Team to beat
Shady Side Academy -- The running back tandem of Dennis Briggs (5-11, 190, Sr.) and Jarred Brevard (5-9, 185, Sr.) help make the Indians the favorite. Briggs is a Pitt recruit, while Brevard led the team in rushing and touchdowns last season when the Indians were also terrific defensively, allowing the fewest points in the conference.
Valley -- What a turnaround it has been for Valley, which entered last season on a 22-game losing streak. Under first-year coach Chad Walsh, the Vikings went 6-4 and made the playoffs. That record could improve this season with the return of running back Demetrius Houser (6-1, 200, Sr.), who rushed for 1,193 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Burrell -- The Bucs must make up for the loss of star running back-linebacker Cole Bush, who was one of the top players in Class AA the past few seasons. Quarterback Cody Wolfe (5-10, 175, Sr.) is expected to have a big season.
Freeport -- The Yellowjackets earned a split of the conference title the past two seasons, but return only two starters and have just seven seniors.
Deer Lakes -- New coach T.J. Wiley, who spent the previous two seasons at Northgate, inherits a veteran quarterback in Josh Plocki (6-0, 165, Sr.)
Ford City -- The Sabers had finished with a winning record 11 years in a row before going 4-5 last season.
East Allegheny -- Dom Pecora is the Wildcats third coach in as many seasons. Quarterback Kyle Whipple (6-1, 175, Sr.) passed for more than 2,100 yards and 25 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Kittanning -- The Wildcats went 4-5 after dropping to Class AA last season, but must replace several of their top playmakers.
Summit Academy -- The Knights are hoping for a breakthrough year after not winning more than three games in any of the past five seasons.
Team to beat
South Fayette -- This is a team that shouldn't have much trouble scoring points. The Lions, led by quarterback Brett Brumbaugh (6-4, 195, Jr.) and a deep group of receivers, averaged more than 46 points per game last season. Brumbaugh is the WPIAL's top returning passer. Keep an eye on wide receiver-cornerback Roman Denson (5-10, 175, Jr.), a talented transfer from Gateway.
Seton-LaSalle -- Typically known for explosive offenses, the Rebels will lean on a defense that returns nine starters from a unit that gave up 11 points per game a season ago. Tyler Perone (6-3, 190, Jr.) steps in as the new quarterback.
McGuffey -- Two years after going winless, the Highlanders have the look of a playoff team. The Highlanders have nine offensive starters back and boast a formidable running back duo in James Duchi (1,514 yards last season) and Trinity transfer Patrick Frey (940 yards).
Steel Valley -- The Ironmen return four two-way starting linemen, including Corey Pinkerton (6-2, 285, Sr.). The group should open up plenty of holes for running back D'Andre Pickens (5-8, 170, Sr.).
South Allegheny -- A year after ending a 26-year playoff drought, the Gladiators will try to get back again behind the play of senior quarterback Ty Cook, who started at wide receiver last season.
Quaker Valley -- With a talented junior class headed by quarterback Dane Jackson and running back Tre'won Marshall, the Quakers should contend for a spot in the postseason.
Keystone Oaks -- Quarterback Kobe Phillippi (5-11, 175, Jr.) passed for more than 1,000 yards last season.
South Park -- Seeking their first playoff berth since 2007, the Eagles will ride senior running back Greg Pantuso.
Burgettstown -- Much improvement will be needed on both sides of the ball after finishing 0-9 last season.
Team to beat
Washington -- Senior running back Shai McKenzie is one of the top running backs in the state and could break the WPIAL single-season rushing record. He ran for 2,689 yards last season, falling 51 short of the record held by former Hopewell star Rushel Shell. If the offensive line holds up and the defense plays well, the Little Prexies could return to Heinz Field for the second year in a row.
Greensburg Central Catholic -- Quarterback Chase Keller (6-4, 195, Sr.) passed for 1,378 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and also ran for 577 yards. The defense should be solid once again with the return of six starters, including linebacker Nate Stone (6-1, 220, Sr.).
Mount Pleasant -- The Vikings have a star running back in Tyler Mellors (5-7, 170, Sr.), who was the fifth-leading rusher in Class AA last season with 1,490 yards and a school-record 25 touchdowns.
Jeannette -- The Jayhawks have only 11 seniors and six returning starters, but chances are they will grow up fast and become a dangerous team as the season progresses.
Yough -- This team has made big strides the past few seasons and could be on the cusp of a playoff spot with three-year starting quarterback Tyler Donahue (6-1, 180, Sr.) leading the way.
Southmoreland -- First-year coach Mark Adams hopes to get big contributions from junior running back Jake Pisula (760 yards, eight touchdowns).
Charleroi -- Senior fullback-linebacker Brandon Bowman might be one of the most underrated players in Class AA and senior offensive tackle Chase McKevitt is a four-year starter.
Waynesburg -- The Raiders hope to improve on last season's 1-8 record.
Brownsville -- Winless a season ago, the Falcons have won more than one game just once in the past seven seasons.
Team to beat
Aliquippa -- The Quips were dominant on the way to winning their second WPIAL title in a row last season and could be even better this season. Senior running backs Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson combined to rush for more than 3,400 yards and scored 52 touchdowns. The Quips outscored WPIAL opponents, 658-49. Henry and Swanson, along with tackle Jaleel Fields, are Division I recruits.
Beaver Falls -- Like Aliquippa, the Tigers are loaded with next-level talent. Senior Elijah Cottrill averaged 38.3 yards per catch last season. Senior running backs Sage Curry and Damian Rawl should put up excellent numbers, as well. You can bet the Tigers have their Oct. 18 game against Aliquippa circled. The Quips defeated the Tigers, 66-7, last season.
Beaver -- The Bobcats' five conference losses the past three seasons were all to Aliquippa and Beaver Falls. Playoff participants six years in a row, the Bobcats are expecting big things from quarterback Alex Rowse (6-2, 170, Sr.).
Ellwood City -- Just 2-7 last season, the Wolverines should be much improved with the return of senior running back Jared Meyers (1,060 yards, 16 touchdowns) and senior wide receiver Seth Mley.
Freedom -- New coach Tim Dubovi will try to help the Bulldogs return to the postseason for the second year in a row.
New Brighton -- Senior quarterback Gabe Greco (1,189 yards, 12 touchdowns), son of coach Joe Greco, has his top two receivers back.
Riverside -- After allowing a Class AA-worst 47.6 points per game, it's safe to say the Panthers must make a huge improvement defensively to contend for a playoff spot.
Mohawk -- The Warriors are in search of offense after averaging 10.1 points and being shut out five times.
First Published August 23, 2013 4:00 AM