We've reached the midway point of the 2015 YAIAA football season, and the top-heavy Division I race hasn't become any less clouded.
One thing, however, is clear: Unlike the other two divisions, Division I has four legitimate contenders — Dallastown, Northeastern, South Western and Red Lion — and one of them will almost certainly come away with the title.
With all due respect to Spring Grove (2-3, 1-1), the Rockets could be in this conversation, as a win this week would put them in the top half of the standings. But even assuming Spring Grove pulls out a win against William Penn, the Rockets' three victories so far have come against teams — Mechanicsburg, New Oxford and William Penn — with a combined 1-14 record entering Week 6. So for now, we'll leave Spring Grove on the outside.
And after that, there's a drop off — a significant one. An edge of the Grand Canyon-like drop off.
Central York is a good program, but the Panthers are in a down year. New Oxford is progressing but still trying to gain its footing in the top division. And the Bearcats, who were a perennial powerhouse in the late 2000s, have been outscored by 196 points in five games.
So that leaves us with four. Will it be the defending champion Wildcats (5-0, 2-0) and their stout defense? Will the upstart Bobcats (5-0, 2-0) win their first division title? Maybe South Western (4-1, 2-0) will overcome its injuries and prove the preseason hype was more than just talk. Or maybe the Lions (3-2, 1-1), who top the league leaderboards in total offense and total defense, will come away with their first division crown since 2003.
This race has become even more exciting because the four teams mirror each other in a lot of ways. All four programs boast top 10-ranked defenses and positive turnover ratios, led by Dallastown's plus-7. Three of the four — Red Lion, Northeastern and South Western — are among the league's top five in rushing.
And with so little separation between them in the standings, every game against each other means that much more.
Red Lion took a loss in its first showdown, a 14-13 defeat in a downpour at Northeastern. The term "must-win" is overused in sports, but the Lions could really use a win this week against South Western.
These teams can survive one division loss, but two? That could be trouble. And three? Forget about it.
The Wildcats' and Bobcats' slates are still clean, but they face off at Dallastown's homecoming this week. Coming out of back-to-back games against two of their three top foes without a loss would be huge for Northeastern.
This week could give football fans an indication of who deserves to be called the best team in Division I. After beating up on each other all October, which team will be left standing in November?