Take a look at the Post-Gazette's preseason rankings, and one will notice a significant number of teams from the South Xtra area ranked in the top five of their respective classes.
In fact, one could say that Class AAA No. 1 Thomas Jefferson and Class A No. 1 Clairton are favored to at the very least play for a WPIAL title, and teams such as Upper St. Clair, West Mifflin Area, Washington and South Fayette could very well see their seasons extend deep into November.
While some teams have a target on their back right from the get-go, others enter the 2013 season flying under the radar. These "hunters" in some ways are just as dangerous, and could be major players in the WPIAL championship hunt.
Woodland Hills and Upper St. Clair are ranked one-two in Class AAAA, but neither has the one-two star punch of Southeastern Conference rival Mt. Lebanon, which might end up being the only team in the WPIAL to send a pair of seniors to BCS-level schools.
Wide receiver Troy Apke is headed to Penn State, while offensive lineman Alex Bookser's offer list includes Alabama and Ohio State. The Blue Devils went 8-3 last season, coach Mike Melnyk's first with the Blue Devils. Included in that record was a victory against Woodland Hills and a two-point loss to Upper St. Clair.
The burning question is: How well will new quarterback Kellan Stout play? Stout steps in for Fabulous 22 pick Tyler Roth, who was third in the WPIAL in passing last season.
Elizabeth Forward is another team that finds itself in a difficult conference. The Warriors will be overlooked by some due to Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin also being in the Class AAA Big Nine. Elizabeth Forward quarterback JaQuan Davidson has one of the strongest arms in the WPIAL and is one of the best runners at that position.
As a junior, Davidson ran for 1,024 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Sto-Rox's Lenny Williams was the only quarterback to have rushed for more yards (1,189). Davidson has said he will announce his college decision the afternoon of his team's Sept. 6 showdown at Thomas Jefferson.
Seton-LaSalle is a bit of an unknown ... at least offensively. On that side of the ball, the Rebels were hit hard by graduation, with quarterback Luke Brumbaugh, tight end Scott Orndoff, wide receiver Lou Rotunda and fullback Nick Sywyj all finishing their high school careers.
Nine defensive starters return, however. That's significant because that unit was outstanding a year ago, allowing just 11 points per game. Only Aliquippa and South Fayette had stingier defenses than the Rebels, who shut out four opponents and held five others to 10 points or fewer.
Justin Vickless has been one of the best running backs in WPIAL Class A the past few seasons, but many outside of Brentwood and the Black Hills Conference likely don't know much about him. That could change this season when Vickless and his Brentwood teammates try to unseat mighty Clairton as conference champion. Vickless will likely join the 4,000-yard rushing club, having already rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in his career.
Upper St. Clair at Woodland Hills, 7:30 p.m. Friday -- No. 1 vs. No. 2 in Class AAAA. George Novak. Jim Render. The Wolvarena. There might not be a better way to start the season. No. 1 Woodland Hills ended Upper St. Clair's season last November with a 42-20 victory in the WPIAL semifinals. Woodland Hills forced six turnovers in that game. A player to watch is Upper St. Clair tight end/defensive end Rori Blair, a Pitt recruit who missed last season after suffering a stroke.
Greensburg Central Catholic at Washington, 7 p.m. Friday -- When Washington beat Greensburg C.C. in last year's opener, Shai McKenzie rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns. McKenzie has stated he wants to break the WPIAL single-season rushing record. Greensburg C.C. linebacker Nate Stone and his cohorts hope to put an early dent in those aspirations.
South Fayette at McGuffey, 7 p.m. Friday -- This one could be closer than many think. The last time South Fayette played a game, the Lions gave up more than 450 yards on the ground in a WPIAL semifinal loss to Washington. Well, McGuffey just so happens to have one of the top rushing tandems in Class AA with James Duchi and Patrick Frey, a transfer from Trinity.