Defending champion: Bethel Park.
Top seeds: Gateway is first, Woodland Hills second, Bethel Park third and North Allegheny fourth.
The skinny: Gateway is trying to make the title game for the third year in a row, but the Gators haven't won a title since 1986. Gateway doesn't have as many Division I college players as last year's team, but this team might be just as good. Rob Kalkstein, a four-year starter at quarterback, is the difference between Gateway and most other teams. ... Woodland Hills has plenty of talent and the play of quarterback John Yezovich will be the key. The Wolverines' defense could take them far. ... Don't discount defending champ Bethel Park. The Black Hawks are balanced offensively and good enough defensively to make another title run. Their only loss was to Woodland Hills, 21-17. ... North Allegheny could be a sleeper, but the Tigers might not be good enough to win it all. ... Best first-round matchups are Upper St. Clair vs. Penn Hills and Shaler vs. Mt. Lebanon. Shaler beat Mt. Lebanon earlier this season. ... Baldwin made the playoffs with a 2-7 record and the Highlanders haven't won a playoff game since 1991. ... Central Catholic changed quarterbacks a few weeks ago; Perry Hills is the starter.
Defending champion: Thomas Jefferson.
Top seeds: Thomas Jefferson is first, Hopewell second, Chartiers Valley third and West Allegheny fourth.
The skinny: Thomas Jefferson could become the first team to win four championships (without a tie) since Braddock in the 1950s. Thomas Jefferson might not be as dominant as last year's team, but that doesn't mean the Jaguars aren't good enough to win it all again. ... A Thomas Jefferson-Hopewell final is much anticipated because of Hopewell sophomore running back Rushel Shell, who already has more than 3,500 career yards. Hopewell's defense must remain staunch. ... Chartiers Valley and West Allegheny were seeded 3-4 despite the fact both are second-place teams in their conferences. That shows the WPIAL believes the Big Seven and Parkway Conferences were stronger than the Keystone and Greater Allegheny. ... Keystone Conference teams are 0-32 in the playoffs in the past eight years. Greensburg Salem is the Keystone champ and actually has a decent shot at winning a game. ... New Castle is a sleeper and so is Belle Vernon. Three of Belle Vernon's four losses were by a total of eight points.
Defending champion: Aliquippa.
Top seeds: South Fayette first, Mount Pleasant second, Center third and Beaver Falls fourth.
The skinny: This is the deepest field, as far as the number of quality teams. ... Mount Pleasant and South Fayette were the only undefeated teams in Class AA and the WPIAL decided on South Fayette as the No. 1 seed. WPIAL Executive Director Tim O'Malley said Class AA was the toughest to seed because of the large number of quality teams. ... Aliquippa tied for first in the Midwestern Conference but finished third in tiebreaker points and head-to-head competition. Because of that, the Quips dropped to a No. 9 seed, but you can bet no one wants to play them. Aliquippa opens at McGuffey. ... It seems no one is talking much about Freeport or Shady Side Academy, which tied for first in the Allegheny Conference. But maybe you shouldn't underestimate the Allegheny because the league has produced a semifinalist three of the past four seasons. ... Beaver Falls is good enough to win it all, but the most intriguing team might be Center. If quarterback Preston Dawson plays well, the Trojans are very good. ... Best first-round games are Aliquippa at McGuffey, Greensburg Central at Freeport and Sto-Rox at Shady Side.
Defending champion: Clairton
Top seeds: Rochester is first, Laurel second, Clairton third and North Catholic fourth.
The skinny: This class has the top two defensive teams in the state in Rochester (3.7 points allowed per game) and Clairton (4.2). Clairton also is third in scoring at 47.6. ... Rochester has been in the championship six times since 2000. ... It's hard to see anyone knocking off the Rams before the title game. ... Clairton and Laurel are on the same side of the bracket and could meet in the semifinals. Laurel beat Clairton, 15-8, in the season opener. It might be different in a rematch but don't under-estimate Laurel. The Spartans have size and talent. Their only loss was to Rochester, 14-7. ... Clairton has looked exceptional since the season opener, but competition has been suspect. ... Serra quarterback Rob Heatherington is dealing with an injured shoulder. ... North Catholic could make some noise because it can run and pass with success. ... Brentwood is a sleeper. The Spartans started 0-4 and were shut out twice but have won five in a row.
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First published on November 3, 2009 at 12:00 am