Monday, October 27, 2014

WPIAL Playoff Outlook

The WPIAL regular season concluded on Friday night with West Allegheny's WPIAL-leading 29-game winning streak against WPIAL competition coming to an end against Central Valley (who was the last WPIAL team to beat the Indians, back in 2012). On the other side of the coin, Serra Catholic ended their 28-game overall losing streak and 27-game conference losing streak with a 38-36 win over Wilkinsburg. This year's playoffs feature all of the mainstays as both Thomas Jefferson and Aliquippa reached the postseason for the 20th consecutive season (followed closely by Woodland Hills at 19 and McKeesport at 17). There are a few small seeding debates heading into tonight's WPIAL Playoffs Meeting at 7pm, the biggest of which will be who is the top seed in Class A - the defending state champion North Catholic Trojans or the Clairton Bears who put up a record 610 points in the regular season. For the most part, the seedings should be fairly straightforward. In Quad-A and Triple-A, the top 2 finishers from each conference and 2 of the 3 third place teams get home playoff games. In AA and A, the top 2 from each conference get home games. The WPIAL usually tries to avoid seeding teams from the same conference against each other in the first round as well as avoiding repeats of non-conference matchups. Here's my best guess at how the seedings will shake out.


Foothills Conference: 1. Penn-Trafford (8-0, 9-0), 2. McKeesport (7-1, 8-1), 3. Altoona (6-2, 7-2), 4. Plum (5-3, 5-4), 5. Norwin (4-4, 5-4),  6. Connellsville (3-5, 3-6)

Northern Eight Conference: 1. Pine-Richland (7-0, 9-0), 2. Central Catholic (6-1, 8-1), 3. North Allegheny (5-2, 7-2), 4. North Hills (4-3, 6-3), 5. Fox Chapel (3-4, 4-5)

Southeastern Conference: 1. Penn Hills (6-1, 7-2), 2. Woodland Hills (6-1, 7-2), 3. Bethel Park (5-2, 6-3), 4. Upper St Clair (4-3, 4-5), 5. Mt Lebanon (4-3, 5-4)

Predicted Playoff Seeding
1. Pine-Richland - The Rams are one of two undefeated teams in Quad-A and have the best offense in the classification, led by Ben DiNucci, the WPIAL's leading passer.
2. Penn-Trafford - The Warriors were a surprise semi-finalist last year and swept through the Foothills Conference this year on Brett Laffoon's arm (1179 passing yards) and Devin Austin's legs (993 rushing yards).
3. Penn Hills - There might be some debate here between Penn Hills and Central Catholic for the #3 seed but ultimately I think Penn Hills gets the edge as a conference champion.
4. Central Catholic - The defending Quad-A Champions suffered their only loss in a shootout with Pine-Richland. The WPIAL may put them in the 3 spot to prevent a rematch before the finals.
5. McKeesport - The Tigers only loss was to Penn-Trafford
6. Woodland Hills - The Wolverines were my preseason pick to be AAAA Champions and have been to Heinz Field 4 of the last 5 years but they drop down to the 6 seed after losing 2 of their last 3 games.
7. North Allegheny - The Tigers blew out rival North Hills in the season finale to earn a home playoff game. Don't sleep on them making a deep run in the playoffs.
8. Altoona - The Lions earned a home game with a win over Connellsville, which will be a brutal trip for whichever team they draw in the opening round.
9. Bethel Park - The Blackhawks beat conference champion Penn Hills and almost beat Woodland Hills but didn't get a home playoff game because of their non-conference loss to Central Catholic.
10. Plum - The move to the Foothills Conference benefited the Mustangs as they broke a 22-game losing streak against Conference opponents. They land here by default because North Allegheny can not play North Hills (conference game) and already played Upper St Clair this year.
11. North Hills - The Indians put together a solid season that included a win over Mt Lebanon, which helps them in the seeding order.
12. Upper St Clair - Jim Render's team bounced back after starting the season 1-4, including a win over rival Mt Lebanon in the season finale.
13. Mt Lebanon - The Blue Devils have an explosive offense with dual-threat QB Eddie Jenkins who has over 1500 yards of total offense, but haven't been able to stop anyone on defense this year.
14. Norwin - The Knights are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Their success has come through a stifling defense holding opponents down as their offense doesn't score much.
15. Fox Chapel - The Foxes have not played a close game this year. All of their wins have been by 20+ and only one of their losses was by less than 20.
16. Connellsville - The Falcons earned the "Wild Card" spot and have the worst record of any playoff team.


Big Nine Conference: 1. Thomas Jefferson (8-0, 9-0), 2. Ringgold (7-1, 8-1), 3. West Mifflin (5-3, 6-3), 4. Belle Vernon (5-3, 5-4), 5. Laurel Highlands (4-4, 4-5)

Greater Allegheny Conference: 1. Hampton (7-1, 8-1), 2. Franklin Regional (6-2, 6-3), 3. Indiana (5-3, 6-3), 4. Mars (5-3, 6-3), 5. Gateway (4-4, 4-5), 6. Knoch (4-4, 4-5)

Parkway Conference: 1. Central Valley (8-0, 9-0), 2. West Allegheny (7-1, 8-1), 3. Montour (6-2, 7-2), 4. New Castle (4-4, 4-5), 5. Moon (4-4, 4-5)

Predicted Playoff Seeding
1. Central Valley - The Warriors solidified their spot at the top of the AAA bracket with a win over two-time defending champ West Allegheny in Week 9.
2. Thomas Jefferson - The Jaguars once again did what they always do - totally dominated their conference.
3. West Allegheny - The WPIAL will likely separate West Allegheny and Central Valley on the bracket so that they can not meet again until the Championship Game. With Hampton's loss to Mars, there shouldn't be much debate here that West Allegheny is seeded ahead of Hampton.
4. Hampton - The GAC Champions lost in overtime to Mars in Week 9, but still put together a very good season with one of the best defenses in AAA.
5. Ringgold - The Rams have not lost since being run off the field by Thomas Jefferson in Week 1. They have an explosive offense that ranks 4th in AAA and are certainly capable of a deep run.
6. Montour - The Spartans almost pulled off an upset of West Allegheny in the regular season and their win over a Quad-A opponent (Upper St Clair) gives them a seeding advantage.
7. Franklin Regional - The Panthers dropped a game to Knoch in the opening week of the season which hurts their overall profile.
8. Indiana - The Little Indians finished 3rd in the GAC thanks to a head-to-head win over Mars in Week 1 and earned the last home playoff game.
9. West Mifflin - The Titans resume includes a bizarre loss to Trinity that prevented them from getting a home playoff game.
10. Belle Vernon - The Leopards have an explosive offense and could make some noise in the playoffs.
11. Mars - The Planets rebounded after losing star RB Josh Schulthies to an injury in Week 1 to make the playoffs thanks to a 1000-yard season from Ori Rinaman.
12. Gateway - Tom Nola and the Gators rebounded from a slow start to make the playoffs thanks to a head-to-head win over Knoch.
13. New Castle - After starting the season 0-4, New Castle won 4 of their last 5 to make the playoffs. Sadly a New Castle-Hampton football matchup will probably be less exciting than the basketball games they played last year.
14. Knoch - The Knights were the "Wild Card" team in AAA but have 2 wins over playoff teams (Franklin Regional and Mars) which is more than Moon or Laurel Highlands, so they get bumped up the bracket.
15. Moon - The Tigers couldn't face Central Valley or West Allegheny in the first round because they play in the same conference so they land here against TJ.
16. Laurel Highlands - A 1-point win over Elizabeth Forward in Week 1 carried Laurel Highlands into the playoffs.


Allegheny Conference: 1. Highlands (9-0, 9-0), 2. Apollo-Ridge (8-1, 8-1), 3. Shady Side Academy (6-3, 6-3), 4. Kittanning (6-3, 6-3)

Century Conference: 1. South Fayette (9-0, 9-0), 2. Seton-La Salle (8-1, 8-1), 3. South Park (7-2, 7-2), 4. Steel Valley (6-3, 6-3)

Interstate Conference: 1. Washington (8-0, 9-0), 2. Mt Pleasant (7-1, 7-2), 3. McGuffey (6-2, 7-2), 4. Waynesburg (5-3, 6-3)

Midwestern Conference: 1. Aliquippa (8-0, 9-0), 2. Beaver (6-2, 7-2), 3. Beaver Falls (6-2, 7-2), 4. New Brighton (6-2, 6-3)

Predicted Playoff Seeding
1. South Fayette - The defending AA Champions will be at the top of the bracket with the WPIAL's all-time leading passer Brett Brumbaugh under center.
2. Aliquippa - The Quips only losses in the last 5 years have been in the 2010 and 2013 WPIAL Championship Games to South Fayette. The two are on a collision course once again.
3. Washington - The Little Prexies won the Interstate Conference title and scored a nice non-conference win over New Brighton, which gives them the edge over Highlands.
4. Highlands - The Rams swept through the Allegheny Conference in their first year in AA.
5. Seton-La Salle - The Rebels only loss was to South Fayette in a game where their best player was suspended because of a bizarre WPIAL "red card" rule that knocks a player out for the next game after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
6. Apollo-Ridge - The Vikings have two of the most electrifying players in the WPIAL in WR Tre Tipton and RB Duane Brown.
7. Beaver - The Bobcats won the 3-way tie for 2nd place in the Midwestern Conference thanks to a head-to-head win over Beaver Falls.
8. Mt Pleasant - The Vikings finished 2nd in the Interstate Conference thanks to a Week 1 win over McGuffey.
9. Beaver Falls - The strangest streak in the WPIAL may continue this year - Beaver Falls has been knocked out of the playoffs in each of the last 4 seasons by South Fayette.
10. South Park - The Eagles are back in the playoffs for the second straight year thanks to an explosive offensive attack.
11. McGuffey - The Highlanders gave Washington a fight in the season finale for the Conference Title. They may get moved around the bracket to try to find a better travel destination, but it won't be easy.
12. Shady Side Academy - The Indians were upset by Ford City but gave conference champion Highlands all they could handle in the season finale.
13. New Brighton - The Lions have a great offense and not much defense, which makes them an intriguing matchup for any of the Allegheny Conference teams.
14. Steel Valley - The Ironmen have one of the best underclassmen RBs in the WPIAL in DeWayne Murray who ran for over 1200 yards and 24 TDs.
15. Kittanning - This could very well be the last game Kittanning ever plays as the school will merge with Ford City to form Armstrong Jr/Sr High next year.
16. Waynesburg - The Raiders made the playoffs for the first time since 2003 but unfortunately will probably be at the bottom of the bracket.


Big Seven Conference: 1. Neshannock (7-0, 9-0), 2. Shenango (6-1, 6-3), 3. South Side Beaver (5-2, 6-3), 4. Riverside (4-3, 5-4)

Black Hills Conference: 1. North Catholic (7-0, 9-0), 2. Avonworth (6-1, 8-1), 3. Brentwood (5-2, 6-3), 4. Chartiers-Houston (4-3, 5-4)

Eastern Conference: 1. Clairton (8-0, 9-0), 2. Jeannette (7-1, 8-1), 3. Springdale (5-3, 6-3), 4. GCC (5-3, 5-4)

Tri-County South Conference: 1. Beth-Center (8-0, 9-0), 2. Frazier (7-1, 8-1), 3. Mapletown (6-2, 7-2), 4. Avella (4-4, 5-4)

Predicted Playoff Seeding
1. North Catholic - In 2011 the WPIAL set a precedent of giving the defending champions the top seed when they gave North Allegheny the #1 seed in Quad-A even though many thought Central Catholic was the best team in the state. This trend continues with the defending State Champions at the top of the bracket.
2. Clairton - They didn't just break the regular season scoring mark of Terrelle Pryor's Jeannette team, they shattered it. The Bears are on pace (67.8 points per game) to break the 2007 Jeannette team's state record for points in a season (830 in 16 games) in the WPIAL semi-finals (their 12th game).
3. Neshannock - The Lancers went undefeated and won the Big Seven Conference and are clearly the 3rd best team in Class A.
4. Jeannette - There may be some debate here if Jeannette or Beth-Center should be the #4 seed but I give the advantage to the Jayhawks based on their trouncing of GCC who Beth-Center only beat by 9.
5. Beth-Center - Finally some respect for the Tri-County South Champions? The Bulldogs went undefeated again and have now won 17 straight conference games.
6. Avonworth - The Lopes were hit hard by injuries this year but still beat everyone except North Catholic.
7. Frazier - The Commodores are in the playoffs for the 4th straight season with their only loss coming to Beth-Center.
8. Shenango - The Wildcats had an excellent year in the Big Seven Conference, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006 when they played in AA but lost non-conference games to Avonworth and North Catholic which hurt their overall record.
9. Brentwood - The Spartans finished 3rd in the Black Hills Conference and are the best of the teams in the bottom half of the Class A bracket.
10. South Side Beaver - The Rams are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
11. Springdale - I think I was the only person that picked the Dynamos to make the playoffs this year. Prediction vindicated.
12. Riverside - The Panthers get moved up the bracket because GCC already played Beth-Center this year so I didn't want a rematch.
13. Mapletown - The Maples made the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
14. Chartiers-Houston - The Bucs beat Fort Cherry in a Week 9 Casket Match to make the playoffs.
15. GCC - An early season win over Monessen was enough to get GCC into the playoffs for the 12th straight year.
16. Avella - After making the playoffs for the first time since 1976 last year, the Eagles bounced back and won their last 2 games of the season to make the playoffs for the second straight year. They had the smallest point differential in the entire WPIAL, scoring 258 points this year and giving up 260.

Pat myself on the back time:

Back in my WPIAL preview posts I made preseason predictions about the order of finish in each conference and which teams would make the playoffs. Here's a look at how I did:

AAAA: 13 of 16 playoff teams, 1 of 3 conference champions, 6 of 8 top half teams.
AAA: 14 of 16 playoff teams, 1 of 3 conference champions, 6 of 8 top half teams.
AA: 13 of 16 playoff teams, 4 of 4 conference champions, 6 of 8 top half teams.
A: 11 of 16 playoff teams, 4 of 4 conference champions, 5 of 8 top half teams.

Cumulatively, I was correct on 51 of 64 playoff teams, 10 of 14 conference champions and 23 of 32 teams that got home playoff games.

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