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High School

“Mr. High School Sports” – Eye on the WPIAL: Class AAAA/City League Predictions

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

With mere hours to go until the start of a new high school football season, it’s time to make some pigskin prognostications. “Mr. High School Sports” thereby offers his picks for the top four teams (i.e.: the playoff qualifiers) in each conference, along with the two he thinks will meet at Heinz Field with a WPIAL championship at stake, not to mention his picks to compete for City League supremacy:

NORTHERN SEVEN CONFERENCE:

1. North Allegheny

2. Shaler

3. Erie McDowell

4. North Hills

FOOTHILLS CONFERENCE:

1. Gateway

2. McKeesport

3. Penn-Trafford

4. Latrobe

BIG EAST CONFERENCE:

1. Pittsburgh Central Catholic

2. Woodland Hills

3. Penn Hills

4. Plum

GREAT SOUTHERN CONFERENCE:

1. Upper St. Clair

2. Mount Lebanon

3. Bethel Park

4. Peters Township

CLASS AAAA FINAL MATCHUP: Pittsburgh Central Catholic vs. Upper St. Clair

When you have a roster of 96 kids, you’re never really an underdog, but the state champs have some rebuilding to do. Still, I like North Allegheny to contend again, and still, I think they’re the best team in the Northern Seven, unless much-improved Shaler shows it can finally beat the Tigers. McKeesport is another traditional Quad-A power that has to integrate a lot of new faces into the starting lineup, but the Tigers are always tough enough to challenge Gateway for Foothills supremacy. However, I think Penn-Trafford, with its running game, could be a factor in that race if the Warriors can tighten up their defense. Speaking of Gateway, I am reminded of a line from an old movie: there’s nothing like a funeral to bring a family together. I think the Gators are going to play with a purpose after the very unfortunate events of this summer, and besides, their passing game looks indomitable, and they, on the whole, look like one of the deepest and most athletic teams in Quad-A. But to me, the real favorite in this classification, though not necessarily a clear-cut favorite, is Central Catholic. The Vikings have terrific balance on offense, they play hard on defense, and they have Division I talent and, like Gateway, Central has D-1 talent at just about every position. I like Upper St. Clair to make a WPIAL title push and take the Great Southern Conference from defending champ Mount Lebanon for similar reasons: great leadership on offense, and a team toughness that mirrors what Lebo, a team I liked last year, brought. Watching the playoff chase in that conference will be more exciting than any other, and as far as I’m concerned, you could flip a coin, or several coins, to determine third, fourth, and fifth place. Hesitantly, I took Bethel because history is on its side, and I took Peters because it can run effectively. Bottom line is, though, a championship game between Terry Totten and Jim Render would be quite the meeting of the minds, and I believe we’re going to see it happen.

CITY LEAGUE OUTLOOK:

1. Perry

2. Brashear

3. Allderdice

4. University Prep

5. Oliver

6. Langley

7. Carrick

8. Westinghouse

What’s in a name? University Prep was created when Schenley and Peabody shut down and merged prior to the 2011-12 academic year. Schenley made the playoffs in 2010, and Peabody finished just under .500, so it’ll be interesting to see if the new team can spoil the party for other playoff-hungry teams; after all, the Center-Monaca merger turned out pretty well for everyone, right? Meanwhile, Allderdice could also be an x-factor in the push for the League title, because the Dragons return a very experienced bunch, as does Brashear, which was blown out by Perry in the championship game. If you pick the Bulldogs and Commodores, you’re usually at least half-right, so I’ll stick with those two. Perry is tough and very well-conditioned, and it has been the most consistent team in the League for years, but Brashear boasts a very balanced offense, so at the very least, they’ll make this year’s playoff much more competitive.

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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