No mystery who the team to beat here is. West York has won at least a share of five straight division titles, and the Bulldogs will likely be favorites to retain that crown this year.
Behind them? There appears to be a void that any of the division's five teams could potentially slot into. ... Dover rolled to a 9-1 regular season record last season, but was decimated by graduation. ... Northeastern lost a large chunk from the group that finished 6-5 and earned the first District 3 playoff berth in program history, but the cupboard here isn't completely bare. This team will start 10 seniors on each side of the ball. ... Kennard-Dale should be stronger and brings back one of the league's top players in safety/running back Dan Hare. ... Susquehannock looks ready to potentially take a step forward after last season's winless campaign. ... And New Oxford will feature a first-year coach in Jason Thurston and one returning starter (fullback Nick Slusser).
As mentioned above, the Bulldogs seem like the obvious choice. West York has all the ingredients -- a seasoned group of 24 seniors, experience along the offensive line, playmakers on offense. All indications are that Brandon Kinneman should be able to step right in the starting quarterback spot and perform. Brock Snellbaker should be a workhorse at both running back and linebacker. Zack Smith provides big-play potential at wide receiver.
But as we saw last season, not even this division is immune to upsets. Is there a team here than could challenge West York? If I had to pick one, I'd go with Northeastern. Some talent back from last year's team, and the Bobcats players have now gotten a taste of what winning feels like. If nothing else, this team will be physical -- and not fun to play against.
I'll throw out one other dark horse: Kennard-Dale. The Rams took their lumps last season, but they should be stronger up front and have a legitimate star player in Hare. Speaking of whom...
I'll could certainly stick with the Kennard-Dale senior here. Not that Hare went unnoticed last season -- he was named a third team all-state pick by the Pennsylvania Football News. But he got banged up later in the year, and also spent much of the season playing out of position on offense; injuries to starting quarterback Zach Wilkinson forced Hare to take over the signal caller spot. Hare figures to work more as a running back this season. If he stays healthy, he could far surpass the 507 rushing yards he posted last season.
But my main pick here: Northeastern running back Daniel Adams.
The Bobcats senior was seldom-used last season by the division tri-champs. His 22 carries and 200 yards both ranked third on the team. But Adams did manage to flash some potential -- in a Week 7 win over Susquehannock, he carried nine times for 148 yards. Even more encouraging: Adams has had a strong preseason, breaking off a pair of long scoring runs in scrimmages against Littlestown and Steel-High. Add in the fact that Northeastern coach Brendan Brown expects his team to employ more of a "ground-and-pound" style, and you have the recipe for a potentially big season.
Some other candidates: Plenty of Bulldogs you could throw here, including Kinneman, speedy sophomore Ross Campbell and a pair of juniors on defense, end Kyle Narber and back Justin Warfel. ... Zach Moyer is a name to watch for Northeastern, after he earned all-state honors at tight end from EasternPAFootball.com -- although he is dealing with a foot injury that has him questionable for Week 1 against York Catholic. Alec Miller takes over the Bobcats quarterback role, so keep an eye on him, too. ... Bryan Kerr took over the quarterback duties for Susquehannock as a sophomore and showed some encouraging flashes. He should be even better this year.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Is it possible for a lineman to win player of the year honors? If so, then West York's Brody Kern might have a shot here. The Delaware commit is a four-year starter at center, and should take on an even bigger role anchoring the Bulldogs defensive line this year.
That said, I'll go with the safer pick here. That would Kern's teammate, Brock Snellbaker. He led the Bulldogs in rushing yards last season (814, 7 TDs) and also racked up 60 tackles. 2.5 sacks and an interception from his linebacker position. Bulldogs coach Ron Miller raved about Snellbaker this summer, saying he feels the powerful senior has improved his footspeed. That, combined with a seasoned line blocking in front of him, should help Snellbaker put up some big numbers.
Week 8: West York at Northeastern, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.
This caps off a huge two-game stretch for the Bobcats, with a big rivalry matchup at Dover set for the previous week. But don't be surprised if this game ends up deciding the division title. West York beat Northeastern twice last season -- including in the opening round of the District 3-AAA playoffs -- but that second matchup was particularly close. This could be a good one.
STAT PACK -- TOP RETURNERS
QuarterbacksBryan Kerr, Jr., Susquehannock -- 51-for-100 (.510), 624 yards, 5 TDs, 7 INTs
Dan Hare, Sr., Kennard-Dale -- 14-of-49 (.286), 202 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs
Zach Wilkinson, Sr., Kennard-Dale -- 6-of-12 (.500), 78 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Brock Snellbaker, Sr., West York -- 173 carries, 814 yards, 4.71 avg., 7 TDs
Dan Hare, Sr., Kennard-Dale -- 143 carries, 577 yards, 4.04 avg., 9 TDs
Nick Slusser, Sr., New Oxford -- 88 carries, 405 yards, 4.6 avg., 2 TDs
Oakley Dieter, Sr., Kennard-Dale -- 54 carries, 300 yards, 5.56 avg., 2 TDs
Daniel Adams, Sr., Northeatsern -- 23 carries, 200 yards, 8.7 avg., 1 TD
Logan Ambrose, Jr., Dover -- 21 carries, 114 yards, 5.43 avg., O TDs
Wide receiversZack Smith, Sr., West York -- 25 catches, 547 yards, 21.88 avg., 9 TDs
Zach Moyer, Sr., Northeastern -- 24 catches, 466 yards, 19.22 avg., 5 TDs
Sammy Miller, Jr., Susquehannock -- 23 catches, 386 yards, 16.78 avg., 2 TDs
Braheem Riley, Sr., Northeastern -- 6 catches, 147 yards, 16.3 avg., 2 TDs
LAST 10 DIVISION CHAMPIONS
2011: West York, Dover, Northeastern
2010: West York
2009: West York, Littlestown
2008: West York
2007: West York
2003: Delone Catholic (two-division format)
2002: Delone Catholic (two-division format)