As far as winning goes, South Fayette knows it can't improve on last year's unbeaten season capped by WPIAL and PIAA titles. The Lions' focus now is to just do it again.
With senior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh back running the offense, the possibility of repeating is extremely realistic. Brumbaugh threw for a WPIAL single-season record 3,897 yards a year ago, completing 68 percent of his passes and tossing 41 touchdown passes. He was named the Post-Gazette Player of the Year and the Class AA state player of the year.
"With him, you always have a chance to win no matter who you're playing," coach Joe Rossi said.
As usual, South Fayette has a deep cast of playmakers. Rossi has been raving about junior running back/defensive back Hunter Hayes, who appears destined for a breakout season. Senior J.J. Walker is an excellent fullback/linebacker and one of four returning All-Century Conference players. Brumbaugh, senior tight end Logan Sharp and senior offensive lineman/defensive end Anthony Davidson are the others. Rossi called Sharp one of the best tight ends in the WPIAL.
Also keep an eye on senior wide receiver/defensive backs Roman Denson and Jack Relihan, junior lineman Zach Radinick and sophomore lineman Alex Minford.
Perennial powerhouse Aliquippa has played in seven consecutive WPIAL Class AA championship games (winning four) and despite graduating seven All-Midwestern Athletic Conference players from last year's 12-1 team that won the MAC title and lost to South Fayette in the WPIAL title game, the Quips appear to have the firepower once again to make another run to Heinz Field.
Gone is the two-pronged running tandem of Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry, a pair of Division-I recruits. Ready to step in at running back is junior Kaezon Pugh, a future D-I recruit. At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Pugh is bigger than both Swanson and Henry. He rushed for 389 yards on 51 carries with nine touchdowns last season but has big shoes to fill after Swanson (1,704 yards) and Henry (1,242 yards) combined for nearly 3,000 yards and 49 touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Darrien Fields (5-9, 151) returns as does all-conference senior wide receiver Patrick Anderson (6-3, 184), who is also generating D-I interest.
The Quips are ranked No. 2 in the Post-Gazette preseason rankings behind only South Fayette, the team that defeated them at Heinz Field last season. Aliquippa is 53-4 over the past four seasons and have not lost a regular-season game since 2009.
Beaver won eight games last year, reaching the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 2003.
Three offensive starters and six defensive starters return from that team.
The Bobcats must find replacements for three first-team all-conference players, including quarterback Alex Rowse. Replacing Rowse in the spread offense will be senior Zach Royba (6-0, 180). Royba played wide receiver and strong safety last season.
Sophomore Darius Wise (5-11, 160) is a returning starter and versatile weapon who can play running back and wide receiver.
On the offensive line, senior center George Avdellas (5-11, 225) and senior left tackle Cody Kohlman (5-11, 245) return.
The defense is more experienced with Royba joined in the secondary with returning starters Wise and Julian Vandusen (5-9, 155, Sr.) and Ty Jones (6-0, 170, Sr.) who gained playoff experience last year.
Alex Neeley (6-2, 275, Jr.), Cris DiNuzzo (6-2, 190, Sr.) and Nick Barney (6-2, 185, Sr.) are returning starters on the defensive line.
First-team all-conference kicker Luke Scheidemantel (5-10, 185) returns. He will also play linebacker.
Rebuilding is not a word often used around Beaver Falls, but there are plenty of spots that coach Ryan Matsook has to replace this year. Twenty-six seniors graduated from last year's team that won nine games and reached the WPIAL semifinals where it fell to eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion South Fayette.
The large Beaver Falls senior class that graduated included five first-team All-Midwestern Athletic Conference seniors. The Tigers must replace quarterback Dan Stratton (1,442 yards passing, 17 touchdowns), receiver Sage Curry (432 receiving yards) and their top two leading rushers, Damian Rawl (1,197 yards) and Kahlil Caracter (661 yards).
The cupboard isn't entirely bare for Beaver Falls, which is ranked No. 5 in the Post-Gazette Class AA preseason rankings. Senior wide receiver Javon Turner (6-0, 175) returns after leading the team with 23 receptions for 438 yards last season. Sophomore Neshaud Akins (5-9, 150) is back after rushing for 379 yards as a freshman.
Burgettstown, a program looking for its first win since 2011, gets a reprieve this year with a move out of the rugged Century Conference and into the re-formed Interstate Conference.
Third-year head coach Terry Havelka will try to turn things around with a team that carries a 21-game losing streak into the season.
The Blue Devils return junior quarterback Robert Dupain (6-0, 165) and leading receivers Dylan Dhans (5-11, 170, Sr.) and Jake Shipley (6-0, 170, Jr.).
Leading rusher Stephen Kotouch (105 carries for 390 yards) graduated but senior Jake McKee (5-11, 180) returns after carrying the ball 70 times for 326 yards as a junior.
Burgettstown will have to find a way to shore up a defense that allowed 47.6 points per game last season.
First-year head coach Mauro Monz will guide Carlynton as it makes the adjustment from Class A to Class AA this season as the Cougars join the Century Conference.
The Cougars are seeking their first WPIAL playoff appearance since 2001 and not only do they have to navigate the tough Century Conference this season, but they must replace 16 seniors, including all five first-team all-conference selections from last season.
Carlynton has one of the most exciting and young backfields in Class AA with junior running back Isiah Canton (5-8, 200), sophomore running back Brandon Rogers (5-11, 170) and sophomore quarterback Courtney Mickens (5-11, 150). Canton rushed for 1,068 yards last season, Rogers rushed for 155 yards as a freshman and Monz, a former collegiate quarterbacks coach, is extremely high on Mickens.
The offensive and defensive lines will be anchored by senior captain Mike Griffin (6-1, 275) and Antonio Munoz (6-4, 340).
The defense will lean on another captain, senior middle linebacker Dale Rybacki (6-0, 215). Sophomores Hunter Kephart (5-9, 168, WR/DB) and Deandre Williams (5-8, 140, WR/DB) are dynamic playmakers.
With the graduation of Jared Myers, Ellwood City has a big hole to fill but they have a number of players ready to step in. Myers was a first-team all-conference running back last season. He rushed for 1,289 yards and averaged 7 yards per carry. He was one of three first-team players to graduate from last season.
Ellwood City does return a pair of capable runners in senior Paul Lutz (5-11, 185) and junior Nicholas Ioanilli (6-0, 200). Lutz rushed for 430 yards and Ionalli for 381 yards last season. Both scored six touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Dillon Horgan (6-0, 165) also returns to guide an offense that gained 27 points per game last season. Ellwood City will have to improve on defense where it allowed 28.7 points per game last season.
After reaching the WPIAL playoffs in 2012, Freedom struggled through a winless campaign last season. Things will not get much easier this year as second-year coach Tim Dubovi will rely on a number of sophomores while playing in the brutal Midwestern Conference.
Freedom will have to replace two all-conference players in leading rusher and passer Jared Hague and defensive lineman Alex Kastroll. Hague was a three-year starter and Kastroll was a four-year starter.
The senior class is led by four returning starters, Lucas Yeck (5-10, 185, RB/LB), Brenton Harrison (6-5, 205, TE/DL), Josh Battaglia (6-0, 235, OL/DL) and Draek Boggs (5-9, 165, RB/DB).
The strong sophomore class that Freedom will rely on features a pair of quarterbacks, Noah Wolf (5-9, 160) and Nick Henderson (5-11, 175). Henderson also plays wide receiver and linebacker.
Sophomores Dean Ward (5-9, 155, RB/LB), Randy Simmons (5-11, 185, OL/DL) and Henderson all started as freshmen.
Junior running back and linebacker Jake Pinkerton (5-8, 185) is another returning starter.
Returning players on New Brighton got their first taste of postseason play last year after the Lions went 5-2 in the Midwestern Conference to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.
Three first-team all-conference players graduated from that team but New Brighton does return senior quarterback Payton Fath (5-10, 180). As a junior Fath was 55 of 101 for 878 yards. He threw 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions and also rushed or 538 yards.
Fath will have to find a new main target after all-conference wide receiver Craig Thompson graduated after finishing with 894 receiving yards but coach Joe Greco does welcome back senior running back Scott Florence (5-8, 170). Florence rushed for 943 yards last season and seven touchdowns.
Junior kicker Gavin Pritchard (5-11, 170) also returns after converting 38 extra-points and three field goals.
After finishing as WPIAL Class A runners-up three consecutive seasons, the Vikings move up to Class AA this season as a result of a bookkeeping error and the timing is not exactly ideal. Sto-Rox actually has a Class A enrollment, but a clerical error in reporting the school's enrollment figures to the PIAA forced a bump up in classification.
Coach Jason Ruscitto must replace nine starters on offense and eight on defense. The most notable loss is Lenny Williams a four-year, two-way starter and the all-time WPIAL passing yardage and touchdown leader. Williams was an all-conference performer at quarterback and defensive back his senior year. He is one of six all-conference players at Sto-Rox who graduated.
Sto-Rox was 35-4 in its last three seasons in Class A with three of the four losses coming at Heinz Field in the WPIAL final. To compete in Class AA they will need contributions from their returning starters, including all-conference defensive end Brandon Gary (5-10, 170, Sr.).
The other returning starters are lineman Jesse Mayes (5-10, 255, Sr.) and wide receiver/defensive back Craig Johnson (5-9, 165, Sr.). Javelle Kirkland (5-6, 150), a former starter at wide receiver, returns after missing last season with an injury.