The MIAA fall 2 season is officially underway, so we wanted to take a bit of a big picture look at what's in store.
We've already done our preseason 40-team countdown, and since a lot of time has passed since then, it may be worth doing an update before the games start.
Until then, here are some of the biggest questions as we look across the landscape.
1. Will the Prep keep rolling?
St. John's Prep has won the last two Division 1 state titles, both times at Gillette Stadium over Catholic Conference rival Catholic Memorial. There's not going to be any statewide playoffs this year, but the Prep can stake a claim if the Eagles win the league that includes CM, Xaverian, BC High, and, now, St. John's of Shrewsbury. The Prep is talented, even with the loss of safety/wide receiver Joenel Aguero (IMG Academy), but a lot of those players are still on the younger side. We'll see how quickly they mature.
2. If not the Prep in the Catholic Conference, then who?
While the smart money is on a very experienced and talented CM group, the rest of the league is no pushover. Xaverian looks to bounce back from a subpar 2019 with a seasoned group that is led by a three-year starter at quarterback in Michael Berluti. Breaking news: BC High is enormous up front like the Eagles are every year, and this is a group that played CM tough on Thanksgiving in 2019. St. John's moves on to life without Jay Brunelle (Notre Dame) and Eamonn Dennis (Michigan), but should again be strong on both sides of the ball.
3. Speaking of programs on a roll, will anyone touch Springfield Central out west?
Probably not, and that isn't an indictment on the other Western Mass. teams, but a reflection on how good Central is right now. There aren't a lot of weaknesses there. William Watson is as good as it gets around here at the quarterback position. Marcus Crawford is a home-run hitter at running back. Joe Griffin is already a Boston College commit at receiver. The offensive line is terrific and returns three starters. Terry Lockett and Tyson Thornton are two of the best defensive players in the state. This is a wagon, folks.
4. Is there a "next-best team" in Western Mass.?
In 2019, Amherst, over the course of the season, separated itself as the second-best team in Western Mass. before a loss to Swampscott in the Div. 5 state title game. Minnechaug was another team that was around that spot. This year, it feels like a lot of the teams out west have a lot to replace, but there's no easy choice. The smaller schools have a good number of candidates, and Pittsfield is a team we kept hearing about in the offseason. While perennial winners like South Hadley and Wahconah are in that mix, we believe again that Amherst could be a team to keep close tabs on.
5. Can Rob DiLoreto make a good first impression at Everett?
Gone from Everett after two years is Theluxon Pierre, as DiLoreto takes over as head coach for the Crimson Tide. Although it hurts that quarterback Duke Doherty has transferred to Winthrop, there is still plenty of talent walking the hallways. The first game of the season will be an interesting test, as Revere has come a long way as a program and could have some staying power.
6. Is there a clear-cut favorite for best team in Central Mass.?
The more we look at it, the answer appears to be no. The competitive Mid-Wach A should really be a tossup. All the top contenders are good, but it's hard to say if there is any squad that stands out above the rest, as so many of these teams graduated key players. Whether it's Wachusett, Shrewsbury, Leominster, Shepherd Hill, or an Algonquin program that has made serious strides, someone will emerge, we just don't know who.
7. Who's the best team on the Cape?
Right now, we have to go with Barnstable. Coach Ross Jatkola has done an excellent job of developing linemen and giving the team a system that can work with the option. We would have liked Dennis-Yarmouth's chances, but losing receiver Geoffrey Jamiel (Deerfield Academy) and linebacker Pat O'Neill (Barnstable) to transfer is tough.
8. How will the Southeast Conference shake out?
This new league is comprised of Brockton, Bridgewater-Raynham, Dartmouth, Durfee, and New Bedford. It looks like it will be a natural fit, as many of these teams already play each other, and geographically it makes sense. On the field, Brockton, B-R, and New Bedford are the likely lead dogs, and it feels like this is the correct grouping for these particular programs.
9. Is the Hockomock League going to be its usual strong self?
Absolutely. Mansfield should be the favorite in the Kelley-Rex, and most likely one of the top teams in the commonwealth again. That said, there is no shortage of contenders. King Philip is as consistent a program as you can get, and Franklin and Attleboro are both right there. Stoughton returns some excellent talent on the Davenport side, while Milford is primed to make a move with new coach Dale Olson.
10. Is Central Catholic the class of the Merrimack Valley Conference?
It appears that way. We can't wait to see the encore performance of quarterback Ayden Pereira, who had a tremendous sophomore campaign in 2019. That said, there will be plenty more to the MVC than just Central, as teams like Andover, Tewksbury, North Andover, Billerica, and sure-to-be surprises look to emerge.