Though the memories of championships at Hersheypark Stadium and Heinz Field may not seem that long ago for local football fans, eight months have passed since a high school football game was played in Pennsylvania.
During that time, players have graduated, coaches have changed jobs or retired, teams have shifted conferences -- and even classifications -- and, from all of those changes, some programs have been fundamentally altered.
With a new season approaching, there are questions, many of which invariably tie back to the changes that took place in the offseason. After all, if everything remained the same, sports would be much easier to predict and, because of that, they'd be much less enjoyable.
How will defending champions fare now that they have the collective attention of all of their opponents, i.e. that dreaded (though sometimes relished) target on their back?
What teams will come out of seemingly nowhere to surprise people and make a prolonged run?
Which players will become stars, the kind who attract major college attention while leading their team to success?
Most pressingly, who will leave Heinz Field in late November with the piece of hardware everyone fights so passionately for throughout the season?
Those kinds of burning questions will be answered at some point once games get underway, but for now, they linger. They're the kind of quandaries that will come to define the season.
So, with games beginning later this month, it's time to take an early look at those important questions in the West Xtra coverage area:
* Will South Fayette repeat?
There's no denying that coach Joe Rossi has turned the Lions into a football power, one that routinely churns out high-scoring offenses with a system that few, if any, seem capable of defending.
Still, there was some level of surprise given what his team was able to accomplish last season. Quarterback Brett Brumbaugh and his teammates marched their way through the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA playoffs, the former of which saw them narrowly take down defending champion Aliquippa (more on them later).
Though the Lions lost key offensive contributors such as Justin Watson, Conner Beck and Grant Fetchet, Brumbaugh is back for his senior season and in Rossi's spread offense, that's the most crucial element.
The Lions' conference -- the Century -- isn't overwhelmingly strong, so an undefeated regular season is a distinct possibility. Where they go from there, though, is anyone's guess.
* West Allegheny or Central Valley?
Though there are 35 teams in Class AAA this season, it isn't farfetched to limited your view of the classification to just the Parkway Conference. After all, recent history backs up that stance.
A Parkway Conference team has won the past five WPIAL Class AAA championships and eight of the 10 finalists in that span were Parkway members. Last season, it was West Allegheny topping Central Valley, 16-6, in a matchup we may very well see repeated in 2014.
Both teams return seven starters on each side of the ball and figure to be two of the preseason favorites.
The Warriors will most likely have the best player on the field in Jordan Whitehead, but given the team success the Indians have had the past two seasons (25-1 against WPIAL opponents), it's hard to bet against them
* How will Sto-Rox adjust to Class AA?
After spending much of last season as the top team in Class A, the Vikings are about to experience a season defined by change. It's present on the offensive end, as quarterback Lenny Williams, who has the most career passing yards in WPIAL history, graduated. It's also there with the loss of coach Dan Bradley, who left to take the same position at Ambridge Area in the offseason.
As if those changes weren't enough, Sto-Rox has made the jump to Class AA for this season.
There's no masking the fact that these adjustments will be difficult to deal with. Replacing a piece as critical as Williams is dicey, especially with a new coach (Jason Ruscitto) and new system in place.
Plus, the Vikings' placement in the Century Conference with defending champion South Fayette and an emerging Quaker Valley team could be problematic.