Varsity Xtra: Top 10 football storylines for 2014

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A look at the things to watch as the season unfolds ... 

1. About the Gators and Bears

The stories of the Clairton Bears and Gateway Gators are intertwined this year. What will happen to both teams under new coaches? Tom Nola left behind all his championship trophies at Clairton to become Gateway's coach, and many wonder how the Gators will fare under Nola now that they have dropped from Class AAAA to AAA. Meanwhile, former Clairton defensive coordinator Wayne Wade takes over for the Bears. Do they have enough to win a sixth WPIAL Class A title in the past seven years?

2. Drop-down menu

Gateway is one of the notable teams that dropped in classification this season. Highlands would have been pretty good in Class AAA, but dropped to Class AA. Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic always were good in Class AA, but dropped to Class A and play in a "super" Eastern Conference with Clairton and Monessen.

3. For the record

Will it come in possibly the fourth game? Or the fifth or sixth? Whatever, barring injury, South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh seems to be a sure bet to break the WPIAL passing record. A senior, Brumbaugh has 7,326 career passing yards and needs 1,182 to reach the record of 8,508, set last year by Sto-Rox's Lenny Williams.

4. Who will step up?

The 2013 season was one for some longtime also-rans to make a little noise. West Shamokin and Summit Academy qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time. Avella reached the playoffs for the first time since the mid-1970s. Quaker Valley had its best season in decades. Who will rise and shine this year? Southmoreland now holds the longest WPIAL playoff drought. The Scotties haven't made the postseason since 1979.

5. The elite eighth

If WPIAL football titles were pool, Bob Palko would be shooting for the 8-ball. Palko, West Allegheny's coach, won his seventh WPIAL title last year. He was the first to win seven outright. Two -- Braddock's Chuck Klausing and New Castle's Phil Bridenbaugh -- have seven titles, including co-championships. Palko would be the first to win eight.

6. Numbers game

Statistics in Western Pennsylvania reveal fewer athletes are playing football. Does the decline continue? At some schools, roster sizes are up, but some rosters continue to shrink. Bethel Park, a Class AAAA team, had only 45 players at the start of preseason practice. Plum, another Class AAAA program, has 43.

7. One last time

Kittanning and Ford City will have their final football seasons. The schools will close at the end of the 2014-15 year and merge to form Armstrong High School. Both teams would like to go out with a bang. See cover story, Page C-6.

8. What to do for an encore?

University Prep quarterback Ron Brown had an unforgettable 2013 season, throwing for 3,401 yards and 43 touchdowns -- in 10 games. Can Brown have another remarkable season even though many of University Prep's top players graduated.

9. Year of the Dragon?

It has been nearly 50 years since Allderdice won a City League football championship. This could be the season the Dragons breathe fire and win the title for the first time since 1967. Allderdice has a number of returning starters and is the Post-Gazette's preseason No. 1 team in the City League.

10. No place like home

Does Thomas Jefferson make it through another season without a home loss? To Thomas Jefferson opponents, it's a jungle where the Jaguars play. Thomas Jefferson hasn't lost a home game since 2004 and has a 51-game home winning streak. TJ might be tested at home in the season opener against Ringgold.

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