The SportsTalk Shop: High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

 

High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

Before we take a look at the smaller schools in our RCN viewing area, I wanted to congratulate a few of the bigger schools, in particular Emmaus, Dieruff and Bethlehem Catholic, for their efforts this past weekend. After my pre-season prediction that the Hornets would make the district playoffs, they needed a win over a very tough Central Catholic team on Saturday to get their first win and keep their post-season hopes alive. If they can build on the confidence they earned on their last minute drive and victory over the Vikings, I think they have a legitimate shot at being 2-2 and getting back into the playoff chase.

I’ve remarked for years how mentally tough those Dieruff Huskies are — continuing to battle despite losing talented players to follow other opportunities. Their hard work paid off Saturday with their first victory over a team (other than rival Allen) since 2008.

Although Becahi lost on Saturday night against Easton, I am truly impressed by Head Coach Joe Henrich and his troops for a close loss to Easton — a team I believe is the most talented squad in District XI right now. With a 2-1 start and a realistic chance to beat a few more teams in the coming weeks, look for the Golden Hawks to make a run at districts. This would be a tremendous accomplishment to a team many people thought might only get a win or two this season. It’s also a testament to Henrich and his belief in his program.

Now for the AA and A “Anti-Poll”  for teams in the RCN viewing area:

CATASAUQUA – I don’t know if there’s a team that will be able to slow down this group of Rough Riders until the state playoffs get underway. Any team that wants to win a PIAA title most probably will have to face powerhouse Imhotep. Catty really has too many outstanding players — pretty much everywhere — to start naming them in a single blog post. The opposing coaches I’ve spoken with so far this year say you pretty much have to play a perfect game while hoping that Catty has an off-night just to have a chance at staying with them. Yet even when Catty makes a mistake, they have so much speed that they can usually make up for momentary errors and prevent other teams from big plays. For more on this year’s Catasauqua football team, we’ll have Athletic Director Tom Moll on RCN Sports Talk  this Thursday at 6 PM.

NOTE: Moll will be among the athletic directors, league and district officials that will be on this week’s show. If you have a question or issue about high school sports, this Thursday is the time to tune in and gets your questions answered.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH – I know the Spartans are a 3-A school, but I didn’t get to mention them in last week’s Anti-Poll as I concentrated mostly on the LVC. In RCN SportsTalk’s High School Football Premiere show which aired September 5, I said that I thought Southern Lehigh has a legitimate shot at winning a title this year. The fact that they lost to Catty in Week Two makes it much more difficult to go after the league title. However, Central Catholic is not a shoe-in to make districts this season. If Becahi doesn’t qualify (they still have Parkland, Whitehall, Liberty, Nazareth among the teams yet to play), I think the Spartans enter the AAA postseason as the favorite among the Lehigh Valley squads, although Saucon Valley could have something to say about that.

PEN ARGYL – I would not be surprised if the Green Knights make the playoffs as the #2 team among the Lehigh Valley AA teams. Players like Ryan Lobb, Nick Oyer, Michael DePaolo and Brady Mutton are smart, talented kids who can adapt to coaches’ adjustments with the best of them. Not many coaching staffs in the Colonial League have put together better schemes than the Pen Argyl coaches over the last few years. It may not happen when they play Catty during the regular season, but I would expect a fierce battle once again if Roughies and Knights face each other in the playoffs this November.

NOTRE DAME – Notre Dame is one of several “feel-good” stories in the Colonial League this year, along with fellow 2-1 teams PALISADES, SAUCON VALLEY (a 3A team this fall), PALMERTON and NORTHWESTERN. The Crusaders have a brand new attitude amongst its players – which is sometimes the most important aspect of turning a program around. Head Coach Chuck Mueller has his kids playing inspired football. They’re coming off a tough loss to Pen Argyl, but I think they can certainly make a run at a post-season berth, which would be a major step forward for this team. The booster club has offered me the red carpet treatment if I stop by their practice (although I’m not really a red carpet-type of guy). I’m hoping my schedule allows for an opportunity very soon to talk Notre Dame football. It should make for a very interesting next few weeks with many of these one-loss teams yet to play each other.

PIUS – The Royals lost a one-touchdown game to a tough Steel-High team last weekend. Pius has a solid line anchored by senior Kyle Kokawski, and most of last year’s team is back. But the Royals might have another challenge on their hands as they face Dieruff, who has to feel good following their first win of the season. It’ll be a big lift for whichever team wins that matchup on Friday night.

We’ll check back with our local high school football teams in a few weeks for our mid-regular season “Anti-Poll”. Which teams would you like me to discuss for our next poll? As always, we welcome your comments on the above teams. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us LIVE, Thursdays at 6 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Anti-Poll #1: The “Bigger Schools” (AAAA & AAA)

 

Anti-Poll #1: The “Bigger Schools” (AAAA & AAA)

It’s the debut of the RCN Sports Talk Anti-Poll! This poll is RCN TV’s response for satisfying your desire to rank high school football teams without all the stress and anxiety created by a rigid numerical ranking list.

This week, we will look at the bigger schools in the RCN viewing area (the AAAA- and AAA-classed schools) and provide insights on the teams I’ve been able to gather information on. As always, your feedback, opinions and criticisms are most welcome.

Here are the first week’s listings, in quasi-order:

HEAD OF THE CLASS

EASTON – I was not surprised that EASTON defeated Parkland in the Lehigh Valley Conference opener, but I was absolutely shocked at the score! I had attended both teams’ practices and noted a ton of similarities, including depth at the skilled positions, lots of size, athletic linemen, upbeat yet intense practice sessions, etc. The one thing that appeared to distinguish the teams was that the Rover players I spoke with clearly identified their specific weaknesses from last year that they needed to improve upon. They were also focused on working on those areas for this season. I would have predicted an Easton 10-7 or 14-13 score with the defense playing a huge role; however, I never envisioned a 17-0 start and a 24-0 whitewash. I’ve asked quite a few people to point out to me the weaknesses with this year’s Easton team and very little has been uncovered. Quarterback Brad Wilkins seems very poised with outstanding abilities to lead his team to greater heights. Guys like senior linebacker Justin Best are underrated and quietly do an outstanding job—qualities shared by many Rovers this season. If they can keep any off-the-field issues at bay, I think it’s clear that the Rovers are the favorites to contend for league and district title honors.

WHITEHALL – WHITEHALL also surprised me in that they seemed to have a number of weapons but didn’t employ many of them against Liberty … but when you have Saquon Barkley running for touchdowns of 33, 41, 47 and 50 years, I guess there was no reason to.  I think they’ll be quite a bit of different Zephyr heroes this fall.  Whitehall’s offensive and defensive lines, presumably a weakness at the season’s outset because of their youth, look to be in mid-season form.  I think any battle between Whitehall against Easton or Parkland could have major playoff implications this season.  Don’t be surprised if things don’t stay vanilla and we see some “wildcat” formations, lots of fake punts and the like.

PARKLAND – I would also keep PARKLAND in this category. For the second straight year, they started off the LVC season facing the pre-season favorites of the RCN Sports Talk team. They quite possibly could go on another run culminating with a district championship and state playoff appearance. One could argue that this year’s Trojans are actually better than last year’s team, with a tandem quarterback combination and an extra year of experience for their returning players. Eli Redmond and Kareem Williams have returned in the backfield, with Najee Redmond replacing Jarel Elder’s spot. Many of the standout defensive stalwarts like Nezar & Omar Haddad, and David Barber and company are back. I believe in Legend Boyesen’s confidence and think he will be a major playmaker by the end of this season. The only thing the Trojans might need now is that extra fire I saw last season (or, if you’re a fan of the “Rocky” movies—the “Eye of the Tiger”). I saw a crazy swagger among last year’s team. It wasn’t cockiness, but confidence. Players like Xavier Roden, Paul Tajiri, and Shawn Heist walked around that field on defense like they owned it. Zach Gurinowich would pose for the RCN camera after every sack, and things like that. As a unit, they delighted in taking people’s heads off. However, they always kept their emotions from getting out-of-control and focused on the field. Once that returns, look for a more even contest should they face Easton in the postseason.

Before we continue, here are more insights and other views on our top teams:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOs6qgbD8cs&feature=youtu.be

A WIN THIS WEEK WOULD HELP…

LIBERTY – This team looked solid at times against a very good Whitehall team. However, they had three MAJOR issues last week: 1) special teams, 2) penalties and, 3) they couldn’t stop the run. While they don’t have to face Barkley again, they do have Jordan Grey and Shabbar Bokhari to deal with this Friday. First year Head Coach John Truby has to work quickly to create a scheme to at least slow down the Blue Eagles’ running attack. Against State College, the ‘Canes tried to bunch the middle, but couldn’t duplicate that against the Zephs. Even with all of Liberty’s speed, the spread offense of Nazareth creates matchup issues. This could result in even more havoc for them as they try to avoid dropping to 0-2 in the league. Not sure why issues #1 and #2 kept reoccurring last Friday. I actually thought the younger players looked more hesitant with KJ Williams returning than they did in their season opener. While I believe Doug Erney did a nice job balancing the football between all of Liberty’s speedy wideouts, I expect them to try to get Williams (5 catches for 44 yards, with several catches nullified by penalties) in more one-on-one situations to make plays and utilize his athleticism.

NAZARETH – I stopped by Nazareth’s practice this week in anticipation of their game against Liberty this Friday (airing on RCN TV at 10:00 PM).  The rumor I heard was that this year’s Nazareth team has the best offensive line under Coach Rob Melosky’s entire tenure – perhaps one of the school’s top lines of all time. I asked him directly about the truth to this rumor while I was at the practice. After hiding a big smile and stating that he doesn’t like to compare one team to another, he did admit that he is VERY happy with his offensive line and the way they have performed thus far. He has two great running backs and an underrated (if not skilled) quarterback in Spencer King. Nazareth SHOULD score a lot of points. The obstacles this week will be in trying to catch Liberty’s speedy wideouts and controlling the tempo to limit the Hurricanes’ possessions. However, the fact that the Eagles like to spread things out (unlike Liberty in their defeat against State College) could give them the advantage.

FREEDOM – The Patriots have had some ups-and-downs recently and are looking to develop consistency. Unfortunately for Freedom they have a very tough opponent in Whitehall this Friday night (airing on RCN TV, live at 7:00 PM).  Last week, their defense saved the day against the Vikings when senior safety Jared O’Donnell’s interception returned for a touchdown was the game-winner. Unlike the rest of the league that seems to be utilizing their speed to kick start a dynamic offense, the Patriots are using their size and experience on defense to make a postseason push. Those same senior defensive players tell me they have some very young playmakers that have outstanding potential. If the underclassmen continue to develop (or in the case of sophomore Roberto Diez, gets healthy) in a hurry, they could have a bright future sooner rather than later. While everyone’s attention, and rightly so, is on Whitehall’s Barkley, Ryan Bonshak, and Nick Nejad, Head Coach Jason Roeder liked what he saw from Quarterback Jeff Charles against Liberty last week and think they have to keep an eye on him as well to have success Friday.

*Note: Both Nazareth and Freedom’s coaches and players will be interviewed on this Thursday’s RCN Sports Talk show.

DESPARATELY SEEKING A WIN

RIDLEY – I think I might have snake-bit Ridley by targeting them for my first-ever Shout-Out feature on last week’s RCN Sports Talk show. After an impressive season opener, they lost to Conestoga by one point for the second straight season. They have a game with a very tough Garnet Valley coming up this week. A win would put them right back in the running for a league title. According to their fan Twitter account, @PhilMarionField, they are 41-14 in games following a league-opening loss. However, the Green Raiders have never beaten the GV Jags in consecutive seasons. They need to pull off a win to avoid a much more difficult trek to a district playoff spot.

CENTRAL CATHOLIC – The post-McDermott era is on and the team is still trying to find its offensive stride. The Vikings extremely underrated defense from a year ago is back and should keep them in contention for qualifying for a AAA playoff berth. With Bethlehem Catholic off to a 2-0 start, Central Catholic will have to start putting up some W’s very soon if they want to continue their “just get-in & win” pattern. In the last few years, they’ve had to fight just to make the district playoffs and then dominated once they qualified.

EMMAUS – I was very impressed with new Head Coach Randy Cuthbert when we had him in our studio a few weeks ago. I am also VERY surprised that this team is currently 0-2. With all the speed and athletes they had returning and a ‘not-the-toughest opponents’ schedule to start the season, I really thought they would be AT LEAST 2-1 after this week. I will be seeing the Hornets this Saturday to learn more about them (airing on RCN TV at 9:30 PM), but with Easton, Parkland, Liberty, Nazareth and Whitehall still to come, this could be a very long season if they don’t post a win this weekend.

That’s all the space I have for this week’s edition. I hope to focus on more teams coming up. Again, your feedback, comments, or complaints are welcome to be posted below. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us live, Thursdays at 6:00 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.

Next week: “Smaller Schools” in the RCN “Anti-Poll.”

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The New “RCN Sports Talk” Football ANTI-Poll

 

The New “RCN Sports Talk”  Football ANTI-Poll

THE TIME HAS COME FOR REBELLION!

For the past several decades, RCN TV has featured a high school football poll on various sports shows.  The poll first appeared on “This Week In Sports“, and later became a regular feature on “RCN Sports Talk“.  As Lehigh Valley sports writers and broadcasters are often praised for their outstanding high school football coverage, I have always taken pride in the “RCN Sports Talk” poll results.

In the RCN High School Football Poll, RCN TV’s sports announcers  vote for the top “big schools” and “small schools” within the Lehigh Valley.  In addition, guest voters – athletic directors and football coaches in RCN TV’s extended viewing area – are invited to participate in the poll.  This ensures that the poll yields objective results.

In nine of the eleven years that I have tracked the results, our pre-season “big” and “small” number-one teams have won either a league or district title – or both.

However, before I can give a pat on the back to our collective staff (as I don’t make scholastic predictions), I would like to highlight some of the interesting – and sometimes embarrassing – issues that have surfaced.  For example:

  • Newspaper X and Newspaper Y picked School A lower than School B.  The coach at School A then chewed-up the sports writer from Newspaper Z for not picking his school, failing to realize that Newspaper Z had actually picked School A to win.
  • Geometry has NOT been a good basis for predicting teams. In the results of one year’s poll, schools A, B, and C were picked as top teams.  School A beat School B, and then lost to School C.  School C then lost to School B.  Which team was the best?  More often than not, it was School D.
  • One coach told me that the reason his team had a successful year was because I didn’t pick his team and stated that they had no hope of winning a playoff game.  I found his comments amusing.  In my nine years of hosting “RCN Sports Talk“, I have never made a win/loss prediction for any scholastic game, let alone rip a high school program as he claimed to have heard me say when I made my supposed poll pick.
  • The polls can also aggravate local football fans.  Last year, four of our six voting announcers (did I mention I don’t make predictions already?!) selected the Pen Argyl Green Knights as the team to beat in the Colonial League.  The Green Knights then went on to win several district and state playoff games.  Strangely (and I admit THIS ONE annoyed me), two other media voices commented during Pen Argyl’s play-off run that no one in the area thought that Pen Argyl would make it to the post-season.  And that Pen Argyl’s championship win was completely unexpected.  Thank you to the numerous Green Knights’ fans who brought this to my attention.  I was thrilled and, quite frankly, impressed, that so many people remembered the RCN TV predictions from August.

(Curiously, all records of any of RCN TV’s incorrect predictions were burned in a mysterious fire – the same one that enveloped all of Joe Craig’s incorrect “Stone Cold Predictions” over the years.)

So what is my point?  These ranking polls and their accuracy mean NOTHING.  They’re for amusement purposes only and should be taken as such.  Local media members do an exceptional job bringing local sports to audiences – perhaps better than any scholastic region in the country.  The polls are meant to add some flavor to our coverage, and nothing more.  The steam that can erupt from the coaches’ and players’ ears when they learn that their ranking is below their team’s rival would be better served powering a small kitchen appliance than trying to get back at someone for “disrespecting them for their pick.”  This brings me to my rebellious decision:

For the first time in the history of RCN TV (including in its previous entities), we will NOT be doing a high school football poll this fall!

Oh, the horror… the nerve!  What gives Chris Michael the right to make a solitary decision and destroy decades of polling insights?  How will people sleep at night without an RCN high school football poll?

Okay, calm down.  I’ve spent months coming up with an idea to help you cope with this drastic and sacrilegious course of action.  My solution is:

The ANTI-Poll.

Not very inventive, I know.  And it could probably use a flashier name, with better SEO opportunity.  However, it’s the best I’ve got.

In lieu of a ranking educated guesses about the top teams in Lehigh Valley high school football, every two to three weeks, I’ll produce a random list of area teams based on impressions, facts, insights, etc., that I and other, more knowledgeable area football insiders observe.

The purpose of this insurrection?

To enhance RCN TV’s coverage of the sport, spotlight exceptional performances and give a few opinions on our local teams (in which I would not shed if you disagree with any or all of them).  Perhaps I’ll even add a morsel or two of information that you may or may not have heard in your travels and pigskin viewing.  And all this will be done without belittling students, putting down programs and disrespecting–TTTHHH teams, or any of the other comments I’ve heard from people who get angry at these rankings.

Feel free to email me your input at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com.  I’ll be happy to read and even incorporate your opinions into the analysis during the course of the season.  Or you can state your case in person by calling in during  “RCN Sports Talk” every Thursday at 6 PM.  You can campaign, lobby or push for legislation to reverse this dramatic action, or get your local politicians involved for a complete reversal of this policy in time for Opening Day 2014!

But until then, please remember the premise, and keep it light this fall.

After all, it’s just for sport.

Behind the Mic: Blow the Whistle

 

Blow the Whistle

The referee stands on the goal line, raises his hand, and blows his whistle. This signals the opening kickoff of every football game. The official start of the football season is this week and I am really looking forward to another year. Since Lafayette has a first week bye, the college scene for me doesn’t start until Saturday, September 7.

This is probably the last year of the Lehigh Valley Conference, as we have come to know it. The Mountain Valley Conference is poised to join the LVC for next season. And, this should be a great year. What I do not like is the fact that the two most highly touted teams, Parkland and Easton, will face each other in the opening week of league play. It is week 2 and the game is at Easton. It is always nice to build the drama as the season progresses. Since that will not be the case for these two powerhouses, we will be there to bring the game to you LIVE. There were 3 co-champions last year and there may be enough parity for that to happen again. Whitehall, Liberty, and Emmaus all look capable of upsetting the two favorites on a given weekend. There are two rookie coaches in the conference and Steve Shiffert at Easton has the longest tenure, by far, at 21 years. No one else has double figure years at their current schools.

Catasauqua looks like the odds-on favorite to win the Colonial League. They were 12-1 and 10-0 last year and have three Division 1 prospects back. Pen Argyl will, also, be formidable and the two clash on Friday, October 11. We will be there for that one, too. I think Southern Lehigh can surprise, but it looks like Catty has too much talent for anyone to dethrone them.

The rules will continue to emphasize player safety and much of that emphasis will be on head-to-head contact:

Direct helmet-to-helmet contact and any other contact
both with and to the helmet must be eliminated
from the sport of football at the interscholastic
level! Using the helmet to inflict punishment on the
opponent is dangerous and illegal. Coaches and
game officials must be diligent in promoting the
elimination of contact to and with the helmet …

Also, no contact can be initiated with a helmet-less opponent (personal foul) and a helmet-less player can not participate in the play (illegal participation).

Mr. Referee – Blow the whistle!!

 

Behind the Mic: You Are Cordially Invited…

 

You Are Cordially Invited..

It was announced this past Friday that the Lehigh Valley Conference invited the Mountain Valley Conference (except for Lehighton) to join them in the creation of an 18-team super conference, tentatively maintaining the LVC name. And to do it by next season!

With Lehighton moving to the Anthracite League in football and the Schuylkill League in most other sports, the MVC was looking at the scheduling nightmare that goes along with just a 6-team league. Ironically, just a few months ago, the MVC invited the LVC to merge with them, but the request was not made to Central Catholic or Bethlehem Catholic. By omitting those two schools in the initial invitation, it gave the LVC the opportunity to “remind” both schools (particularly Beca) that there could be consequences to very overt recruiting. The message was delivered and the invitation was not accepted.

So now, the MVC has been “cordially invited” to join the LVC, bringing all the schools together. In terms of football and basketball, there are certainly plusses and minuses.

On the “plus” side, the super conference will now include all the AAAA schools in District XI. The merger would bring Allen and Dieruff back into the Lehigh Valley football picture and I certainly like that. By merging, all teams would battle for their spots in the District and State playoffs. This eliminates the complaint that some MVC teams got better seeding or easier qualifying because they played a much weaker schedule. Certainly, with 18 teams, the scheduling still may slightly favor one team over another, but that happens now. Also, the MVC will have no trouble filling their schedule.

On the “minus” side, an 18 team conference can certainly look a bit unwieldy when it does come to scheduling. In football, do you create two 9-team divisions and play for a championship? That sounds like a reasonable idea. In basketball, 3 divisions seem to be the best approach, but, if you play your division foes twice and the other teams once, you have the allotted 22 games filled. From there, a championship tournament could certainly be created. Even the “minuses” do not seem so bad.

Although I argued a few months ago, that the LVC was just fine the way it was and did not need to accept the MVC invitation, I do believe the “return to sender” invitation makes sense. I am quite certain the RSVP from the MVC will include acceptance. The nightmare will be for the AD’s to figure out the scheduling for all the other sports. And for a Sports Director at RCN to choose which League games to schedule for our viewers!!

 

The SportsTalk Shop – December 7th

This is one of the best (and busiest times) of the year.  Aside from the Christmas and holiday shopping (I wait until December 20) and everything else going in December, it’s incredibly exciting to follow the teams in our coverage area of the HS State Football Playoffs (when we can root—at least quietly—for teams).  It’s also hectic for everyone involved as the winter sports season is gaining momentum and league play gets underway.  I think it’s tremendous that the winter sports coaches are not only patient in having to put their season’s plans on hold while the football teams continue to play, but they genuinely look to cheer on their players on the football field—even if it does put certain teams well behind the eight-ball.

Both Parkland and Pen Arygl were a bit “un-herald” by some media personalities during this season.  Our “SportsTalk” preseason poll had those teams #2 and #1 respectively in their respective classes, but both schools received some grief—Parkland started the year 0-2 and Pen Argyl unexplainably was overlooked by some in both pre-season and post-season expectations.  Both the Trojans and the Knights lose some special kids, but return a ton of talent and look to be among the top teams once again in 2013.  And Central Catholic—once again—was the last team standing from the Lehigh Valley in 2012.  John Cupples and his tremendous coaching staff really deserve credit when not much was expected from them by outsides…but certainly not by the list of talented players headed up by Colin McDermott, who will go down as one of the premiere running backs in the area.

One other great note about the fall sports season—a special shoutout to the Parkland volleyball team for getting to the state championship round for the second consecutive year.  It was very enjoyable to stop by their practices this fall and interview them for “SportsTalk” and, after winning their firstever title a year ago, they have now established themselves as one of the premiere programs in Pennsylvania.

Now, with the winter sports season underway, it’s time to turn the page and look ahead to playing/wrestling/swimming indoors.  What were your top moments from this past football season and which other teams deserve credit for their work?  And don’t forget to share your picks for the top players and coaches during the fall sports season.  Email them to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com or leave a comment on this post and we’ll read and respond to them on our next show.