Predictions of top high school football games are below. But first this ...
Pennsylvania will have a new opponent for next year's Big 33 all-star football game, and the director of the Big 33 said a major reason for the change was an upgrade in talent in the state of Maryland.
The Big 33 is a high school game played in Hershey every summer for top graduated senior players. Since 1993, the Pennsylvania All-Stars have played the Ohio All-Stars. But the Big 33 announced Wednesday that it was ending its series with Ohio and will play Maryland for the next five years.
Pennsylvania's contract with Ohio ended after this past summer's game. Dave Trimbur, executive director of the Big 33, said Ohio expressed interest in continuing the series, but the Big 33 also talked with a few other states. The Big 33 thought Maryland would be a better fit for the game, which has been played every year since 1958. Pennsylvania played Maryland in the Big 33 game from 1985-92.
"Along with the [Pennsylvania Football Coaches] Association, we thought this is where we should go with the game," Trimbur said. "We did what we thought would help continue the game. Talking to Maryland, we just saw their stock rising in terms of talent. Plus, we've played them before, and the proximity to Hershey was part of the determining factor, too. But to be honest, there is some pretty good talent coming out of Maryland now, compared to years ago."
Pennsylvania will start playing Maryland next summer.
"We just saw the upside of shaking the game up a little bit and getting a little better proximity with Maryland," Trimbur said.
Here are picks for the top games this weekend:
Mt. Lebanon at Upper St. Clair - Mt. Lebanon's playmakers (Tyler Roth and Troy Apke) might be the difference in this game. Then again, I really like Upper St. Clair's defense. Winner: Mt. Lebanon
West Mifflin at Thomas Jefferson - With the exception of Thomas Jefferson's close game against Elizabeth Forward, I don't think either of these teams has been really tested yet because the Big Nine Conference isn't very strong this season. Thomas Jefferson has a vaunted passing game. West Mifflin has the No. 2 rusher in the WPIAL (Jimmy Wheeler). I think a key will be whether Thomas Jeffeson can run the ball with any success. Winner: Thomas Jefferson.
Mars at Hampton - Hampton proved something to me by beating Franklin Regional last week. I'm still trying to figure out how Mars didn't score a point against Knoch a few weeks ago. I really think this one is a tossup. Winner: Mars.
New Castle at Hopewell - The winner gets a playoff spot. I like the way New Castle has been playing lately, winning three of four. Winner: New Castle.
Beaver at Aliquippa - I know both teams are undefeated, but I have trouble believing Beaver is on par with Aliquippa. The Quips will get tested at some point, but I'll say they are a two-touchodwn favorite in this game. Winner: Aliquippa.
Greensburg Central Catholic at Jeannette - This is the Root Sports Thursday game of the week. You can watch Jeannette roll. Winner: Jeannette.
Shady Side Academy at Kittanning - I have no firm reason for this pick. Just a feeling. Winner: Kittanning.
Sto-Rox at Rochester - The Class A playoff bracket will be pretty easy to seed if Rochester wins. But if Sto-Rox wins, the bracket could be extremely difficult to seed because what do you do with Rochester, Sto-Rox and Neshannock? But don't worry, WPIAL. Winner: Rochester.
Avonworth at Northgate - Northgate is leaking oil, losing three of four. But maybe the Flames got a tuneup this week. Winner: Northgate.
CITY LEAGUE SEMIFINALS
Brashear vs. University Prep - This game is tonight. University Prep will rebound after last week's loss to Perry. Winner: University Prep.
Perry vs. Allderdice - Perry will play University Prep for the second time in three weeks. But next week, the City League title will be on the line. Winner: Perry.