Monday, August 29, 2011


The WPIAL season is upon us once again, with games starting this Friday. Today we're going to take a look at AAAA.

Big East Conference

1. Central Catholic

Picking anyone other than Central to win this conference is pretty much heresy at this point. They return 13 starters (7 offense, 6 defense) and have 5 Division 1 recruits. They had the 3rd best offense and 2nd best defense in AAAA last season and not much should change this season.

2. Woodland Hills

There are certain things that never change. Woody High being a contender is one of them. The Wolverines are stacked at running back and have a Division 1 recruit in 6'4" senior WR Shakim Alonzo. They started slow last season, losing early season games against stiff competition from Florida and North Hills. The Wolverines got their revenge on North Hills in the Semi-Finals before falling in the championship game 21-14 to North Allegheny, their first loss since September. This a good team that will compete for a title once again. An early season showdown between Woody High and AAA powerhouse Thomas Jefferson might be the highlight of September football.

3. Penn Hills

The Indians have quietly put together a solid string of seasons under 4th year coach Ron Graham and enter the season with 3 Division 1 recruits. They don't have the talent to compete with Central for the conference title, but their end of the season showdown with Woody High at the Wolvarena should be a battle for 2nd place in the conference.

4. Plum

There is a clear divide between the top and bottom half of the conference here, but in the last two seasons the Mustangs have filled that void. They are looking for their 3rd straight playoff berth, and should have a decent team with returning QB Chris Zdinak who threw for 1350 yards last season.

5. Fox Chapel

Fox Chapel is supposedly moving to a no-huddle offense this season, but it remains to be seen if this will benefit the team with the 5th worst offense in AAAA last season. There is some returning talent on offense and they have a Division 1 recruit in OT Adam Bisnowaty.

6. Kiski Area

The late September game between Fox Chapel and Kiski should set the tone at the bottom of the conference. Kiski looks to be in for a tough season after losing QB/LB Tim Johnson to transfer (Greensburg Central Catholic). They have some big questions on defense, where they were the second worst squad in AAAA last season.

7. Altoona

No where is the disparity in talent greater than in the Big East conference. Altoona entered WPIAL last season and got run off the table, posting the 4th worst offense and worst defense in AAAA all while failing to win a game. Their best chance at a win this year looks to be in the season opener against AAA Hollidaysburg.

Foothills Conference

1. Gateway

After an offseason marred by shootings and tragedy, the Gators return to the field. It would only be fitting for them to go out and post a great season. They have a ton of talent in the lineup at all the skill positions and should be contenders once again. This conference seems poised for another end-of-the-season showdown between the Gators and Tigers for the conference title.

2. McKeesport

Since winning the WPIAL title in 2005, the Tigers have fallen into a funk of being an upset special in the early rounds of the AAAA playoffs. They return a handful of starters and have at least 4 potential Division 1 recruits on the roster. They are still undergoing a bit of an overhaul under 2nd year coach Jim Ward, but with all the talent on the roster it will be hard to see them not finishing 1st or 2nd in the conference.

3. Penn-Trafford

The Warriors return 7 starters on offense, including QB Zach Emrich who threw for over 1100 yards last season and RB Manny Simpson who ran for over 1200 last year. Penn-Trafford has put together an 8-year run of playoff appearances, but hasn't won a playoff game since the late 1990s. They could push Gateway and McKeesport this season, making this a 3-horse race for the Foothills title.

4. Latrobe

With questions at QB, Latrobe will lean on their 9 senior starters to push them into the playoffs. This is an experienced team that has been building talent over the last few years. Now they need results.

5. Norwin

Norwin made the playoffs last year and should challenge Latrobe for the last spot this year. They lost some starters on offense, including their quarterback, and it remains to be seen where the offense will come from.

6. Hempfield

Losing a starting QB and WR to graduation is always difficult. It makes it even harder when the QB was one of the top 10 in WPIAL in passing. They do return their star RB Travis Day, and will lean heavily on him this season.

7. Connellsville

They had the 2nd worst scoring offense and 5th worst defense last season. This is still a young team that is slowly building and it's going to take a while before they are competitors.

Great Southern Conference

1. Upper St. Clair

The battle atop this conference will be as tough as ever. Last year legendary coach Jim Render took a young USC team to the second round where they took eventual champ Woodland Hills to overtime. The Panthers only conference loss last year was 14-10 to Mt. Lebanon in the rivalry game. This shows just how close they were. They return key players at the skill positions and have 3 Division 1 recruits, including QB Dakota Cronwell who came just shy of putting up 1000 yards passing and rushing last season.

2. Mt. Lebanon

The gap between 1 and 2 here is as small as ever. This conference will come down to the last week of the season. With RB Luke Hagy, who put up 1650 yards last season, and returning starters at skill positions, the Blue Devils will be a force to be reckoned with once again.

3. Bethel Park

After what seemed like a mediocre regular season for the 2008 AAAA Champions, Bethel Park came out in the playoffs and upset #5 seed McKeesport. They lost their leading rusher to graduation, but QB Anthony Cinello is a senior and has some returning targets in the passing game that should mitigate the loss of their leading rusher.

4. Peters Township

Last season, the Indians rode junior RB Andrew Erenberg to their first playoff appearance in school history. Erenberg returns for his senior season this year and the Indians look to repeat their feat. They return starters at all of the offensive skill positions except quarterback, but with Erenberg in the backfield and a defense that was 12th (out of 27 AAAA teams) in points against last year, they should contend for a playoff spot once again.

5. Baldwin

The Highlanders return some starters on offense, including tandem RBs Tarief Green (SR) and Dorian Brown (JR). They had a shot at an outright playoff spot last year heading into the season finale against Bethel Park, but a loss put them in a 3-way tie with Bethel and Peters, and they lost out on the Gardner Points tiebreaker. The Highlanders will need to improve on defense this year if they want to make a run at the playoffs.

6. Canon-McMillan

After a downright awful season where they underwent a coaching change mid-summer, Canon-Mac looks to rebound with a better effort this year. They have some returning starters but are still a very young team. With the experience across the board in this conference, it's hard to see the Big Macs contending this year. They have some young talent and should be a contender next year as their sophomores and juniors develop.

Northern Seven Conference

1. North Allegheny

The defending AAAA State Champions are the easy choice for conference champions. They return 3 of their 5 starters on the offensive line and will multiple weapons at running back that they can plug in.

2. North Hills

Coach Jack McCurry has been the coach at North Hills for 33 years. If there's anything you need to know about this program it's that he knows how to win. Only 5 starters return from last year's team that won the conference title, but this shouldn't be much of a problem for the legendary McCurry.

3. Erie McDowell

RB Greg Garmon, a Division 1 recruit who ran for 1200 yards last year returns as the feature back in the offense. The Trojans made the playoffs last year and should be able to make it 2 for 2 since joining WPIAL.

4. Shaler

Shaler just missed out on the playoffs last year, losing in a casket match to Pine Richland. The Titans return 15 starters from last year's team, including QB Ryan Mincher who threw for 1150 yards. Mincher's primary targets should be back, including Penn State recruit TE JP Holtz.

5. Pine-Richland

Moving up to AAAA has been difficult for the Rams, but they earned their second playoff appearance in the new classification last season after beating Shaler in a casket match the final game of the season. The Rams lost some starters to graduation, but should be in the hunt for the playoffs once again this season. They get all 3 teams they need to beat to make the playoffs at home this season (Shaler, Seneca Valley, Butler).

6. Seneca Valley

How deep is the Northern Seven Conference? There are 6 teams with a legitimate shot to make the playoffs. Seneca Valley returns 16 starters this season, including QB Jordan Brown who threw for 1200 yards last year as a sophomore and RB Forrest Barnes. To be competitive this year, the Raiders are going to have to improve on defense, where they were the 6th worst squad in AAAA last season, giving up over 31 points per game.

7. Butler

The Golden Tornado were blown off the field last year, finishing with the worst offense in AAAA and the 4th worst defense. Not much looks to change in Butler this season.

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