Thursday, July 31, 2014

D6SN Preseason Rankings

D5/6 A

1. Bishop Guilfoyle - @ Richland - Bishop Guilfoyle opens with the two-time defending LHAC champions on the road. Richland will be welcoming in new faces all across the board, but Guilfoyle is ready to roll this season. The Maruaders do not have a lot of weaknesses and will trot out one of the best offenses in the district. This still could be a tricky game, but this should start Guilfoyle's quest for a District Title, something that has been two years in the making.

2. Bellwood-Antis - @ Tyrone - Bellwood's season begins with the traditional Backyard Brawl. Will the Blue Devils be up the task? Tyrone will certainly go into this game as the favorites, but never count on a John Hayes coached squad. Jake Burch is an emerging quarterback, and could keep the Blue Devils around in this one. A loss would not hurt them in the long run, but a win would send a message to the rest of the District Six playoff field.

3. Portage - Blacklick Valley - Portage is a tough team to figure. They found themselves in an odd triangle as they beat the District Champs (Homer Center) but lost big to the runner-up (Bishop Guilfoyle). Could this be Portage's first return trip to Mansion Park since 2008? It seems possible. The offense should click on all cylinders with the dynamic running back duo of Caleb Kephart and Luke Dividock. The Mustangs should be able to roll in week one with a home game against Blacklick Valley.

4. Tussey Mountain - Central - The defending District 5A champs will be tested early as they have to face the defending District 6AA champs, Central. Both teams have lost a lot, but Tussey still has some key components, and the game is at home. The Titans are solid, but still have a lot to replace. It will not be shocking if they repeat, but they will have to work for it.

5. Blairsville - Marion Center - Blairsville enters the year with strong expectations from all around, as they were picked to win the Heritage by us and the coaches. The Bobcats have a loaded offensive arsenal and they should be able to handle Marion Center in week one.

AA  5/6

1. Tyrone - Bellwood-Antis - Tyrone opens up with a familiar for, Bellwood-Antis. The Blue Devils are a tough team, but will be welcoming in a lot of new faces. Tyrone has some turnover among their ranks, but not much. This team has size, speed, and depth. Tyrone can play a physical game, but they have the speed to out run teams, too. This could be a return to Mansion Park after a few years of dipping out in the playoffs prematurely.

2.  Forest Hills - @ Bishop McCort - It is always exciting when the two favorites appear to be Tyrone and Forest Hills. The Rangers are not that far behind the Golden Eagles, and it could be a 12 week collision course to the District Final. The Rangers have a very good quarterback in Joe Donoughe, and he will be at his best in his third year as the starter. The Forest Hills-Bishop McCort game has lost some luster, but it is still a big game and could jump start a promising Rangers' season.

3. Bedford - Penn Cambria - Bedord is coming off a surprise 8-4 season, but they won;t be surprising anyone this season. The Bison have a strong offensive attack, and they have the experience to beat anyone in the LHAC this season. Penn Cambria will be a good game to get the ball rolling.

4. Mt. Union - @ Juniata Valley - Mt. Union really turned themselves into a legitimate team as the season went on, and that should carry over to 2014. Trevon Walker is a legitimate player, and will carry this offense this season. Juniata Valley is down a bit this year, but could provide some resistance in week one, especailly with the game being on the road.

5. Central Cambria - @ Johnstown - The Red Devils are a good team, and could be a darkhorse to win D6AA. The Johnstown game in week one will be a tough opener. The Trojans should be improved, and they will have a tough offense to contain.

5-6-9 AAA

1. Somerset - Bishop Carroll - Somerset has everything in place to win the LHAC this season. Opening up with Bishop Carroll at home is an easy way to ease into the season. Bob Landis has a really good team, but they will be put to the test right after week one.

2. Clearfield -  @Keyser (WV) - The Bison open up with a team from West Virginia that went 7-4 last season. It is hard to gauge how difficult of a game it will be, but traveling down to West Virginia for Clearfield is quite the road trip.  Clearfield lost some important players, and will be ushering in a new QB in week one.

3. Johnstown - Central Cambria - The Trojans have been very down in recent seasons, but I see some reason for optimism this season. Opening with a solid Central Cambria will be a very good barometer of where this team is, and if they are ready to compete at a higher level this season.

Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 Mountain League Football Preview.

1. Tyrone

KEY Players - Aleic Hunter (RB)   Nick Getz (WR)  Duane Boone (TE/DE)

How can you lose one of the best backs in the area and a two year starting quarterback AND still be the favorites to win District Six? I guess it is all about the "T" on the helmet. Tyrone is one of the area's legendary programs and they are poised for a big season. Not only will Tyrone be dealing with personnel changes, but a new coach will be roaming the sidelines this season in Jason Wilson. The offense will start with a few Hunters. Garrett Hunter will be a senior quarterback, and there is some excitement around his potential. Aleic Hunter will be the featured back, and has some blazing speed, while the fullback, Elijah Sleeth should provide some power running. Nicholas Getz and Silas Crawford both return as the starting wide receivers, while Duane Boone is a reliable tight end. Pair all of these skilled players with a host of linemen returning with experience, and you have the makings of a very good offensive attack. Boone is one of the area's top defensive players as he posted 7 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2013. Overall, the Golden Eagles have a ton of team speed on the defensive side of the ball.

Bottom line - It is rare to have a team ranked so highly while they usher in a new quarterback and running back, but Tyrone isn't an ordinary football team. This squad is ready to roll this season, and they have all the parts you would want to see in a championship team.

2. Clearfield

KEY Players - Seth Caldwell (RB)  Nick Kovalick (LB)  Jake Wingate (CB)

Clearfield had quite the season with a conference championship, district championship, and a berth into the state AAA quarterfinals. Gone are some important pieces from that squad, but a solid core remains to put them in the Mountain Conference championship race once again. Erik Sellers looks to be the next man up to take on the quarterback position and he should help improve the passing game as a whole. The running game will take a hit by losing two 1,000 rushers, but Seth Caldwell had a mighty fine freshmen season and is set for a big year. Caldwell posted 800 yards last season, and will be the primary option this year. Defense is a big name of the game for the Bison, and they have some good players on that side of the ball. Nick Kovalick is a tough linebacker that is always around the ball. Erik Sellers does a nice job at Safety, and Jake Wingate posted 7 interceptions as a sophomore cornerback. Overall, the defense has the potential to be one of the area's best.

Bottom line - Clearfield will miss the play of Christian Lezzer and company, but they won't be in too much trouble. Clearfield has some experienced players across the board, and they have been accustomed to winning. The Bison may take a week or two to get rolling, but they should be in the race to win the league and the AAA sub-regional.

3. Central

KEY Players - Noah Benton (QB)  Jordan Quarello (LB)  Mike Mock (Ath)

The defending D6 AA champs are down, but certainly not out. The Dragons lose perhaps one of the better athletic classes to ever go through the school, but they still have enough in the tank to get back into championship contention. Central may change gears a bit, and rely on throwing the ball a bit more. Noah Benton is a very well regarded quarterback, and he has yet to be a full time starter. I expect Benton to be more of a thrower, whereas Cunningham was a very run oriented QB.  Finding a running back will be important, because they lose their top four leading rushers from last season. Kaleb Weyant had a pair of touchdowns last season, and he could be the man for the job. Mike Mock obviously has a strong throwing prowess with his baseball background, and could be a quarterback for a lot of schools. He will carve out a role as a receiver, as he did catch a few passes last season. Jordan Quarello and Nick Hoenstine were big players on defense last season, and will be the leaders on the unit this year.

Bottom line - Central has a tough group, but they did graduate a lot of their production from last season. They have a strong set of JV players coming up through the ranks, and the Dragons could ride some younger talent to some big wins. Establishing a solid running game could be the key to the season, and it will be interesting to see how that unfolds.

4. Bald Eagle

KEY Players - Jason Jones (QB)   Josh Fye (DL)   Mitchel Struble (RB)

Bald Eagle Area has really turned things around in recent years with two consecutive District Six playoff berths, and they should be in contention to do that once again in 2014. Jason Jones had a big first year as a starting quarterback by throwing for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. He will have to be more of a leader this season with his two top wide receivers gone. Mitchel Strubble will look to take on the role as starting tailback after rushing for 283 yards last season. Many of the Bald Eagles top playmakers graduated, so it will be a bit of a transition for some newer faces to get acquainted to bigger roles. The defense last season was able to keep them in most games, and Josh Fye was a big reason why. The big defensive lineman lived in opposing backfields, and he is one of the league's premier defensive players.

Bottom line -  Can it be a third straight year to the postseason?  Maybe, but a lot will need to happen. Bald Eagle has a good start with Jones operating the offense, but some backs and receivers need to step up and make some plays.

5. Huntingdon

KEY Players - Hudson Speck (QB)   Jon Wagner (RB)   Logan Fisher (WR)

Huntingdon is an intriguing team, and they could be a darkhorse to make a District playoff appearance. The Bearcats had a nice team last year, and a few games made the difference between them being .500 or a team in the postseason. Hudson Speck returns at quarterback after a solid sophomore campaign. Jon Wagner and Jacob Oliver are set to take on the rushing duties after getting some reps last season. Wagner is a dangerous player, and was second on the team in all-purpose yardage, showing he has a ton of versatility. Overall, Huntingdon played with a ton of key freshmen and sophomores last season, thus making this year, and especially next year very promising.

Bottom line - Huntingdon could be a year away from being a real player in the Mountain League. The Bearcats will still be a threat this season, and could have the makings for a good offense behind their young stars in the making.

6. Penns Valley

KEY Players - Wyatt Sharp (RB/LB)   Corey Hazel (RB/LB)  Sean Beamesderfer (WR/CB)

Penns Valley went 4-6 last season, but seemed better than that at times. The Rams took care of the teams they were supposed to, bu failed to lock down a big win, despite a few opportunities to do so. Penns Valley had some close losses to some good teams, and the hope for them this year is that they can finish some close games. The reins to the offense will be turned over to Ben Alexander. He is a good athlete, but has big shoes to fill after Cameron Tobias put on a show last year at QB. Wyatt Sharp and Chase Collison are two big physical backs that will see some carries, and they also have a quicker option with Corey Hazel. The running game should be in good shape overall. Sean Beamesderfer and Corey Hazel both had productive years last season, and should be good receiving options for Alexander this season. Offense certainly was not the problem last year, and the Rams have the makings of another good unit this season.

Bottom line - Penns Valley hung around last year in plenty of games, but still could not get over the hump. It will be a challenge this season to match last year's offense production with a new quarterback, but the Rams have some pieces in place to make for a competitive offense. This season will come down to the defense making a few more stops, and getting in less offensive shootouts.

7. Philipsburg-Osceola

KEY Players - Jake Anderson (QB)  Caleb Belinda (DB)  Nick Patrick (RB)

Philipsburg-Osceola had a rough season in 2013, as they only managed to win one game. It will be tough again in 2014 with the majority of their offensive production graduated.  Jake Anderson will assume the role as quarterback, and played well in limited action. He is a good runner, and should be able to operate the Wing-T with effectiveness. Nick Patrick and Kyle Hawkins should get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield as they both saw some playing time last year. The defense will feature a number of new faces, highlighted by Jake Anderson (38 solo tackles) and Caleb Belinda (3 interceptions) as returning impact players.

Bottom line - Philipsburg-Osceola is a team with some talent, but lack of numbers and depth could be the downfall. They open with West Branch, and get Bellefonte in week three, those games are very winnable and could give them a little momentum heading into the meat of their schedule.

8. Bellefonte

KEY Players - Mark Armstrong (QB)  Austin Jackson (RB)  Danny Caprio (DB)

Bellefonte is coming off a miserable season in which they went 0-10 with every loss coming by double-digit points. With a season like that, the only place to go it up. The Red Raiders have Mark Armstrong back at quarterback, and he simply needs to play better all around after throwing 18 interceptions as a sophomore. He could be pushed for playing time by senior, Danny Caprio. Austin Jackson (279 yards) and Jon Kerschner (200) will primarily be manning the running back duties. Danny Caprio is the returning leading tackler after posting some solid numbers last season. The main problem with the D is that they only recorded 2 sacks and forced just 5 turnovers all year long. Those numbers need to go up for a chance to succeed this year.

Bottom line - The state of Bellefonte football has not been good for a few years. All the symptoms of a struggling program are here with low offensive output with too many turnovers, and a fatigued defense that is on the field too much. Bellefonte has a long road ahead this season in a tough Mountain Conference.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 ICC Football Preview

Gold Division

1. Bellwood-Antis

KEY Players - Jake Burch (QB/S) Zach Mock (LB)  Cameron Wood (DB)

The old saying goes, "some teams don't rebuild - they reload" and that is certainly the case with Bellwood-Antis. The Blue Devils will say goodbye to yet another successful senior class, but they have kids waiting in the wings ready to leave their mark. Jake Burch had a moderately successful year as a sophomore starting quarterback, and he will certainly get better as his career progresses. Burch was not asked to do a whole lot last season, but still posted 1,000 yards in the passing game. Expect to see more responsibility thrown Burch's way this season. The running game takes a big hit with the loss of Casey Gray, but Matt McMillan, Kyler Larderi, and Cameron Wood will all get chances to take on the role by committee. While the offense sorts out its personnel, the defense should carry the load. Zach Mock, Tyson Miller, and Trenton Creppage were big parts of the defense last season, and they will anchor an experienced unit this year. 

Bottom line - Bellwood-Antis is set to have the best defense in the ICC, and they have an offense loaded with potential. Year after year Bellwood always puts together a solid team, and this year is no different. Bellwood should most certainly take control of the ICC, but also make a run at Bishop Guilfoyle for the district crown. John Hayes is one of the best around, and his team will be ready to take on anyone. 

2. Mt. Union

KEY Players - Trevon Walker (QB)  BJ Loner (WR) Brody Suter (DL)

Mt. Union posted one of its most successful seasons in recent memory with a 9-2 record and a berth in the District Six AA playoffs. The Trojans were very close to making it to the second round, and revenge will be on their minds this season. The offense is in very good hands with Trevon Walker. The senior quarterback had a breakout year last year by throwing for 20 touchdowns and rushing for 5 more. He is one of the league's most dynamic players. BJ Loner returns after showing to be one of the more versatile players in the ICC by rushing for 444 yards and posting 510 reviving yards. With this connection, the Mt. Union offense is expected to post big numbers. Brody Suter is one of the anchors of the defense after having a big junior campaign that included 6 sacks. Loner posted 5 interceptions, again showing his versatility. 

Bottom line - Mt. Union will be a big threat to take down Bellwood for the ICC crown. The Trojans have a solid offense with experience that is capable of putting up big numbers in a hurry. Mt. Union will be a confident football team in 2014, and will be looking to get back to the playoffs, and they could make some noise in a wide open AA field. 

3. Northern Bedford 

KEY Players - Austin Heck (RB)  Jacob Dasher (WR)  Elias Brailler (FB/LB)

Northern Bedford will likely switch gears from the past few seasons, and reinvent the offensive game plan. The high flying attack that Blake Over and Kyler Diehl displayed over the past few seasons is gone, but an emphasis on the running game may now be established. Austin Heck certainly looks the part, and will have a big role on this team after rushing for 8 touchdowns last season. Elias Brailler rushed for 275 yards last season, and he should help make up a powerful duo in the running game. The Panthers have four offensive linemen and things are shaping up for a big year on the ground. Despite all those factors, Northern Bedford could still have a big passing game with Jacob Dasher on the roster. Dasher is just a sophomore, but had 998 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and is easily the best receiver the ICC has to offer.

Bottom line - The potential of Northern Bedford's offense is real.The running game will be dynamic and effective, and if Aaron Batzel is up to the task at quarterback, things could go very well for Northern Bedford this season on the offensive of the ball. They may not be in the class of Mt. Union and Bellwood just yet, but they could potentially give those teams some problems.

4. Everett

KEY players - Kyle Sheaffer (WR/CB)   Jacob Jay (RB/LB)   Josiah Cogan (WR)

Everett is coming off a disappointing 4-7 season, but they were not far away from being 7-4, though. The Warriors lost three games by three points each, and finishing games will be a bigger point of emphasis in 2014. Everett returns one of the league's most explosive players in Kyle Sheaffer, and he could post even better numbers this season. Jacob Jay also returns after leading the team in rushing in 2013. The duo should account for most of the yardage again this season. The quarterback situation remains unsettled, but the Warriors definitely have enough firepower to help ease in a new starter.

Bottom line -  Everett is graduating a good portion of their team from last year, but don't expect a step backwards. The Warriors have some talented players, and a host of young guys ready to step in and take their place. 

5. Southern Huntingdon

KEY Players - Tyler Carowick (QB)  Mason Parks (RB/LB)  Storm Vaughn (RB)

Southern Huntingdon returns an intriguing group of skilled players that could make for a surprising season. Tyler Carowick had a successful year on the ground at quarterback, but made too many mistakes in his passing. With a year of experience, he should be a better player in 2014. Mason Parks and Storm Vaughn had productive years as running backs, and both went over 500 yards. Between the three of them, the Rockets could have a vaunted rushing attack. Cam Woodward provided a good receiving option, and should see more pas targets his way this season. Mason Parks led the tam in tackles by far, and is one of the better linebackers in the league.

Bottom line - The Rockets will have a solid offense, but can they slow down the opposition? Too many times last season they found themselves on the wrong end of some blow-outs, but the offense should make for some more exciting and closer games in 2014. The defense will not be fixed overnight, and that is the biggest concern coming into this year.

6. West Branch

KEY Players - Kris Smeal (RB)  Walker Williams (QB) Hunter Sample (OL)

Low numbers have hurt the West Branch program recently, and it will be another issue heading into this season. The Warriors failed to win one game last season, as they only suited 17 players, and 5 of those players have since graduated. Fortunately with low numbers, it creates experience for everyone on the roster. West Branch has one of the league's top players in Kris Smeal. He is a workhorse running back, and will be going for his second straight 1,000 yard season. Walker Williams will be asked to have a better season at quarterback to create some diversity in the offense. Hunter Sample and Smeal were two of the big forces on defense last year, and will be once again this season.

Bottom line -  West Branch has a strong offensive line and a very good running back. They should be able to put together a strong offense, but numbers and fatigue will eventually catch up with them. They are a tough bunch, but they have a lot working against them. 

Silver Division 

1. Tussey Mountain

KEY Players - Daniel Taylor (QB) Quinn Barnett (QB)  Curtis Wentz (LB)

Tussey Mountain returns a 1,000 yard passer and a 1,000 yard rusher off a district championship team, and the Titans are on the short list to win that title once again. Quinn Barnett calmly operated a powerful offense last season by tossing for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns. He will be in his senior year, and perhaps playing his best football yet.  The Titans had a two-headed monster at running back last season, but Darrin Sipes has moved on, leaving Daniel Taylor to carry the load.  Taylor led the team in touchdowns last season, and proved to be a good receiver on top of his running prowess, making him the league's most versatile offensive threat. Quinn Barnett led the team in tackles as a Safety, and is one of the best defensive backs in the league. Curtis Wentz is a very good linebacker, and Michael Mitchell had a productive year as a defensive end giving Tussey plenty of playmakers on defense.

Bottom line - Tussey Mountain should have one of the more dynamic offenses in the ICC, and they should be right in the thick of things for the conference and District 5 A final. Daniel Taylor is a very good player, and a big season could be in the making for him. It is a fun time to be watching football in Saxton, PA.

2. Moshannon Valley

KEY Players - Eric Sherkel (QB/DB)  Cody Hamilton (LB)  Ryan Thomas (RB) 

Moshannon Valley has one of the best kept secrets in all of district six; Eric Sherkel. The junior quarterback is an electrifying talent that threw for 11 touchdowns and rushed for 13 more. He is a dual threat in every sense of the term, and is one of the area's top playmakers. The Knights offense will center around him, and ICC defensive coordinators will need to figure a way to slow down Sherkel. Ryan Thomas and Levi Frailey have some experience carrying the ball, and will have more prominent roles this season. Sam Demko will assume the top receiver spot after hauling in 12 passes last season. Ryan Thomas, Cody Hamilton, and Craig Ohs should form a solid core of linebackers, while Sherkel is an all-state caliber defensive back as well.

Bottom line - The Black Knights have a pretty solid team, and could most certainly sneak up on some teams. Sherkel is a legitimate talent, and the potential is there to have a pretty stout defense.  If they can develop some skilled players around the field, this could be a very dangerous team overall. 

3. Juniata Valley

KEY Players - Aaron Maysonett (RB)  Sam Singer (Ath)  Bryce Mills (LB)

Juniata Valley will be dealing with quite a bit of turnover in 2014. They will be without successful coach Mike Smith for the first time in a number of years, and Juniata Valley lost a good senior class. Still, the Hornets have a proud program and they will be in contention once again. Aaron Maysonett is a serious talent that will be the focal point of the offense after being a big part of the running and passing games. Sam Singer and Nate Leydig will battle it out for the quarterback spot, but Singer can be a weapon in other parts of the field if he does not take the QB job. Bryce Mills, Noah Hess, and Ryan McMullen are returning starters on defense and could make for a stout unit overall.

Bottom line - Juniata Valley will be in transition to a degree, but they have a strong program in place with kids accustomed to winning. The Hornets may not win the ICC, but they can hang with anyone in their section. I would put them at having an outside shot at a district six playoff berth.

4. Williamsburg 

KEY Players - Mike Biddle (RB)  Bryce Young (WR)  Tyler Shaw (WR)

Williamsburg enjoyed their first winning season since the early 1990's, and they still have some pieces in place to have another competitive season. Austin McMonagle leaves the Williamsburg program as one of the more decorated athletes in school history, and he will be surely missed. Mike Biddle was one of McMonagle's favorite targets from last season, and he could be the main man this year. Biddle rushed for 600 yards, and nearly caught for the same amount. He is a very versatile player that could be due for a big season. Bryce Young was one of the top receivers in the ICC last year, and he is also back for another go at it. The big key will be filling the QB's shoes. Tyler Shaw should be the man for the job, and his athleticism should help the Pirates. 

Bottom line - Williamsburg is not blessed with huge numbers, but they have kids that work hard. They finally got a taste of winning in 2013, and they certainly have some pieces to be a tough team once again. Will they hit the high water mark of 6 wins again?  That remains to be seen, but they will be a tough game on the schedule for most of the teams they will face.

5. Claysburg-Kimmel

KEY Players - Logan Johnson (RB)  Korey Moses (OL/DL)  Bryce Walter (DE)

Claysburg-Kimmel will enter the 2014 season with the hopes of a big running game to carry the team. Logan Johnson had a big junior year by nearly rushing for 1,000 yards, and the hope will be that he can eclipse that mark this season.  Developing a quarterback will be key for this offense, as Rodale Weyandt and Colby Cowher are the two returning quarterbacks on the roster that will be competing for the job. If they can develop any sort of passing game, it would be a huge help. Defensively, the Bulldogs should have a very solid defensive line with Korey Moses and Bryce Walter coming off big seasons.

Bottom line - Claysburg will be tough to slow down with Logan Johnson carrying the ball. He is a talented player and can carry the load, but can the passing game improve any?  Claysburg only threw for 297 yards total last season, and that really puts a lot pf pressure on the running game.  The Bulldogs have some talent, but could be easy to figure without the threat of a passing attack. 

 6.  Glendale 

KEY Players - Jon Rojas (WR)  Craig Hewitt (LB)  Shea O'Donnell (DE)

Glendale comes into 2014 with two quarterbacks. Alex Iraca and Nate Braniff both split time last season, and may very well continue to do the same in 2014. Between the two, they threw for 9 interceptions to just 2 touchdowns. Handling the ball and limiting mistakes will be the key for these two players. The running game struggled last season by only posting 3.8 yards per carry. Craig Hewitt looks to be the first in line to take over as the primary ball carrier. Jon Rojas is a good athlete, and should be the leading receiver, but also a threat to run the ball. Big Shea O'Donnell could be one of the better defensive ends in the league, and as an imposing 6'5" player he could really take a step forward after posting a solid 5 sacks in 2013.

Bottom line - The Glendale Vikings struggled big time last season with only 2 wins to their name. Turnovers and costly mistakes really held this team back, and it will be tough to overcome those same problems once again. Sometimes it can be tough to operate an offense with two quarterbacks splitting reps, and that could be what is holding this team back to a degree. Look for the defense to hold it's own, but scoring will be the issue. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 Heritage Conference Preview

1. Blairsville

KEY Players - Scott Thompson (QB) Deion Robinson (RB)  Cameron Livingston (WR)

Blairsville had a lot of promise last year, but couldn't quite put it all together. The 2014 version of the Bobcats should be able to figure things out, and  compete for a conference and district final. Back for his third year as the starting quarterback is Scott Thompson. The senior play caller has thrown for 20 touchdowns in his first two years, but a breakout year could be coming in 2014. The emergence of Deion Robinson last season allows for the Bobcats to have a balanced offensive attack. Robinson averaged 113 yards a game on the ground last season. Cameron Livingston led the team in receiving last year. The defense returns some experienced guys. Deion Robinson was a big part of the defense last year, along with Tyler Lenhardt and Rahdezz Henderson.  Livingston also is a solid defensive back.

Bottom line - Overall, Blairsville returns plenty of talent and experience across the board. Scott Thompson will be at his best this season, and Robinson is a dynamic runner. Defensively, they have return plenty of guys to make for a good unit. I think the Bobcats struggled a bit in Rick Artley's debut, but with a year of getting comfortable, I look for this team to click on all cylinders. The Heritage is a tough league this year, but I think Blairsville will shine above the rest.

2. Homer Center

KEY Players - Aaron Berezansky (QB)   Ean Lee (RB/LB)    Matt McAdoo (RB/LB)

Homer Center is coming off their best season in quite some time. The Wildcats took down Bishop Guilfoyle in the District Six class A championship, and took the Heritage Conference trophy home outright along the way. Gone are some very important pieces, but they have enough in the tank to be in the discussion among the favorites for the Heritage Conference. Aaron Berezansky is a good running quarterback, and operates this offense at a high level. Ean Lee was one half of a dangerous running tandem last season with Mike Newhosue, and he will be primed for a big season. The line is a big question, but if they can get it worked out, this offense will be tough once again. The defense also needs re-tooled, but guys like Matt McAdoo and Lee should be able to carry the load.

Bottom line - The defending champions will not take the step back that some are expecting. Homer is a well coached team with some of the better players this league has to offer, the Wildcats will be candidates to compete for a league championship and for a berth in the class A playoffs.

 3. Ligonier Valley

KEY Players - Collin Smith (QB) Jordan Jones (WR)  Elijah Parrish (LB)

Ligonier had a tough go at it in 2013. After a few dominating seasons, the Rams were humbled with a 6-5 record. Many key contributors from the past few years are gone, including Connecticut recruit, Alec Bloom. Still, there are some promising pieces in the program for Ligonier to make a comeback.  Collin Smith appears to be next in line to be a star for the Ligonier offense. As just a freshmen, he posted 500 rushing yards, and will be the focal point of the offense in 2014 as likely the starting quarterback. He will have a big target to go to with Jordan Jones, a 6"4 wide receiver. The defense will be anchored by another sophomore, Elijah Parrish. He along with Ray Marsh and Collin Smith make for a strong nucleus on that side of the ball.

Bottom line - Ligonier has plenty of question marks, and they could be a year away. Still, the Rams posses some talented players and they could be ready to make their move in 2014. Collin Smith could be the next big thing in the Heritage Conference, watch for him all season long.

4. Penns Manor

KEY Players - Bailey Mumau (RB)  Nathan Dumm (WR)  Clayton Stupic (QB)

Penns Manor has turned itself into one of the most consistent programs in the district. The Comets have averaged 10 wins a season over the past three years, and there is a good chance they can keep this run going in 2014. Clayton Stupic appears to be next in line to be the quarterback, and posted pretty good numbers in limited action last season. Bailey Mumau has been held under wraps the past few years with some depth around him, but should emerge as the team's top back this season. Nathan Dumm will also be a key figure on offense doing a little bit of everything. The defense will lose some important figures like Steven Dumm, but they still have some key players hanging around. Andrew Somogyi and Brandon Alter are both very good players on defense, and will make up one of the best defensive lines in the league.

Bottom line - Penns Manor has made itself a very good program in recent years, and they aren't going away either. Despite some big losses, this team is well equipped to make a run at a Heritage Conference title. Stupic's development at quarterback will be key for this team, because maybe more so than other teams, the QB for Penns Manor is asked to do a lot, as we've seen over the past few years. 

5. Purchase Line

KEY Players - Grant Syster (RB)  Hunter Rice (RB)  Sam Stanford (QB/S)

There is some warranted optimism around the Purchase Line football team this season. They have a powerful running game headed by one of the league's most exciting players and they are coming off a solid 5-5 season. Still, some off-season troubles surrounding the school and some decisions definitely have brought doubt to this team, but once the pads are on things should be OK again. Grant Syser rushed for 1,593 yards in 2013 with 14 scores, and he should be set for another big year. In a reserve role, Hunter Rice was able to compliment Syster's stats with 450 yards and 6 touchdowns himself. The duo should make for one of the best offenses in the league. Finding a quarterback will be key, but it looks like Sam Stanford could have a leg up on the race. Stanford is one of the key players on defense after pulling in three interceptions last season. Quentin Woods will also be a big player on the D.

Bottom line - Purchase certainly has some talent, and they have plenty to build on from last year. Syster is one of the league's most electrifying players and he could carry this offense to new heights in 2014. They have the ability to finish even higher than fifth, and maybe could make a run at the District Six A playoffs.

6. Saltsburg 

KEY Players - Tyler Frassenei (WR) Frankie Plowman (QB) Tanner Yard (RB)

Saltsburg only graduated five players from last season, so the Trojans definitely have some experience. Frankie Plowman threw for over 1,000 yards as a freshmen, and he will only continue to get better. Plowman's emergence allowed for Tyler Frassenei to evolve into more of a playmaker. Frasenei led the team in receiving and also saw some carries as a running back, his role will continue to grow in 2013. The Trojans have nearly their entire line in tact, and should be able to provide solid support in the running game. Ryan Shindledecker saw some carries last year, and could see more touches this time around, as could Tanner Yard who provided to be a good receiving threat.

Bottom Line - Coming off a 2-8 season with plenty of starters back, Saltsburg could surprise some people this season. The Trojans definitely have a promising young offense with some key pieces, it is all a matter of how some of the younger guys take on their roles.

7. Northern Cambria

KEY Players - Tyler Pershing (QB) Adam Weiland (RB)  Joey Olish (WR)

Graduating 18 seniors from a 5-5 team can go either way. It could allow for some talented younger guys to get their chance, or it leaves a team without experience. It will be interesting to see how Northern Cambria deals with their turnover this season. They will have a talented junior quarterback starting in Tyler Pershing. He tossed for 460 yards last season, but may need to do a little more with Northern Cambria losing their top four leading rushers from last season. Adam Weiland actually led the team with a 7.27 yards per carry average, but he only had 22 attempts, he will have a bigger responsibility in 2014. Joey Olish led the team in receiving in 2013, and he should have a good connection with Pershing in the passing game. All in all, Northern Cambria should have a good offense, the defense could be a different story. In fact, 9 of their top 10 tackles from last season are gone.  Weiland is the main anchor for the defense, and will have to lead a young and inexperienced group.

Bottom line - Northern Cambria is down, but not out. The Colts have some young guys they can bring along and make for a competitive team, but it could take a few weeks. Look for the offense to be a pretty good one, while the defense is a work in progress.

8. United

KEY Players - Tyler Oliver (RB/LB)  Andrew Deitman (OL/DT) Matt Dill (QB)

United is coming off an 0-10 season, and their recent struggles continue. The Lions will look to turn things around in 2014, but it won't be easy. The offense will likely center around senior Fullback, Tyler Oliver. Oliver lead the team in rushing last season, and has the strength to be the workhorse for United this season. Matt Dill should end up taking the majority of snaps at quarterback, after he showed some success last season. United only completed 29% of their pass attempts last season, so any improvement there would be a welcomed one. The Lions have some solid pieces on defense including, Andrew Deitman. Deitman is one of the better lineman in the league, and led United in tackles last season. Oliver also doubles up as one of the team's better defensive players.

Bottom line - The Heritage is a deep league, and despite United being ranked eighth, that does not mean anything. They have a big line and a powerful back and they could figure a way to get back on the winning track. Being 0-10 last year can be discouraging, but United usually has a strong and proud program, and these kids will look to get them back to respectability.

9.Marion Center

KEY Players - Blake Orr (QB) Colton Fairman (RB) Zach Edwards (RB/LB)

Marion Center is coming off a 2-8 season, and it's hard to see a big improvement coming this season. The offense will have to rely heavily on their passing game as they have one of the better quarterbacks the league has to offer. Blake Orr is an experienced QB that needs to limit his mistakes, after throwing 9 interceptions to just 3 touchdowns last season. The Stingers' running game managed only 118 rushing yards a game last season, but with Colton Fairman and Zach Edwards back, perhaps it could pick up a little. Marion Center's running game could pick up with a very big and imposing sophomore class. The Marion Center line held it's own last season, and it could be a strength this season.

Bottom line - Many of the problems around Marion Center are self inflicted, with things like a -8 turnover margin. If they can limit mistakes and build up the running game, things could work out a lot better than a ninth place finish in the league. Blake Orr is a talented quarterback, and he could take a big step forward, thus potentially making Marion Center a surprise team in the Heritage.