For the second consecutive year the Pittsburgh City League is set with just six teams.
A few coaches throughout the league, however, believe the playing field has taken a step closer to becoming fairly even.
"The league is wide open this year and that's a good thing for our league," longtime Perry Traditional Academy coach Bill Gallagher said. "We don't know what the future holds, so we have to keep tweaking, adjusting and rocking and rolling for each new season."
The City League, which had 13 teams and two sections back in 1972, lost four teams -- Schenley, Langley, Peabody and Oliver -- and added one -- the "merger" team of Obama Academy, University Prep and Science & Technology -- in the past two years following school closings and openings by the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
"The good thing is no more schools closed," Gallagher said. "Allderdice should be strong. Brashear should be strong. University Prep should be strong. Westinghouse continues to put the time in to get better and Carrick is rebuilding with a new coach [Craig Aguglia]."
Perry returned to the top of the heap last season after winning its second league title in three years. The Commodores have won nine league crowns since 1997.
University Prep returned to the title game for the second consecutive season last year where it lost to Perry. The Wildcats, nonetheless, represented the league in three preliminary-round Class AAA state playoff games last fall before losing to Selinsgrove in the main bracket the PIAA playoffs.
"This year, more than any other year, is wide open," Westinghouse coach Monte Robinson said. "In my opinion, that's a good thing for the league and especially a great thing for us. Even though we're the smallest team, we feel we should be able to compete this year."
One year removed from adding players from Langley's defunct program, Brashear coach Rick Murphy has faith that his Bulls are past the rebuilding process.
Brashear, which last captured back-to-back league championships in 2007-08, went 3-2 against league competition last season and finished its campaign 3-6 overall. The Bulls still advanced the league playoffs but lost to University Prep in the semifinals.
"Last year was a transition year with adding guys from Langley and it was a tough year and a growing year for us," said Murphy, who is back for his sixth season.
"With the guys we have this season, we feel comfortable that we can compete in every game we have on our schedule."
Three-year starter Jeff Arnold (6-4, 270, Jr., C/DL) will anchor Murphy's offensive line. All-City tackle and Harvard recruit Scott Evans (6-3, 250, Sr., OL/DL) and Jordan Maben (6-0, 290, Sr., OL/DL) also bring a veteran presence up front.
Angelo Reed (5-10, 160, Sr.) will take over as the Bulls' starting quarterback and will have experienced targets in Adam Tajuddin (5-6, 140, Sr., WR/DB) and Ryan Mandarino (6-0, 170, Sr., WR/DB).
On the ground, Brashear's backfield will feature Ty Powe (5-7, 160, Jr., RB/DB), a transfer from Imani Christian, and sophomore Khalil Saunders (5-6, 130, RB/DB).
Defensively, senior Diondre Faulk (6-2, 215, TE/LB) returns as a three-year starter.
"We struggled a little running the ball last season because we didn't take care of the football," Murphy said. "We have to keep ourselves in games and not shoot ourselves in the foot.
"If we eliminate turnovers, we should be able to move the ball more successfully because we're comfortable with our offensive line."hsfootball