Friday, August 31, 2012

Peyton's New Place: Denver Broncos Season Preview

2011 Record: 8-8
AFC West Champions, Lost to New England in Divisional Round

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 23
Rush Offense: 1
Pass Offense: 31
Scoring Offense: 25
Total Defense: 20
Run Defense: 22
Pass Defense: 18
Scoring Defense: 24


The Broncos offense got a face lift when they brought in Peyton Manning and jettisoned Tim Tebow to...well...the Jets. Yes, that was a terrible pun. Manning is miles better than Tebow as a quarterback, and the Broncos have a solid line to protect him and a decent running game to take some of the pressure off him. Word is that it's Peyton's passing game mixed with the Broncos running game, and we'll get to see it first hand on kickoff weekend.


With all the buzz around Tim Tebow last year, Denver's defense was often overlooked and actually had a stellar season. It was the Broncos defense that kept them in games and smothered opposing offenses to the point that Tebow was able to do his thing at the end of games. They are anchored by DE Elvis Dumervil and OLB Von Miller, who are both quality pass-rushers. In the secondary, the Broncos have an older group of defensive backs, but they're still capable of getting the job done.


Any team with Peyton Manning is going to be competitive.


This is a pretty good team, but not nearly as good as Peyton's Colts teams were. Their defense should keep them in games, and they'll be right in the mix for the division crown. 10-6.

Rivers of Tears: San Diego Chargers Season Preview

2011 Record: 8-8

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 6
Rush Offense: 16
Pass Offense: 6
Scoring Offense: 5
Total Defense: 16
Run Defense: 20
Pass Defense: 13
Scoring Defense: 22


San Diego enters this season with more question marks on offense than they have had in the past. Gone is their former top receiver Vincent Jackson, and the Chargers brought in Robert Meachem to hopefully fill the void. Malcolm Floyd is a decent #2 receiver and Antonio Gates, when healthy, is one of the best tight ends in the league. The Chargers aren't as deep in the backfield as they have been in the past, and will rely heavily on Ryan Mathews, who is coming off a training camp injury, to shoulder the load in the backfield. Philip Rivers has all the physical tools a QB could want, but he's a crybaby with a bad attitude, so it's fun to root against him.


This is mostly the same starting unit that was straight up average last season. They gave up 14+ points in all but one game last season. Eric Weddle somehow was named an All Pro safety after recording 7 interceptions, but he isn't really all that good. Quentin Jammer has a great name for a cornerback but he sucks. The Chargers were in the bottom half of the league in rushing the passer, recording 32 sacks as a team. Antwan Barnes had 11 sacks, more than a third of the team total.


Philip Rivers is fun to watch fail.


The Chargers don't have a lot of depth and an injury or two could make this a long season for the Bolts. More than likely, they will revel in mediocrity once again. 8-8.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Team Al Davis Built: Oakland Raiders Season Preview

2011 Record: 8-8

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 9
Rush Offense: 7
Pass Offense: 11
Scoring Offense: 16
Total Defense: 29
Run Defense: 27
Pass Defense: 27
Scoring Defense: 29


The Raiders picked up Carson Palmer in a trade with the Bengals last year and after stumbling out of the gate, Palmer started to come into his own. Former first round pick Darius Heyward-Bey had one of the better months of December in the league. DHB had 456 yards and 3 touchdowns over his last 5 games and finished the season with 975 yards and 4 TDs, more than DOUBLE his career numbers up until last year. Darren McFadden is one of the best backs in the league when he's healthy, but his health has been an issue - he hasn't played in more than 13 games in his 4 NFL seasons. This is a team with weapons at the top, but they aren't very deep. If they can stay healthy, they can compete, but injuries could derail their chances at a division title.


Every year, it seems like the Raiders lose one of their biggest play-makers on defense and every year they still find a way to surprise teams with their aggressive defensive scheme. This may be the year when the departures finally catch up with them, but Oakland has built a defense of solid but not spectacular players.


It isn't often that a team has two of the best in the game on Special Teams, but punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are arguably the best punter and placekicker of this generation.


The departures on defense finally catch up with them and a lack of depth on offense leaves them stumbling down the stretch. Look for a fast start though. I'm scared of the Steelers trip to Oakland in Week 3. 5-11.

WPIAL A Preview

Class A is often over-looked but this is some of the most exciting football you'll see in Western Pennsylvania. WPIAL obviously didn't give realigning these conferences much thought, because they did a horrible job. The Black (and Orange) Hills Conference is now absolutely STACKED. Seven of the nine teams in the conference made the playoffs last year. Conversely, the Tri-County South which has been one of the worst conferences in Single-A, lost two of its playoff teams and added two perennial bottom-feeders from the Black Hills Conference.

Big Seven Conference

View A: Big Seven in a larger map
This conference is pretty much the same as last year with Laurel dropping back down from AA and OLSH, who made a surprise run at the playoffs in their first eligible season, moving over from the Eastern Conference.

Rochester had won 15 consecutive conference games before their Week 4 loss to Sto-Rox last season. Since 2008 the Rams are 26-2 in conference play with their two losses to Sto-Rox last season and now-defunct Monaca in 2008. That's a pretty insane run. As has become commonplace for the Rams, they saw their season end at the hands of the Clairton Bears in the playoffs. Since 2008, the Rams have a 44-6 overall record with 4 of their 6 losses coming to Clairton (all 4 in the playoffs). The Rams are stacked with seniors all over the field, some of which have been playing since they were freshman, and it won't be a shock to see the Rams back atop the Big Seven this year.

The Vikings will be right in the hunt for the Conference title with QB Lenny Williams at the helm. Williams carried them to the title game last year  but was completely overmatched by Clairton's defense. As long as the Sto-Rox players can keep their grades up and stay on the field, the conference crown should come down to their game against Rochester on October 26.

Western Beaver
Western Beaver has carved out a nice little niche for themselves lately. They haven't won a conference title since 2007 but have been good enough to make the playoffs in 9 of the past 11 seasons. That likely won't change this year as they're not as good as Rochester or Sto-Rox but are better than the rest of the teams in the league with 4 starters returning on offense and 4 on defense.

The Spartans just missed the playoffs in AA last year but now they have dropped down to Single-A where they should be much more competitive. They lost most of their skill position players and have only a handful of returning starters. Laurel holds the distinction of being the last team to beat Clairton, way back in the season opener in 2009, when the kids who are Seniors now were just Freshmen.

The Chargers were the shock of the season in Single-A last year as they ran on the legs of RB Isiah Neely to a 5-4 record, just missing the playoffs. They return six starters on offense, including Neely who ran for over 1500 yards last year, and seven on defense. The move to the Big Seven could be a tough adjustment, but they should be right in the mix for a playoff spot once again.

The Lancers haven't made the playoffs in 8 years, and may have a hard time doing so once again this season. They return three key players on defense and a handful of skill position players on offense.

The Scotties were a much better team on paper than they were on the field last season. Despite winning just 1 game in conference play, they played in a lot of close games and started a ton of underclassmen. They return pretty much their entire starting lineup, including QB Joe Salmen who threw for over 1100 yards. This is a small roster so the injury risk is very high.

It will likely be another long season for the Wildcats as they lost QB Tynan Greer to transfer (Montour). The one thing they have going for them is a relatively small senior class, which means they should be able to build some experience for next season.

South Side Beaver
Things may be starting to turn around for South Side Beaver who return their 1000-yard passer and leading rusher from last season. With a new coach at the helm and a team with only seven seniors, there could be something building here. Don't look for a whole lot this season, but give it a year or two and the Rams could be back in the playoffs.

Black Hills Conference

View A: Black Hills in a larger map

This conference is loaded. WPIAL realignment didn't do these teams any favors. Seven of the nine teams made the playoffs last year and the 9 teams had a combined 57-24 record. Imani Christian Academy is new to WPIAL play this season and will play a Black Hills Conference schedule but be ineligible for the playoffs.

If you think I'm dumb enough to pick against Tom Nola and the Bears, you're insane. They have the best player in Single-A, possibly the best player in all of WPIAL in RB/DB Tyler Boyd. This is a talented, athletic team that is riding a 47-game win streak and is the 3-time defending State Champions. I could go on and on about just how good this team was last year, but this might be the best stat: their WPIAL-best defense posted 9 shutouts in 16 games (through the state championship). Only one team in their conference (Fort Cherry) scored on them, and only 3 teams scored more than once - Washington (who was a playoff team in AA), Springdale, and Southern Columbia in the PIAA Championship Game. Also, Tyler Boyd.

The Spartans lost twice last season and both teams that beat them played in Heinz Field. The Spartans return most of their starters from that team, including leading rusher and receiver Justin Vickless and quarterback Chris Shortley. Lineman Mike Kish has committed to Akron and leads a powerful group up front.

The Greyhounds are led by WVU recruit Chavas Rawlins, a dual-threat QB who had almost 1000 passing yards and over 600 rushing yards last season. Monessen fell to Springdale in the playoffs when the Dynamo ran for over 500 yards and scored 65 points. The Greyhounds were hit-and-miss last season, posting shutouts in 5 of their 6 wins but getting shut out in 2 of their 3 regular season losses.

Bishop Canevin
The Crusaders rode an undefeated record to the Semi-Finals where they fell to Sto-Rox. They lost most of their offensive skill position players but return two-way player Mike Dunn who was the defensive MVP of the Eastern Conference last season as a Junior. Canevin had the second best defense in Single-A last year, giving up only 52 points over the season.

The Buccaneers have made the playoffs in 9 of the last 10 seasons but have failed to record a single playoff victory in that span. They will be hard-pressed to return this season as most of their starters from last year graduated.

Fort Cherry
The Rangers (aka "the only team to score on Clairton in conference play last year") lost a ton of offensive players to graduation, including the school's all-time leading passer Tanner Garry. Tanner's cousin Corey led the team in rushing and also graduated. If the Rangers are going to compete for the last playoff spot, they are going to need to find offense somewhere.

Reports are that the Trojans are PISSED about the WPIAL realignment, and for good reason. They were a perennial playoff team in the Tri-County South. Now, they'll be lucky to finish better than 6th in the brutal Black Hills conference. They return only two starters on offense and five on defense.

The Cougars return six starters on offense and six on defense but even that probably won't be enough to make them competitive in this conference. They are one of two teams in the newly aligned league that did not make the playoffs last year.

Serra Catholic
Last year was a tough first season for coach Jamie Eckels. This is an incredibly young team with only two seniors on the team. The Eagles will likely finish at the bottom of the league this year, but as the younger players gain experience, they could make a move down the line.

Imani Christian
This is their first year of WPIAL competition so they are ineligible for the playoffs. However, they have some talented athletes and could give some of the top teams in the conference a run for their money. I only put them at the bottom of the list because they are playoff-ineligible. More than likely, they will finish with a record somewhere in the middle.

Eastern Conference

View A: Eastern in a larger map

Every year the Eastern Conference is vastly under-rated heading into the playoffs by the local news media and every year teams like Avonworth, Springdale, and North Catholic surprise people. The story of the year might be the West Shamokin Wolves who are riding a WPIAL-record 44-game losing streak.

The Dynamos have the distinction of being the only team to score 20 points against Clairton last season. Unfortunately, they gave up 34 points and their season ended in the quarterfinals. This year, they will have to find their way without long-time coach Chuck Wagner. 1200-yard rusher Sean Dugan returns, along with a handful of other starters. Springdale should be right in the middle of the fight for the conference title once again this season.

The Antelopes had 19 seniors graduate from their team last season but return four starters on offense and four on defense. Even with the high turnover, the Lopes should be right at the top of the heap again this year. Winning begets winning and this has been a highly successful program that doesn't look like it's about to take a step back any time soon.

North Catholic
The Trojans have quietly put together a solid run of seasons over the last half-decade, and missed out on the playoffs last year because of a 3-way tie with OLSH and Northgate, their first time missing the post-season since 2005. Five starters return on offense, including leading receiver Shawn Tunstall. It's likely that a lot of underclassmen will see time this season for the Trojans so they could be a team to watch down the line.

The Flames burst onto the scene with an explosive passing attack last season and snuck into the playoffs by winning a 3-way tie with OLSH and North Catholic. Eight offensive starters return, but unfortunately one of them is not QB Jon Girvin, who has graduated. Figuring out the QB position will be a key for the Flames, but returning this many starters from a playoff team should put them right in the mix once again.

The Vikings have dropped down from AA and look to have better fortune in the Eastern Conference. They played a lot of sophomores and freshmen last season, so they have a good base of experience for this year. The drop to Single-A should put them in the mix for a playoff spot.

The Raiders always seem to be in the No Man's Land of the Eastern Conference. They're clearly better than the teams below them but never good enough to make a push for the playoffs. They return four starters on offense and five on defense from a team that went 2-7 last season.

The Tigers had a marginally better season last year, putting together 2 wins behind a spread offense that throws the ball all over the yard. Two wins might not seem like much, but they have been in the basement of the league every year since 2004.

Last year was a season to forget for the Blue Devils, posting an 0-9 record where they scored only 58 points and surrendered 299. Things should get better as they return almost their entire starting lineup (8 on offense, 7 on defense).

West Shamokin
The Wolves are carrying a WPIAL-record 44-game losing streak into this season, but the drop from AA to A should give them an opportunity to snap the streak. The opening of their schedule is brutal, but they will have an opportunity against the bottom teams in the conference when the calendar flips to October. Their October slate features Wilkinsburg, Leechburg, and Apollo-Ridge along with non-conference games against South Side Beaver who has been a bottom-feeder for the last few years and a season finale against Allegheny-Clarion Valley, who was the last team they beat (on September 21, 2007).

Tri-County South

View A: Tri-County South in a larger map

For as good as realignment made the Black Hills Conference, it made the Tri-County South equally as bad. Only two teams in the new conference made the playoffs last year and the teams combined for a 26-55 record.

After running through the conference last season, they should have no problem repeating the feat with a league that lost two of its playoff teams and added two teams with a combined 1-17 record last year. The Bulldogs have only lost 2 conference games since 2008 and it's a safe bet they'll run the table again this season.

Almost by default this is the #2 team in the conference. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 last season, They lost most of their offensive backfield from last season, but they should be good enough to make the playoffs again this season.

Junior Brandon Lawless returns as the quarterback for the Mighty Mikes and will have to take better care of the ball after throwing 11 interceptions last season. They closed out the season well, winning their last two against Geibel and Mapletown and were competitive in most of their losses last season. Most of their offensive skill position players return, including RB Brandon McMinn who had 758 yards last year.

The Rockets return 6 offensive starters and 9 defensive starters from a team that made a push for a playoff spot, finishing in 5th place with a 4-4 conference record. JM was riding high after a 42-41 victory over Carmichaels in Week 6 last year, holding a 4-1 conference record. Unfortunately, that was the last time they would see the end zone, getting shut out by a combined 124-0 score over the last 3 weeks. With all the returning starters, they should be right in the thick of the playoff race in a depleted conference.

Before their 2-7 season last year, the Maples had won a total of 2 games in the last 3 seasons. They don't have much talent returning from that team, but they're probably better than the rest of the teams here.

They were one of the heart-warming stories of WPIAL a few years back when injuries forced them to start members of the band and cheerleading squad. At one point they only had 11 or 12 players on their roster. Things have gotten better of late for the Eagles, and they return 9 starters on both offense and defense. They were winless last season and had the 3rd worst offense (56 points) and 2nd worst defense (383 points allowed) in Single-A.

The Gators are no longer the holders of WPIAL's longest losing streak (thanks to West Shamokin), but their 1-8 finish was a bit of a step back after winning 3 games for a few years in a row. Geibel had one of the 3rd-worst defense in Single-A last year, giving up 362 points, including 6 games where the opponents put up at least 40 on them.

This team is an example of why games aren't played on paper. After a decent showing in a 36-23 loss to City League Westinghouse in the opening week of the season, the Bearcats failed to find the end zone over the next seven weeks. They were so bad on both sides of the ball, their closest game was a 46-0 drubbing by Carlynton. However, things turned around in the last week of the season when they faced winless Avella and were able to post a 19-8 victory. Bentworth's 42 points was the worst offense in all of WPIAL and their 413 points against was second-worst in all WPIAL yet they managed a victory in their season finale.

West Greene
The Pioneers and Mapleton have been the perennial bottom-feeders in the Tri-County South over the last four seasons. Since October 2007, they are 1-40 with their only victory over Mapletown in 2010. I honestly have no clue what to expect here with the addition of some other bottom-feeders to the league.

Playoff Predictions

Big Seven Conference: Rochester, Sto-Rox, Western Beaver, Laurel
Black Hills Conference: Clairton, Brentwood, Monessen, Bishop Canevin
Eastern Conference: Springdale, Avonworth, North Catholic, Northgate
Tri-County South Conference: Beth-Center, Frazier, Carmichaels, Jefferson-Morgan

Championship Prediction: Clairton over Sto-Rox

Arrowheadstrong: Kansas City Chiefs Season Preview

2011 Record: 7-9

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 27
Rush Offense: 15
Pass Offense: 25
Scoring Offense: 31
Total Defense: 11
Run Defense: 26
Pass Defense: 6
Scoring Defense: 12


The Chiefs suffered through a spattering of injuries at quarterback last year, but starter Matt Cassel should be healthy once again heading into this season. Cassel isn't going to blow the pants off anyone, but he is efficient enough to get the job done. The Chiefs are talented on the outside with Dwayne Bowe, former Pitt standout Jonathan Baldwin, and Woodland Hills alum Steve Breaston. In the backfield, they have two lightning-quick runners in Jamaal Charles (who is coming off a torn ACL) and Dexter McCluster. They also brought in Peyton Hillis to shoulder the ground-and-pound load. This is an offense with a lot of skill but they're not going to blow anyone out.


This might be one of the most under-rated defensive units in the league. Romeo Crennel takes over as head coach after building a tough defensive unit, led by linebacker Tamba Hali (12 sacks). Free Safety Eric Berry, arguably one of the best young defensive backs in the league, suffered a season-ending knee injury last year and his return will be a tremendous boost to a pretty good Chiefs secondary. On the whole, this is a good defense, with the biggest hole being a lack of a second pass rusher.


The Chiefs have made a name for themselves making big special teams plays to turn the tide of games over the last few years. Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas are both dynamic returners that are capable of breaking one any time they touch the ball.


Everyone is anointing the Broncos in this division, but this is a good Chiefs team that still finished 7-9 despite injuries last season. 10-6.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Reigning Blue: New York Giants Season Preview

2011 Record: 9-7
NFC East Champions, Super Bowl Champions

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 8
Rush Offense: 32
Pass Offense: 5
Scoring Offense: 9
Total Defense: 27
Run Defense: 19
Pass Defense: 29
Scoring Defense: 25


The Giants offense sputtered through much of the middle of the season then hit its stride towards the end of the year with the emergence of Victor Cruz as a #2 option in the passing game. Hakeem Nicks was always a threat at any time, but for a team devoid of a running game and without any real threats from the tight end position, Cruz's emergence was huge. The Giants spent their first round pick on RB David Wilson in the hopes of improving their ground game. Even though they won the Super Bowl, this is not a dominant group by any means. Eli is a solid QB that has a penchant for stepping up at key times and making the plays necessary to win games.


This is where the Giants really made their mark. They have the best front 4 in the league, and can run in any number of pass rushers to the defensive end or tackle positions. They will mix and match and move guys around as needed to get pressure. Jason Pierre-Paul led the team with 16.5 sacks last season and was names as a 1st team All Pro.


The Giants live and die by their front 4. When they get pressure, the defensive backs can jump routes and create turnovers. They aren't an outstanding offensive team but Eli has what it takes to get it done when it counts.


They'll be right in the thick of things once again. 10-6.

WPIAL AA Preview

AA saw the addition of some old friends, particularly the South Park Eagles who won the AA state title in 2005. This should be a fun year for AA ball as most of the conferences are wide open. The Allegheny Conference might be the most wide open with 5 teams that could claim the crown. South Fayette and Seton-La Salle have a lot in common in the Century Conference and are head-and-shoulders above the rest. Jeanette will get a run for their money from Washington. All told, Aliquippa is still the premier program and I wouldn't be surprised to see them raising the trophy at Heinz Field again this year.

Allegheny Conference

View AA: Allegheny in a larger map

After a disappointing 2-2 start to the season, including a loss to rival Burrell, the Yellow Jackets stormed back to win their last 5 games and win the Allegheny Conference title last season. They fell to Ellwood City in the playoffs after second half turnovers allowed Ellwood City to mount a stunning come-from-behind victory. 1300-yard rusher Damon Smith returns for his senior season, along with quarterback Brendan Lynch.

Ford City
The Sabres have had a winning record in 11 consecutive seasons, but that was in jeopardy halfway through last season as their ineffective offense left them sitting at 2-3. They put things together and won their last 4 games to finish 3rd in the conference. Nevertheless, for a team that used to pride itself on being able to run, run, run, Ford City had a bit of a setback last year. Their defense was one of the top 10 in AA and they needed it as their offense failed to score more than 14 points through the first 5 games and only broke 21 points twice. Leading rusher and receiver Devan Willyard returns, but will need to find the end zone more this season.

East Allegheny
The Wildcats were always in the playoff mix in the Interstate Conference and have been shuffled over to the Allegheny Conference. They should remain competitive as Junior Kyle Whipple enters his second year as starting quarterback after throwing for 814 yards and 11 TDs as a sophomore. He also gets his two leading receivers back in Shawn Adair and TE Jason Henshaw.

Shady Side Academy
An early-season loss to Freeport was all that kept this team from a conference title last year, and they were in the top 10 in AA in both offense and defense.  They lost dual-threat QB Reggie Mitchell, but second leading rusher Jared Brevard (725 yds, 15 TDs) returns.

The Bucs fell just short of forcing a 3-way tie for the conference title when they lost to Ford City 14-13 in the final week of the season. That put them at the bottom of the heap and drew them a powerful Jeanette team in the first round of the playoffs. Cole Bush is an all-around athlete who led the team with 1032 rushing yards, was second in receiving yards, scored 24 touchdowns and was an All-Conference Linebacker as a Junior last season.

Deer Lakes
The Lancers made the playoffs for the first time in school history 2 years ago but subsequently lost the entire starting lineup to graduation. Deer Lakes was one of 4 AA teams that failed to score 100 points last season, and was shut out 3 times. Their offense has to improve if they're going to compete for the playoffs this season.

Looking for a sleeper team in AA? How about the Valley Vikings. After getting routinely stomped in AAA, Valley moves down to AA and might find the level of play more to their liking. Valley returns 6 starters on both sides of the ball and will look to turn around a team carrying a 22-game losing streak into the season.

The only thing that kept Kittanning from putting a goose egg on the board last year was that they got to play Valley. The Wildcats have a new coach and a new offense, moving from their traditional Wing-T to a spread this season. Looks to be another rebuilding year.

Summit Academy
Trying to predict this team is a hit-or-miss venture. Summit Academy is a school for kids in trouble with the law and has a very high turnover rate. They won a few games last season and were in the hunt for a playoff spot down to the wire, but with almost an entirely new roster each year, it's hard to say how they'll perform.

Century Conference

View AA: Century in a larger map
South Fayette
This is really a two-team race between the Lions and Seton-La Salle. Both teams have one of the Brumbaugh brothers at quarterback, but I think the Lions have more play-makers than the Rebels, which puts them at the top of my list. The key component is Pitt recruit WR Zach Challingsworth who had 704 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Brett Brumbaugh will have plenty of weapons in the passing game and it should be another aerial show, just like when Brett's older brother Christian led the Lions to a WPIAL title two years ago.

Seton-La Salle
The gap between the Lions and the Rebels isn't much, as Seton-La Salle boasts 1200-yard passer Luke Brumbaugh who has his own Pitt recruit, TE Scott Orndoff, to throw to. The Rebels will have to find a way to fill star RB Kevin Hart's shoes, as Hart accounted for 1723 rush yards and 255 receiving yards last season.

Steel Valley
The Ironmen have made the playoffs in 3 consecutive seasons and should make it 4 in a row as they return 7 starters on offense and 5 on defense. 1500-yard rusher Dontez Williams graduated, but most of the other offensive skill players return and this should continue to be a potent offense after finishing in the top 10 in AA last season.

Keystone Oaks
The Golden Eagles return five starters on offense, including leading rusher Dale Klobuchir (1120 yards, 9 TDs) and leading receiver Corey Sevacko (31 rec, 406 yds, 4 TDs). Keystone Oaks was betrayed by their defense last season, which ranked 28th out of 34 AA teams, giving up over 20 points in all but 2 games. If the Eagles can improve on defense, they can make a run at the last playoff spot again this season.

South Park
South Park is part of a pair of teams that dropped from the Big Eight conference in AAA down to the Century Conference in AA. The Eagles haven't made the playoffs since 2005 when they hoisted the trophy at Heinz Field as WPIAL champions. There are some question marks at quarterback and running back, but their two leading receivers return and they could make some noise now that they're back down in AA.

Quaker Valley
The Quakers threw a wrench into the Century Conference playoff race last season when they toppled Steel Valley in the penultimate game of the season. They return most of their offensive skill players including QB Burke Moser (788 yards, 7 TDs) and Aaron Cunningham who was 2nd on the team in rushing and receiving as a freshman last year. Neighboring Cornell school district eliminated their football program this year and QV has reaped the rewards, entering into a partnership program that allows Cornell's athletes to suit up for QV.

The Blue Devils made an early season push and looked as though they might be competitive, starting 4-2 overall and 2-2 in conference play. However, they dropped their last 3 games, getting shut out twice and giving up 35+ in each game. Leading rusher and receiver John Dugas returns for his senior season.

The Highlanders were winless in AAA last season and the drop down to AA may make things easier for a team that scored only 80 points last season. Three starters on offense, including leading receiver Jake Seabright, return along with four on defense.

South Allegheny
South Allegheny had one of the worst offenses in AA last season and graduated start TE Jesse James, who is now at Penn State. There aren't a whole lot of positives in this outlook and it figures to be another long year for the Gladiators.

Interstate Conference

View AA: Interstate in a larger map
QB Demetrious Cox led the Jayhawks to the WPIAL championship last season, but he has graduated and headed off to Michigan State. Leading receiver and second leading rusher Jordan Edmunds returns along with second leading rusher and second leading receiver Shavonta Craft. If the Jayhawks can find someone to fill Cox's shoes at quarterback they should win the conference and be right in the mix for a WPIAL title once again.

After a few down seasons, the Prexies exploded on to the scene last year, finishing 2nd in the Century Conference. Washington had one of the top 10 offenses in AA, breaking 30 points in 6 of their 9 regular season games. They blew out Mt. Pleasant in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Aliquippa in the Quarterfinals. The best part about it? Most of their skill players were underclassmen and are back again this year. QB Josh Wise gets some weapons back on the outside and leading rusher Shai McKenzie who led the team with over 1200 yards as a sophomore. If everything falls into place, you could see this team at Heinz Field in November.

Greensburg Central Catholic
The Centurions released their long-time head coach a few weeks ago and this is a team that has seen some offseason turmoil with leading rusher Jordan McCrae transferring to Connellsville. The offense, which was in the top 5 in AA last season, may take a hit, but the defense (also a top 5 unit) should remain strong with a number of returning starters.

Mt. Pleasant
The Vikings have been hovering around relevance the last few seasons - making the playoffs but not making any noise. However, they could take the next step this year with dual-threat Junior QB Ryan Gumbrita who started as a sophomore last year. Leading rushers and receivers Tyler Mellors (495 rush yds, 112 rec yds, 5 TD) and Taylor Allison (496 rush yds, 149 rec yds, 6 TD) both return for a team that was in the middle of the AA offensive pack.

The Scotties had one of the worst defenses in AA last season, being one of 5 teams to allow more than 300 points. Despite this, they posted a 3-win season which was good enough to put them in a tie for 5th place. A big reason for this was QB Dakota Datz who passed for over 1700-yards and was the team's leading rusher. Datz returns for his senior season along with second-leading rusher Tyler Ramsey.

Much like the Scotties, if the Yough Cougars can patch together a defense, they might have something here. They also gave up over 300 points last season but if they can find something - anything - on defense, Junior QB Tyler Donahue, who threw for 1156 yards and 11 TDs as a sophomore, can make them competitive.

The Cougars finished tied with Brownsville at the bottom of the conference last year, and the graduation of leading rusher Quentin Briggs won't help their cause this season. Their only conference win came over Brownsville and they struggled on defense, giving up 40+ points on 4 occasions.

After seasons of futility, the Red Raiders put things together for a 3-win season and finished 5th in the conference last year. However, they graduated pretty much their entire starting lineup and will probably not be able to take the next step towards competitiveness this season.

Brownsville was one of 4 AA teams not to score 100 points last season and they finished at the bottom of the conference once again. This team hasn't done much lately but did manage to post a win over a mediocre Waynesburg team last season. For a team that's been as bad as Brownsville, that's something to build on, and with a returning quarterback and a few skill players, they will look to get out of the basement this season.

Midwestern Conference

View AA: Midwestern in a larger map
The Quips are the reigning AA champions and have played at Heinz Field for 5 consecutive seasons, going 3-2 in title games. Anything less than a return to Heinz will be a disappointment this year. RB/DB Dravon Henry, one of the best juniors in WPIAL, led the team with 1365 rushing yards last season. The Quips dominated on both sides of the ball with the best offense in AA last year and the #3 defense. They should be just as good this season.

Beaver Falls
As has become commonplace for the Tigers, they boasted a top 5 offense and top 10 defense and finished in 2nd place behind Aliquippa. Leading rusher Trey Hall and QB Weslley Nesmith graduated, but Beaver Falls is stacked with athletes that can step in and play. Senior RB/LB Rob Bell was the defensive captain as a junior before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 6 last season. This team will be competitive as always and right there in the mix come playoff time.

The Bobcats started last season on a defensive tear - shutting out their first 3 opponents and not allowing more than 7 points until a Week 7 loss to Aliquippa. All in all, the best defense in AA posted 5 shutouts in 8 conference games. But their defense betrayed them in the playoffs as they let Shady Side Academy run up 35 points on them en route to a first round exit. The Bobcats return some starters and should make it 6 consecutive playoff appearances this season.

The Panthers stumbled out of the gate last year, winning only once in their first 5 games. However, they flipped the switch when the calendar turned to October and won their last 4, giving up only a touchdown in each of the last 3. Those last 4 included a win over rival Ellwood City, which should set the tone for this season. QB Devin Kelosky (702 yds, 6 TDs) returns along with second leading rusher and receiver Bob Gould who had 10 total touchdowns last year.

Ellwood City
After being one of the worst teams of the late 2000s, Ellwood City has turned things around of late and looks to make their 3rd consecutive playoff appearance. This team was a bit of an enigma last year after they won an emotional game over Beaver Falls in the penultimate game of the season then dropped their rivalry game to Riverside. They came back and upset Freeport in the first round of the playoffs before falling to GCC in the quarterfinals. They lost a lot of talent from last year's team and their rivalry game against Riverside could decide the last playoff spot.

New Brighton
The Lions haven't made the playoffs in over a decade, and if they're going to do it this year the pressure will fall on Junior RB Kellen Mackey. Mackey led the team in rushing with 800 yards and 11 TDs as a sophomore last season and if he can make the next step as a Junior, this team could challenge Riverside and Ellwood City for the last playoff spot.

The Bulldogs had the worst defense in AA last season, giving up 385 points last season. They gave up 42+ points in 6 games last season. They return their starting quarterback and leading receiver, but until they can find a way to stop teams from scoring, it's going to be another long year for Freedom.

For as bad as things were for Freedom last year, they beat Mohawk. The Warriors had the 2nd worst offense (61 points) and 2nd worst defense (381 points allowed) in AA. The one positive was that their underclassmen got some experience after the team suffered a handful of injuries last season. The experience could prove valuable, but a team that can't score and can't stop anyone is going to have a hard time being competitive.

Playoff Predictions

Allegheny Conference: Freeport, Ford City, East Allegheny, Shady Side Academy
Century Conference: South Fayette, Seton-La Salle, Steel Valley, Keystone Oaks
Interstate Conference: Jeanette, Washington, GCC, Mt. Pleasant
Midwestern Conference: Aliquippa, Beaver Falls, Beaver, Riverside

Championship Prediction: Aliquippa over Washington

Fly Like an Eagle: Philadelphia Eagles Season Preview

2011 Record: 8-8

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 4
Rush Offense: 5
Pass Offense: 9
Scoring Offense: 8
Total Defense: 8
Run Defense: 16
Pass Defense: 10
Scoring Defense: 10


Last season started off as a nightmare for this offense, but they turned it on at the end of the year and finally lived up to their potential. This is a very good group with playmakers all over the field. They can be a dangerous bunch when everything is clicking, but downright awful when things go wrong. The biggest question is which group will show up in 2012?


The Eagles stacked up on corners last season but found that Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie weren't all the best fits for their scheme. Samuel was shipped to Atlanta in free agency and the Eagles took some steps to address the weak interior of their defense by drafting Fletcher Cox in the first round. The middle of the Eagles defense was pretty bad last season, but if they can force teams into passing situations, Jason Babin and Trent Cole are two of the best in the league coming off the edge.


A lot of question marks for the team that was once dubbed the "Dream Team" but all the potential in the world is here for the Eagles to live up to their expectations this year.


It's hard to argue against this team on paper. Everything looks to be there, as long as Michael Vick doesn't get hurt. is always the chance of that. 10-6.

Ambulance Chasers: Dallas Cowboys Season Preview

2011 Record: 8-8

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 11
Rush Offense: 18
Pass Offense: 7
Scoring Offense: 15
Total Defense: 14
Run Defense: 7
Pass Defense: 23
Scoring Defense: 16


The Cowboys have loaded up with explosive play-makers on offense, but none of them can stay healthy for a whole season. Both running backs - Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray - have shown flashes of brilliance when they're on the field. Dez Bryant could be one of the top receivers in the league if he learned how to keep his hands to himself. Miles Austin is a gritty receiver that flies under the radar a bit but puts up some really good numbers...when he plays. And finally, Tony Romo, the LeBron of the NFL. Whether it's in the 4th quarter of games or the 4th quarter of the season, Romo has a penchant for blowing leads away.


The Cowboys have one of the best pass rushers in the game in DeMarcus Ware and traded up to draft LSU CB Mo Claiborne in April. Their secondary was not good last year and Claiborne should be an improvement there. Upper St Clair grad Sean Lee emerged as a dominant force from the inside linebacker spot, both in run and pass defense.


Tony Romo is a choke artist. That's about it. This team entered the last game of the season against the Giants with a chance to win the division and piddled it away.


Nothing brings a smile to my face like watching Dallas struggle. Another season of mediocrity for "America's Team." 7-9.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

RGIII: Washington Redskins Season Preview

2011 Record: 5-11

2011 Ranks
Total Offense: 16
Rush Offense: 25
Pass Offense: 14
Scoring Offense: 26
Total Defense: 13
Run Defense: 18
Pass Defense: 12
Scoring Defense: 21


The Redskins sold the farm to move up in the draft and take Heisman Trophy winning QB Robert Griffin III from Baylor. They went out in free agency and brought in a slew of receivers for Griffin, including Josh Morgan from San Francisco and Pierre Garcon from Indianapolis. The running game will be the typical Mike Shanahan russian roulette game. The Skins have some playmakers on offense, but their line isn't the best and will be the dealbreaker for the offense.


The Redskins have a decent defense, but playing in the brutal NFC East leaves them with a hard road to keep things competitive. They have a solid 1-2 punch of pass rushers in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan who combined for 16.5 sacks last season. They will need to keep up the heat on opposing quarterbacks as their secondary isn't the best in the world.


Live by RGIII, die by RGIII.


They should be better than last year, but still not quite good enough to get over the hump and into the race for the NFC East crown. They will pull a few upsets during the year. 6-10


Much like Quad-A, AAA was realigned from 4 conferences to 3. The biggest change was the elimination of the much-maligned Keystone Conference. AAA is much the same as it has been over the past few years. The Parkway Conference is stacked. TJ is loaded. Someone from the Greater Allegheny (likely Franklin Regional) will surprise everyone because TJ and the Parkway teams get all the press.

Big Nine

View AAA: Big Nine in a larger map

Thomas Jefferson
Last year was a "down" year for TJ after going 6-3 overall and losing in the quarterfinals to Knoch after reaching the semi-finals 13 straight years. Despite this, the Jaguars still had a top 10 offense and defense. They lost most of their starting offensive backfield but return leading receivers Zach Schademan (49 rec, 807 yds, 8 TD) Jake Mascaro (15 rec, 294 yds, 2 TD).

West Mifflin
The Titans are the defending conference champions, and lost to eventual AAA champ Montour in the 2nd round of the playoffs. QB Derrick Fulmore (700 yds, 6 TD) returns, but the only other returning skill position player is TE Marcus Martin returns (6 rec 155 yds 1 TD). Their two leading rushers, including 1400-yard back Shamar Greene, graduated, and they will need to find someone to carry the load for an offense that was in the Top 10 in AAA last year. The Titans defense was even better, giving up only 85 points all of last season (3rd best in AAA).

Belle Vernon
The Leopards lost to Franklin Regional in first round of the playoffs and graduated two of their best skill players. However, they have a solid base for this season in one of best linemen and top D1 recruits in the state, OT Dorian Johnson (decommitted from Penn State). QB Travis Snyder played some as a freshman last year and he was their leading passer. TE Cory Urlacher returns, with 2nd leading rusher Anthony Levis who saw time as a freshman last year (25 car, 175 yds, 2 TD) With sophomores Snyder and Levis in the backfield, Belle Vernon is still building this year but watch out for them down the line as these two gain experience.

The Hillers finished in 3-way tie with Belle Vernon & Chartiers Valley for 3rd with a 4-3 record but lost head-to-head to both so they missed the playoffs. They were the only team to beat eventual conference champion West Mifflin in regular season. QB Jason Vankirk (50 comp, 872 yds, 10 TD) returns for his senior year along with leading receiver Cory Hunsberger (13/257/4), leading scorer Pat Frey (76 car, 388 yds, 12 rec, 249 yds, 8 total TD) and leading rusher Kyle Dugan (65 att, 422 yds, 5 TD).

The Rams finished 2nd in the bad Keystone conference, eventually falling to Central Valley in 2nd round. All-around threat QB Quad Law graduated, but Chris Spahr saw some time last year should start at quarterback. Second leading rusher Demetrious Louis (52 att, 486 yds, 13 TD) returns and should be the focal point of the Rams offense that was explosive behind Law last year.

Laurel Highlands
They made playoffs last year after closing out the season with back-to-back wins over Hollidaysburg and Albert Gallatin. All around threat Danzel Beasley graduated after leading the team in rushing and receiving last year.  The Mustangs return four starters on both sides of the ball and should fall somewhere in the middle of the conference.

It was a bad year in Uniontown last year. They finished in the bottom 5 in both offense and defense, one of only 5 AAA teams that failed to score 100 points and 2 of them (McGuffey and South Park) are playing in AA this year. On top of that, they were one of 5 AAA teams to give up over 300 points. JR QB Xavier Ellis figures to be the starter after seeing some time last year, and was the second leading rusher. RB Tristan Sandrosky was the leading rusher as a junior last year and 2nd leading receiver Jacqui Taylor returns. They have a lot of skill players are returning but they need to be able to find the end zone as the team's leading scorer last year was Junior kicker Flyzell Williams who scored 0 touchdowns. No one on the team found the end zone more than twice.

Elizabeth Forward
The Indians scored less than 7 points 5 times last season and will need to find an offense somewhere. Junior QB Ryan Wardropper, who has one of the best names in WPIAL figures to be the starter, had more INTs (7) than completions (6) last season. WR Matt Bernadowski led the team in receiving yards with 255 as a sophomore and should form a nice combination with Wardropper. Wardropper. Wardropper. Man, that's an awesome name.

Albert Gallatin
Albert Gallatin had a historically bad season at the bottom of the Keystone Conference. They were one of 5 AAA teams to finish the year with less than 100 points on offense and gave up a WPIAL-worst 428 points on defense. That's an average of 47.5 points against per game. And it really wasn't even that close. They held Uniontown and Derry to 19 points each but the next lowest was Ringgold who put up 40. Five teams put up over 53, topped by Franklin Regional's 70 and Greensburg Salem's 67. QBs Marty Dodson and Richie Ohler both return after splitting time last year and as well as Colin Smith, who led the team in rushing and receiving as a sophomore last year. Albert Gallatin only won once in their last 21 games, the season finale against Laurel Highlands in October 2010 .

Greater Allegheny

View AAA: Greater Allegheny in a larger map

Franklin Regional
Franklin Regional returns their top two playmakers from a team that fell just short of Heinz Field last year. The Panthers ran through the Keystone Conference with the best offense in all of WPIAL (447 points) and best defense in AAA (47 points against) but fell in a heart-breaker 9-7 to Knoch in the semi-finals. Leading rusher Dane Brown might be the best back in AAA after running for almost 2000 yards and 34 touchdowns as a junior last year. Yes, that's not a lie. 34 touchdowns, which meant Brown scored more points as an individual than 17 of the 31 AAA teams last year. Dual threat quarterback Nico Lodovico who accounted for 1500 yards combined rushing and passing also returns for his senior season. Kicker Mike Roberge returns for his senior year after converting 63 extra points last season. That's pretty insane, even for high school. They will face some better defenses now that the Keystone Conference is no more, but they have the playmakers to be right at the top once again.

Mars' reign atop the Greater Allegheny Conference came to an end last year when graduations finally caught up with them and they had to field a team of mostly underclassmen. That's good news for the Fighting Planets this year as Junior QB Owen Nearhoof can build on his success from his sophomore season when he threw for 672 yards and 6 TDs. Fellow Junior Jason Lozzi was the team's leading rusher (729 yards) as a sophomore last season. Second leading rusher Alex Smith also returns for his senior year. All in all, the Planets made the playoffs last year starting a bunch of sophomores and juniors and should be poised to make a run at the conference title this year.

The Talbots missed out on the playoffs by 1 game last year after starting a lot of juniors at skill positions. Hampton was middle of the road in both offense and defense but should be poised to strike this year with QB Jon Nigro (800 yards, 9 TD), RB Anthony Bianco (167 att, 738 yards. 7 TD) and FB Jake Hart all returning for their senior years. On the outside, they were led by a pair of sophomore receivers last year in Jon Floss (18 rec, 239 yds, 4 TD) and Colin Luther (12 rec, 243 yds, 3 TD). With all this talent returning at the offensive skill positions, the Talbots should be right in the mix for the Northeastern Conference crown.

The Golden Rams made it back to the postseason last year, falling to Ringgold 14-10 in the opening round. All around threat Gage Clark graduated after leading the team in passing (60 comp, 796 yards, 7 TD) and rushing (140 att, 690 yds, 10 TD) last season. Highlands lost most of their other offensive skill position players, and their success will likely rest on the shoulders of two-way player Allan Cratsenberg who will start at quarterback and linebacker. The Rams finished last season with the 4th best defense in AAA, and it showed in the playoffs as they held Ringgold (who was averaging 35 points per game) to just 14.

Last year might have been the best year in Knoch Knights history as they carried an unblemished record all the way to Heinz Field where they fell in the title game to Montour. However, they lost a lot of talent in Dual-threat QB Ky Kenyon and RB Andrew Rumburg-Goodlin. Leading receiver Ben Tackett (25 rec, 410 yds) was also the 3rd leading rusher (39 att, 269 yds) and is the best returning player for Knoch. The Knights always play suffocating defense, finishing 2nd in AAA last year allowing just 75 points in the regular season and allowing just 3 teams to score over 10 points all season. Unfortunately, one of those teams was Montour who put up 42 on them in the title game.

The Little Indians were one of the surprise teams of AAA last year, finishing 2nd in their conference after their aerial show bombed over their opponents. Unfortunately, Indiana graduated their stellar quarterback Logan Weaver who passed for over 1400 yards and ran for another 700 along with leading receiver Tyrayl Veney who had almost 1000 receiving yards. That's a lot of offense to graduate, and I don't think the Indians have the depth at play-makers to be at the top of the conference this year. They will be fighting for the last playoff spot though.

Greensburg Salem
Like the other teams atop the Keystone Conference, Greensburg Salem ran over, around, and through their opponents, posting 40+ points in 7 games. They gave perennial power Thomas Jefferson all they could handle in the first round, falling 34-28 to the Jaguars. Unfortunately, they lost their two biggest offensive threats to graduation, and will have to rely on 2nd leading rusher Tyler Shook (38 att, 552 yds, 7 TDs) to shoulder the load of the offense.

Hollidaysburg just missed out on a playoff spot, finishing tied with Laurel Highlands with a 3-4 record at the end of the year, but a 46-42 defeat left them sitting at home in October. The Golden Tigers were hit and miss on offense last year, scoring 28+ in each of their 3 wins (and 42 in their loss to Laurel Highlands) and failing to break double digits in 3 of their 4 losses. Brian Urban started at quarterback as a sophomore last year and the Tigers relied heavily on their running game. Kris Stern, their leading rusher and receiver, graduated which leaves a big hole to be filled on offense.

Derry Area
After a promising 2-0 start in conference play, Derry fell flat on their face, losing their last 5 games 49-3, 46-0, 44-7, 33-0, and 28-7. Quarterback Josh Boggio returns along with leading rusher and receiver Josh Wannamaker. Will that be enough to turn around a team that had the worst offense in AAA last year?


View AAA: Parkway in a larger map

Central Valley
Robert. Foster. That's about all you need to know about Central Valley this season. Foster was an all-around star last year as a junior and is now one of the top recruits in the nation. The Warriors carried an undefeated season into the Semi-Finals last year where they fell to eventual champion Montour. Foster is the only returning skill position player, but he is just that good that he should carry the Warriors to the top of the conference once again.

After a promising 5-1 start to the season, Blackhawk dropped their last 3 games to Montour, Central Valley, and New Castle, causing them to miss the playoffs. Sophomore stud quarterback Chandler Kincade was injured mid-way through the season, and if he can return to form as a junior, the 6'5" gunslinger will get even more attention from D-1 schools than he is getting already. Alex Caratelli, their leading receiver, returns for his senior season along with 2nd leading rusher Cole Chiappialle.

The defending champs will be competitive again this year, but you don't lose one of the best quarterbacks and running backs in your classification and stay on top. Graduations hit the Spartans hard and they will return only one of their offensive skill position starters - WR Devin Wilson (72 rec, 901 yds, 12 TD).

West Allegheny
Despite losing their last two games, West Allegheny found their way into the playoffs, losing to Knoch in the first round. Dual-threat QB Dylan Bongiorni graduated, but the other top rushers from the team return. Nick Halbedl ran for 323 yards and 5 TDs as a junior and Tory Delmonico added 158 and 3 TDs as a sophomore. They will be the focal points of the offense this season.

With the graduation of the leading rusher in the history of Pennsylvania High School Football, Rushel Shell, Hopewell looks to fill a giant void in their offense. Adam Murray was the team's 2nd leading rusher behind Shell last year (70 car, 343 yds) and also the team's second leading receiver (8 rec, 80 yds) and found the end zone 5 times. Murray figures to be the feature back this year and is the only major contributor returning.

New Castle
The Hurricane finished in a 3-way tie with Hopewell and West Allegheny, but missed out on a playoff spot. QB John Matarazzo threw for over 1600 yards and 23 TDs last year but was lost to graduation. Jalen Holmes led the team in rushing as a junior (171 car, 937 yds, 9 TD) and with Matarazzo's graduation, coupled with the loss of their two leading receivers, the Hurricanes may move to a run-based attack this year.

Chartiers Valley
All-around athlete Wayne Capers graduated, but a few skill position players return to a team that made the playoffs but was moved into the lethal Parkway Conference. Leading receiver Kevin Gillen and leading rusher Mike Boulos return and should be the focal point for the Colts offense. Chartiers Valley has a top 5 defense last year, but that may change in a loaded Parkway Conference this year.

Looking for a team on it's way up? Look no farther than the Moon Tigers. QB Caleb Jakiel threw for over 1000 yards as a junior last year and sophomore RB Anthony Colaianni led the team in rushing with 751 yards. These two will be the backbone of the Tigers offense that finished in the middle of the AAA pack. Their defense, on the other hand, needs to be improved. They were one of 6 AAA teams to give up over 300 points and will have to get better on that side of the ball if they're going to make a run at a playoff spot.

The Bridgers only win last year came over AA Keystone Oaks in the first week of the season. They got stomped in conference play, failing to score more than 7 points in all but 1 of their Parkway matchups. Ambridge was led by underclassmen last year and QB Nick Santiago (592 pass yards, 304 rush yards) returns along with leading rushers Kody Nichi (who also led the team in receiving) and Kenell Washington. Second leading receiver Joe Sineway returns as well. That's a lot of skill position players returning for an Ambridge team that barely broke 100 points last season. They will have to find the end zone this year if they're going to compete in this brutal conference.

Playoff Predictions

Big Nine: Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin, Belle Vernon, Trinity, Ringgold
Northeastern: Franklin Regional, Mars, Hampton, Highlands, Knoch
Parkway: Central Valley, Blackhawk, Montour, West Allegheny, Hopewell, New Castle

Championship Prediction: Central Valley over Franklin Regional

Week 4 Roster Battles

Heading into the last preseason game, this is where the last few roster spots are won and lost. The biggest thing that happened was David DeCastro's injury, and it remains to be seen whether or not the Steelers will place him on Injured Reserve or keep him on the active roster in the hope that he can play again at some point this season. There is some precedent for this - the Steelers kept Rod Woodson in 1995 and Aaron Smith in 2010 on the active roster.

On Monday, the Steelers cut their roster down to 75 players. Two of the most notable cuts were Kicker Daniel Hrapmann, who had a really impressive showing through 3 games and OLB Mortty Ivy who was waived/injured with a hamstring injury. Losing Ivy is a shame, he was well on his way to a roster spot and had been playing really well on Special Teams.

I moved Punter Drew Butler onto the "Probable" list because I haven't heard anything lately that would indicate Jeremy Kapinos is close to making a return from injury. Butler looked good against Buffalo so I replaced Kapinos on the "Probable" list. Either way, one of them will make the roster. I also moved Will Allen from "On the Bubble" to "Probable" after he played with the starting units on all 4 special teams situations.

With that in mind, here's a look at how the 53-man roster is shaking out heading into the last preseason game against Carolina.

Locks (26)
B. Roethlisberger (QB), B. Leftwich (QB), R. Mendenhall (RB), I. Redman (RB), M. Wallace (WR), A. Brown (WR), E. Sanders (WR), J. Cotchery (WR), H. Miller (TE), M. Gilbert (OT), M. Starks (OT), M. Adams (OT), W. Colon (OG), D. DeCastro (OG), M. Pouncey (C), B. Keisel (DE), Z. Hood (DE), C. Heyward (DE), C. Hampton (NT), S. McLendon (NT), L. Woodley (OLB), L. Timmons (ILB), L. Foote (ILB), I. Taylor (CB), T. Polamalu (SS), R. Clark (FS)

Probable (19)
C. Batch (QB), J. Dwyer (RB), C. Rainey (RB), L. Pope (TE), R. Foster (OG), T. Essex (OG), D. Legursky (OG), A. Ta'amu (NT), C. Carter (OLB), S. Spence (ILB), S. Sylvester (ILB), K. Lewis (CB), C. Allen (CB), C. Brown (CB), R. Mundy (FS),  W. Allen (SS), S. Suisham (K), D. Butler (P), G. Warren (LS)

PUP (2)
J. Harrison (OLB), J. Worlids (OLB)

On the Bubble (20)
J. Johnson (QB), B. Batch (RB), W. Johnson (FB), J. Ford (FB), D. Paulson (TE), D. Gilreath (WR), T. Clemons (WR), M. Maze (WR), D. Williams (WR), K. Beachum (OG), C. Scott (OT), C. Bryant (DE), A. Woods (DE), B. Johnson (ILB), A. Robinson (OLB), T. Frederick (CB),  J. Victorian (CB), D. Cromartie-Smith (S), R. Golden (S), J. Kapinos (P)

Likely Cuts (7)
T. Beiler (WR), J. Malecki (OG), R. Lee (OG), I. Igbinosun (DE), J. Stoller (DE), B. Hicks (LB), M. McFadden (LB)

Suspension (1)
W. Saunders (TE)

Roster Math: 26 Locks + 19 Probables = 45 of 53 spots filled. It's likely Harrison and Worlids will be reactivated from the PUP list before the season starts, so that brings us up to 47 of 53 spots filled with 6 spots open for competition, assuming DeCastro is not placed on IR.

Likely Positions to Fill
FB/H-back/#3 TE - Will Johnson has the inside track right now as David Paulson is likely slated for the practice squad. This position could be in flux with Weslye Saunders' 4-game suspension.

WR #5 - Derrick Williams might be the new leader at this spot. He had a touchdown catch and another leaping grab on a deep ball against Buffalo. David Gilreath made a name for himself in the Colts game but didn't make much of an impact against Buffalo. I think the Steelers would like to keep 7th round pick Toney Clemons, but he hasn't shown anything yet. Marquis Maze dropped a pass against Buffalo and didn't see any time as a kick returner (he was supplanted by Gilreath).

#9 LB - With the injuries to Harrison and Worlids, the Steelers will likely keep at least one, if not two extra linebackers. Mortty Ivy was waived/injured which put a little kink in the Steelers plans. Brandon Johnson played with the first team on all 4 special teams units (Kickoff, Kick Return, Punt, Punt Return) against Buffalo, so it's likely he makes the team. Depending on Harrison and Worlids, Adrian Robinson could have a shot to make the team if more OLB depth is needed.

#9 DB - This has turned into a 4-player race and will depend on which position the coaches feel they have a greater need at. If the coaches choose CB, 7th round pick Terrence Frederick and Josh Victorian (who had an interception against Indy and downed a punt inside the 10 against Buffalo) will be the candidates. If the coaches choose safety, Da'mon Cromartie-Smith and Robert Golden (who had an interception against Buffalo) are the candidates. As of right now, Victorian seems to have a small edge on Frederick and Golden a slight edge on DCS. If I had to pick one, Golden has been the most impressive player of the group with DCS second.

Positions that May or May Not Be Filled
#5 RB - This one all depends on Mendenhall's health. If he's not ready for the start of the season, Baron Batch is the obvious candidate to make the team. Batch has looked better with each passing week and showed a great burst through the hole against Buffalo. Great to see the guy's knee responding so well after he tore his ACL last year.

#4 DE - Casey Hampton was reactivated from the PUP list and claims he will be ready for Denver. Brett Keisel injured his ankle but should be ready to roll in Denver. With the top 6 D-linemen set, the Steelers have the flexibility to keep a 7th (likely a 4th DE) if they want to. Al Woods had an interception in the opener but Corbin Bryant seems to have played better in the last two games. This one is honestly a toss up between the two, if the Steelers keep a 4th DE at all.

9th/10th OL - This one depends on David DeCastro. If the Steelers place him on IR, the obvious candidates to take his spot on the roster would be Chris Scott or Kelvin Beachum. Neither has looked particularly good, but Beachum didn't get flagged for anything against Buffalo, so that was an improvement.

Last 6 In:
LB Brandon Johnson
RB Baron Batch
FB/H-Back/TE Will Johnson
OLB Adrian Robinson
S Robert Golden
WR Derrick Williams

Practice Squad:
S Da'mon Cromartie-Smith
WR David Gilreath
DE Corbin Bryant
TE David Paulson
QB Jerrod Johnson
CB Josh Victorian
OL Kelvin Bechum
WR Toney Clemons

Next 5 Out:
DE Al Woods
CB Terrence Frederick
FB Jay Ford
WR Marquis Maze
OL Chris Scott

Monday, August 27, 2012


It's that time of year again in Western Pennsylvania - high school football season. And there isn't anything quite like it. We kick off our previews today with the big boys, the AAAA schools. North Allegheny has won back-to-back championships and looks poised to make a run for a third consecutive title. The sections were realigned this year as AAAA moved from 4 conferences down to 3. Previews are listed in my predicted order of finish. Not that my prediction means a whole lot. Don't forget to check out our WPIAL Standings page during the season for updated standings.

All helmet images from PA Helmet Project.

Foothills Conference

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The Foothills Conference is stratified into three tiers. There's probably a 99% chance that someone in the top tier (Gateway, McKeesport, Penn-Trafford) will win the conference title. The next tier (Latrobe, Connellsville, Altoona) will likely be competing for the last two playoff spots and the rear will be brought up by the last three (Kiski, Hempfield, Norwin).

This is likely the last year for coach Terry Smith and he as a load of returning starters including QB Thomas Woodson (1100 yards, 11 TDs, committed to Arizona), leading rushers Darin Franklin (800 yds, 18 TDs) and Andre Martin (400 yds 9 TDs), leading receivers TE Jaymor Parrish (Pitt commit) and WR Delvon Randall (JR). All in all 9 starters on offense and 10 on defense return for a team that lost to North Allegheny in the Semi-Finals last year and had the best defense in Quad-A.

The Tigers boast the best QB in AAAA in Eddie Stockett (1700 yds, 17 TD), who has committed to Akron. They lost their top 2 receivers, and no one returns who had more than 6 catches last year. Stockett will rely on 6'3" JR Jaquan Davidson (6 rec, 207 yds, 6 TDs, 34.5 YPC according to the PG stats). LB Hodari Christian might be one of the best defensive players in WPIAL and has committed to WVU.

The defending conference champions have lost some starters from last season, including all of their offensive skill players TE Brian McDonough and WR Dorian Stevens (combined 30 catches). The biggest losses were 1400-yd rusher Manny Simpson and 1400-yd passer Zach Emerick. That's a lot of offense to replace. They dominated on the offensive and defensive lines last year and will need to do that again if they're going to challenge Gateway and McKeesport for the league crown. They also return the best kicker in WPIAL Matt Lughnane, who made 11 FGs last year.

The Wildcats finished 5-4 overall last year but were 2-4 in conference play, missing the playoffs on a 16-0 loss to Connellsville. Dual-threat Sophomore QB Logan Carns started some games which gave him good experience for this year (90 pass att, 97 rush att). He will need to improve his completion percentage (24% last year) as a Junior this year. Leading rusher Robert Vasinko (68 car, 500 yds, 6 TD) also returns.

The Falcons made playoffs for the first time in 6 years last season, but they graduated 20 seniors from that team. Their biggest addition is transfer Jordan McCrae, who led Greensburg Central Catholic in rushing last year with 1167 yards.

Leading receiver Rafeeq Barnes (12 rec 267 yds, 3 TD) returns for a Lions team that missed the playoffs by just 1 game last season. Their top 2 RBs graduated but Avery Howasare (56 car, 235 yds, 2 TD) figures to be the feature back and they should be able to make a run at the last playoff spot in the new Foothills Conference.

Kiski Area
After starting last 0-8, they ended on a high note with a 20-0 shutout of Plum. They lost their quarterback to transfer to Central Catholic, but return WR Joe Brungo who had 23 receptions for 444 yards as a sophomore last year. They were one of 4 AAAA teams to give up over 300 points last season and will have to improve the defense if they're going to make a run at the playoffs.

16 Seniors graduated from a team that went 1-8 last season. They figure to start Junior QB Ty George, who built some experience playing as a sophomore last year. The only returning skill player is RB Joey DeFloria (33 carries, 152 yards) and they will need to find some offense somewhere after being one of five Quad-A teams not to score 100 points last season.

It was a forgettable season for the Norwin Knights after going 0-9, having the worst defense, and 2nd worst offense in AAAA. They were shut out 4 times and lost their quarterback and leading rusher to graduation. Only three starters return on offense and two on defense, but really things can't get much worse than they were last year.

Northern Eight Conference

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This conference is stacked. There are seven teams that could make the playoffs...and Butler.

North Allegheny
The two-time defending WPIAL champions beat Upper St Clair in OT last year and went on to lose in the State semi-finals. OT Patrick Kugler is one of best OTs in nation, and has committed to Michigan. He has fantastic pedigree as the son of Steelers OL coach Sean Kugler. QB Mack Leftwich (122/216 2149 yds, 19 TD, 122 car, 715 yds, 14 TD) returns with 2 of his top 3 WRs and leading rusher Alex DeCiantis (151 car, 806 yds, 14 TD). This team is loaded. Expect to see the Tigers in Heinz Field again on Thanksgiving weekend.

Seneca Valley
This team is stacked with returning talent from an 8-3 season a year ago where 2 losses came to NA, the 2nd in the Quarterfinals. If McKeesport's Eddie Stockett isn't the best QB in WPIAL, Seneca Valley's Jordan Brown (2100 yds, 16 TDs) certainly is. Brown's older brother CJ was slated to be the starter at Maryland this year before suffering an injury in camp. Jordan is being recruited by the Terps as well as some other D-1 schools. All around threat Forrest Barnes (172 car, 1161 rush yds, 43 rec 551 yds, 19 total TD) led the team in rushing and receiving last year and is also garnering some attention from D1 schools. Seneca Valley had a top 5 offense last year but needs to improve on defense where they were 16th in AAAA.

Central Catholic
The Vikings will be strong once again but after graduating leading rusher Damian Jones-Moore and their top 3 receivers, there will certainly be some transition. JJ Cosentino, who transferred in from Kiski where he saw some time as a backup last year as a sophomore, figures to be the starting quarterback.
Junior RB Luigi Lista-Brinza figures to step in to feature back role after running for 363 yards and 5 TDs last year. Another transfer, Junior Niko Thorpe, led Shaler in rushing last year and should help the Vikings backfield.

Leading rusher Brock Baranowski (153 car, 1079 yds, 231 rec yds, 16 total TDs) returns to a team that lost 6 of its first 7 games then flipped a switch and beat two playoff teams soundly - Woodland Hills at the Wolvarena 26-7 then pounded Shaler 51-7 in the season finale. There were a lot of juniors on the team that saw significant playing time last year and if they can get the QB position figured out, this is a team that could make some noise.

North Hills
The Indians ended last season on 3-game losing streak that sunk them to 4-5 and caused them to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Leading receiver Jordan Blackmon (19 rec, 346 yds, 22 car, 306 rush yds, 8 total TDs) & leading rusher Tyler Reddick (98 car, 650 yds) return as Jack McCurry should have enough weapons to get North Hills back in the hunt in November.

Fox Chapel
The Foxes made the playoffs with a 3-6 record then got run over by North Allegheny in the opening round. Alex Romango seems to have the build for a solid QB (6'4" 200lbs) and the Foxes return their top skill position players from last year in WR Nathan Huwar and RB Nigel Garnett.

Shaler limped into the playoffs last year after losing their last 3 games, including a 51-7 thumping at the hands of Pine-Richland. They lost all of their skill position players to graduation or transfer, including TE JP Holtz (graduation) and leading rusher Niko Thorpe (transfer to Central Catholic). They have a few returning starters on the line but will need to find skill position players to be competitive in a very strong conference.

Butler won 2 of its first 3 games of the season (both against non-conference opponents) then fell flat on their face in conference play, not scoring over 10 points for the next 5 weeks. Butler struggled on both sides of the ball as they were one of only 4 AAAA teams to surrender over 300 points. JR QB Thomas Jendesky figures to take the reigns of an offense that was one of only 5 in AAAA that failed to score 100 points all year. Leading receiver Canan Roskovski and leading rusher Bob Vernick are also back for the Golden Tornado.

Southeastern Conference

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Upper St. Clair
The Panthers won their conference last year and made it all the way to Heinz Field where they fell to North Allegheny. When QB Dakota Conwell got hurt, junior Pete Coughlin did the impossible - started his first game ever and beat Central Catholic to earn a trip to Heinz Field. Coughlin should be the starter this year, and will take over an entirely new offense as the Panthers had all their starting skill players graduate. Reloading has never been a problem for legendary coach Jim Render and the Panthers should be right at the top of the conference once again this year.

Woodland Hills
The Wolverines started last year on a 6-1 tear but dropped their last 3, including 2 home losses to Pine-Richland and rival Penn Hills that dropped them into the bottom half of the playoff bracket. They played a close game in the first round but ultimately fell to Mt. Lebanon. Cody McClelland figures to be the starting QB and the team will have to find replacements for all their starting offensive skill position players.

Penn Hills
The Indians rebounded after a 1-4 start to win their last 4, including a victory over rival Woodland Hills at the Wolvarena to secure 2nd place in their conference. Penn Hills returns SR QB Darius Holloway, despite loing most of their primary skill players from last year.

Dorian Brown (1200 yds, 11 TD) might be the best RB in the conference. The Highlanders started freshman Doug Altivella at QB last year, and looks to improve on his 50% completion percentage. With the best RB in the conference, they should push for a playoff spot but they will have to start and close strong. Baldwin opens with Peters Twp and Plum and finish with Canon-Mac and Bethel. If they want to make the playoffs, they have to beat all 4 of these teams.

Mt. Lebanon
The Blue Devils lost RB Luke Hagy, who accounted for over 2100 yards of total offense. They have a new coach this season, and lost most of their offensive skill position players. All told, they only return 2 starters on offense and 3 on defense. This might be a "down" year by Lebo standards, but they should be in the playoff mix once again.

Peters Twp
The Indians made playoffs last year thanks to a victory over Baldwin. RJ Pfeuffer (54 completions, 535 yards) split time at quarterback as a Junior last year but figures to be the starter this season. They lost most of their offensive skill players but return starters up front. All in all, 5 offensive and 7 defensive starters return.

Bethel Park
The Black Hawks have new players at all the offensive skill positions but return the star of their defense, John Mascaro who will start for 3rd year at linebacker.

The Big Macs finished 0-10 and faded badly as the season went on. They started with a close 19-18 loss to rival Trinity and 9-7 loss to Latrobe. When the dust had settled, they had the 3rd worst offense in AAAA, one of 5 teams to score under 100 points all season. The Big Macs will need to find offense somewhere this season or it will be another long year in Canonsburg.

The Mustangs had the worst offense in AAAA (2nd worst in all WPIAL) last year, scoring just 50 points all year). They were shut out 4 times and their only win was against a AAA school (Kittanning) that is now playing in AA. RB Jake Diguilio scored 30 of the team's 50 points last year and returns for his senior year. On top of being bad on offense, they had the 2nd worst defense in AAAA, giving up 328 points. The Mustangs return 6 offensive starters and 7 on defense and only have one senior on the offensive line. This could serve as a solid building year for this team, but they simply don't have enough to compete in this conference this year.

Playoff Predictions

Foothills - Gateway, McKeesport, Penn-Trafford, Latrobe, Connellsville
Northern Eight - NA, Seneca Valley, Central Catholic, Pine-Richland, North Hills, Shaler
Southeastern - USC, Penn Hills, Woodland Hills, Baldwin, Mt Lebanon

Predicted Championship: Gateway over North Allegheny