For even the worst teams in the WPIAL, a new football season brings about a clean slate. But for those who follow it comes an array of unanswered questions that are centered around a common theme -- exactly what will transpire over the next several months and what will it all mean?
In the West Xtra coverage area, where several of the top teams in WPIAL Class AAA and Class AA reside, these questions are particularly important, so here are some of the burning preseason topics with the start of play just over a week away.
Does West Allegheny have what it takes to repeat as Class AAA champions?
Winning the championship last season came as a bit of a surprise, as the Indians did not feature the same kind of bona fide stars that some of its counterparts had. But West Allegheny had depth at several key positions, most notably running back. Like last season, the backfield will be brimming with talent, as the team's top two rushers -- senior Chayse Dillon and junior Armand Dellovade -- are back. The pair combined for 1,730 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012. Those two will play alongside senior Tory Delmonico -- an athletic, 6-foot-2 quarterback -- in the Indians' wildcat offense that was a crucial component in their success last season. Delmonico is expected to work in a rotation with junior Andrew Koester, a traditional dropback quarterback with a lot of potential to improve.
As it always seems to be, the Parkway Conference will be incredibly competitive, but West Allegheny should be back near the top, if not in first place. If coach Bob Palko did one thing last year, he reminded people just how much his teams can accomplish even if it seems like they have relatively little. Defending a title is obviously never easy, but the Indians seem well-equipped to do so.
Who, if anybody, will stop Aliquippa?
A number of key members return from the Quips' 2012 team that beat opponents by an average of 44.1 points per game before losing in the PIAA championship. Running back/defensive back Dravon Henry is arguably the top college prospect in the area and with Terry Swanson, he helps form a dynamic backfield that may be the best in the WPIAL. Jaleel Fields anchors both a strong offensive line and a suffocating defensive line. As he often does, coach Mike Zmijanac has an overwhelming array of options.
One team that could cause Aliquippa some problems is rival Beaver Falls. The Tigers have Division I talent with players such as wide receiver/defensive back Elijah Cottrill and lineman Brock Boxen (both Akron commits), as well as linebacker Sage Curry (a West Virginia commit). There's also quarterback Dan Stratton and running back Damian Rawl, both of whom had strong 2012 seasons. Granted, Beaver Falls was blown out, 66-7, in its lone meeting with the Quips last season, but at the very least, they appear to have the athletes to compete.
How will the loss of Robert Foster impact Central Valley?
Central Valley has had a great deal of success in the school's first three years of existence -- going 30-8 in that time -- but this year's team will have the burden of replacing the area's top recruit last season in wide receiver Robert Foster. As talented as Foster is, it was what he did for Central Valley that made him so valuable. Obviously, he was an excellent receiver, but he was a constant threat on returns and was a solid contributor on defense. He was even a very good punter. In short, he did everything.
To be sure, Central Valley returns a lot of talent with players such as running back Jordan Whitehead and is expected to be one of a handful of contenders to win Class AAA. But there were several moments last season when Foster would make a play that changed the game.
Can Sto-Rox topple Clairton?
For the past four seasons, Clairton has steamrolled its way through Class A to the tune of a well-documented 63-game win streak. But many of the primary contributors to that dominance are now gone, making the Bears as vulnerable as they have been for some time.
Of Clairton's challengers in Class A, few present a bigger threat than Sto-Rox. The Vikings are led by quarterback Lenny Williams, a dual-threat who accounted for 3,426 total yards (2,237 passing, 1,189 rushing) last season. He's very likely the best player in Class A and when paired with running back Brendan Blair, Sto-Rox has an extremely potent offense, one that averaged 37.5 points per game last season.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG