Conference championship predicted for Thomas Jefferson
Similar to last season, Thomas Jefferson is projected as a conference champion in 2012, according to the preseason prognosis of MSA Sports Network.
Brentwood and Seton-La Salle have been pegged for second place in the Class A Black Hills and Class AA Century conferences, respectively.
And, also on the local front, a fifth-place finish is predicted for Baldwin in the Quad Central Conference.
MSA's projected order of finish in the Class AAA Big Nine Conference this season is as follows:
1) Thomas Jefferson
2) West Mifflin
3) Belle Vernon
6) Laurel Highlands
7) Elizabeth Forward
9) Albert Gallatin
“I think the top teams (in the conference) will be, in no order, West Mifflin, Trinity, TJ and Ringgold,” said Bill Cherpak, TJ's head coach. “Belle Vernon may surprise some people as well.
“We were fortunate not to have any significant camp injuries.”
TJ and rival West Mifflin were co-Big Eight Conference champions last season. The final standings were: West Mifflin (6-1), Thomas Jefferson (6-1), Trinity (4-3), Chartiers Valley (4-3), Belle Vernon (4-3), South Park (3-4), Elizabeth Forward (1-6), McGuffey (0-7).
The Jaguars have won or shared six consecutive conference championships, and 11 in the past 12 seasons.
The WPIAL Class AAA division was whittled from four to three divisions due to 2012-13 realignment. Teams that previously were members of the Keystone Conference have been moved into the Big Nine and Greater Allegheny conferences.
Chartiers Valley, South Park and McGuffey moved out of last year's Big Eight, with former Keystone members Albert Gallatin, Laurel Highlands and Uniontown switching to the Big Nine.
The Jaguars open their season Friday at home at 7:30 p.m. against Ringgold.
“I don't really know much about Ringgold because we haven't played them in a few years,” Cherpak said.
“We have their two scrimmage films and from what I can tell, they are pretty athletic and have good speed. They were successful the past two seasons, so I would expect them to be a tough test for us.”
Baldwin projected for fifth place
Baldwin finished in fifth place in the Quad West Conference last season, and out of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.
If the Fighting Highlanders end up fifth (or better) this year, they will qualify for WPIAL playoff action.
Like Class AAA, the Quad-A classificaton has shrunk from four to three divisions due to WPIAL realignment.
In both classifications, the top five finishers in each conference, plus one wild card team, will advance to the playoffs.
Baldwin is competing in the Quad Central Conference in 2012, along with Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair; plus former Quad East members Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills.
MSA's predicted order of finish in the Quad Central Conference is as follows:
1) Upper St. Clair
2) Woodland Hills
3) Penn Hills
4) Mt. Lebanon
6) Peters Township
7) Bethel Park
“We play in the best conference in the WPIAL. All the teams are going to be tough,” said Jim Wehner, Baldwin's field boss. “Quad-A football is tough; you have to come to play every week.
“There are a lot of new coaches in the conference, but you know what you're getting with teams like Woodland Hills and Penn Hills. I like our chances. I like this team, if we stay healthy.
“This is the first group to come in with me. It takes time to get big and strong; this is probably my best team overall.”
Upper St. Clair (5-0) won the Quad West Conference championship last season, and finished as the WPIAL Class AAAA runner-up to North Allegheny.
USC was trailed by Mt. Lebanon (4-1), Bethel Park (3-2), Peters Township (2-3), Baldwin (1-4) and Canon-McMillan (0-5) in last year's standings.
Baldwin jumps quickly into conference action this year, visiting Peters Township Friday at 7:30 p.m. in its season opener.
“Peters has good offensive and defensive lines, and they have a good quarterback,” Wehner said. “They run to the ball on defense. They are very well-coached.”
Baldwin fell to Peters last season, 21-6.
Brentwood tabbed for second
Clairton is the undisputed team to beat the Class A Black Hills Conference.
The Bears have won three consecutive PIAA championships and four straight WPIAL titles, and bring a WPIAL-record 47-game winning streak into the season.
Brentwood, meanwhile, is projected to secure second place in league play this season, behind only the Bears.
MSA's predicted order of finish in the Black Hills Conference is as follows:
3) Bishop Canevin
7) Imani Christian
8) Serra Catholic
“I'm looking for us to have a pretty big year, but our conference is a killer,” said Kevin Kissel, Brentwood's head coach. “Our conference schedule is brutal. Seven of the 10 teams made the playoffs last year.
“We're going to be good, but I don't know how good our record will be. If I was in last year's conference, I'd be a lot more confident.”
Clairton has won 39 consecutive conference games — including seven impressive conference wins in 2011 — and six conference crowns in a row.
The Bears outscored their seven conference foes by a stunning 333-6 overall margin last season, as Fort Cherry was the only team in the conference able to score against Clairton.
Brentwood finished as the runner-up in the Black Hills last season with a 6-1 record, followed by Fort Cherry (5-2), Chartiers Houston (4-3), Carlynton (3-4), Serra Catholic (2-5), Bentworth (1-6) and Avella (0-7).
The conference has gone from an eight-team to a 10-team league in 2012 due to the WPIAL realignment process.
Clairton, Brentwood, Fort Cherry, Chartiers-Houston, Carlynton and Serra Catholic are back, and are joined by Bishop Canevin, Monessen, California and Imani Christian.
Bishop Canevin won the Class A Eastern Conference title last season, went 9-0 during the regular season, and ended up with an 11-1 overall slate after advancing to the WPIAL semifinal round, where it lost to Sto-Rox, 12-10.
Monessen and California competed in the Tri-County South Conference last season. while this is Imani Christian's first year in the WPIAL.
Brentwood kicks off its 2012 conference schedule right away. The Spartans travel to Serra Catholic on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. season-opening game.
Brentwood blasted the Eagles by a 50-7 score last season.
Seton looking at second place
Seton-La Salle is looking at a second-place finish — behind the rival South Fayette Lions — in league play, according to MSA Sports Network.
The Rebels won the Century Conference championship with an unblemished 7-0 mark last season.
This year, the conference expanded from eight to nine Class AA teams due to the WPIAL realignment process.
South Park and McGuffey moved into the conference from the Class AAA Big Eight, while Washington returned to the Class AA Interstate.
MSA's projected order of finish in the Century Conference is as follows:
1) South Fayette
2) Seton-La Salle
3) Steel Valley
4) South Park
5) Keystone Oaks
6) Quaker Valley
8) South Allegheny
“I expect Steel Valley to be around; they have some big, quick lineman, and always have quality running backs. They also have a veteran quarterback,” said Greg Perry, Seton-La Salle's head coach. “South Fayette will be in the hunt. I expect South Park will look to make some noise again.
“We lost our running back, Tom Rizza, for a few weeks with a knee injury. Tom also started and played well at defensive back. He is a real key for our team, so his return is very important.”
The final standings in the Century Conference in 2011 were: Seton-La Salle (7-0), Washington (6-1), South Fayette (5-2), Steel Valley (3-4), Keystone Oaks (3-4), Burgettstown (2-5), Quaker Valley (2-5), South Allegheny (0-7).
Seton kicks off its season Friday at South Allegheny. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
“South Allegheny returns some expeienced players,” Perry said. “They have two DBs that played last season, along with some quality lineman. We expect a closer game than we had last season.”
Seton rolled past the Gladiators last year, 38-14.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.