Thomas More picked 1st in Presidents' Athletic Conference preseason poll; W&J 2nd
Seven years after he attended the Presidents' Athletic Conference football media day as a player, Andrew DiDonato returned Wednesday and reflected on the changes in the league in that small span of time.
“I love this league, and I believe it's better than ever,” said DiDonato, a former South Fayette and Grove City quarterback in his first season as coach of his collegiate alma mater. “It didn't surprise me, but actually sitting here, it definitely opened my eyes to how this has changed for the better.”
The PAC, which in recent years seemed to be a league of Thomas More and Washington & Jefferson at the top with everyone else underneath, looks to have more parity heading into this season.
Those two teams again took the top spots in the conference's preseason poll — defending champion Thomas More first, W&J second — but three others received first-place votes.
Case Western finished third in the poll, followed by Westminster and Carnegie Mellon.
“When you get in a situation where traditionally it's been a two-team league and everybody else is playing for third place, that doesn't necessarily help even the first- and second-place teams,” said Westminster coach Scott Benzel, whose team placed second in the conference last season. “To get balance and to have the ability to play week in and week out is really going to benefit everybody.”
Bethany, St. Vincent, Waynesburg, Geneva, Thiel and Grove City rounded out the poll.
The PAC added Carnegie Mellon and Case Western as members in 2014. Both teams showed progress last season, tying with W&J for third place. Carnegie Mellon won an Eastern College Athletic Conference bowl game.
Westminster won nine games, its most since 1997, and also claimed an ECAC bowl victory.
Thomas More, which finished with an undefeated regular-season record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs, will attempt to head off the upstarts and win its eighth conference title in the past nine seasons.
“We know each week, the quality in the PAC is going to be tough,” Thomas More coach Regis Scafe said. “Teams are gunning for you. I know (we have a target), but that's part of it. You want to succeed, and the hard part is trying to do it again.”
W&J was the preseason favorite last year but finished 8-2, 6-2 in conference play.
The Presidents return quarterback Pete Coughlin (Upper St. Clair), whom coach Mike Sirianni called the best player in the conference.
“I'm worried about us,” Sirianni said. “I think that was part of our issue last year: What is this team doing? What does this team have back? To be honest with you, I don't care. We'll worry about that team the week we play them, but other than that, I'm going to worry about getting our players better.”
As competitive as the PAC appears, the teams still face an upward climb in unseating Thomas More and W&J. Those teams have won or shared the PAC title every season since 2006, with Waynesburg the only other school to claim a piece of it in that time.
“If you want to be at the top of that list, you have to beat those people,” Carnegie Mellon coach Rich Lackner said. “You're not going to get there through osmosis. You have to work hard, you have to go out there and compete every play.”