in the top half of this conference. Many think they might challenge North Allegheny for the conference title, and they're the obvious pick for #2 in the league, but we went out on a limb and picked a sleeper Seneca Valley to edge the Indians.
In their first year of official WPIAL competition, we're picking Erie McDowell to make the playoffs. Why? Because they've been playing a WPIAL schedule for the past few seasons and know what to expect when they go into WPIAL arenas and face WPIAL teams. Plus, the other 3 teams aren't very good.
The Rams have struggled ever since moving up to Quad-A from AAA. However, the other teams in the conference are bad enough that the Rams could push for a playoff spot. Granted, earning a playoff spot in a 7 team conference means you only have to beat 3 teams.
Shaler finished second in the conference last year but lost almost their entire team to graduation. So what does that mean? A likely down year while they reload, giving younger players experience.
A new coach takes over at Butler, but you don't turn things around that quickly. Another year at the bottom for Butler,
Preseason Top 8
1. Woodland Hills
2. Bethel Park
4. Central Catholic
5. North Allegheny
6. Mt. Lebanon
7. Upper St Clair
Predicted WPIAL AAAA Champion