The Class AA Interstate Conference has not been much of a struggle the last couple years. Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic have been so dominant, the remaining teams are left scrambling for the final playoff spot.
That may change this year. Granted, Jeannette is the top-ranked team in the WPIAL and PIAA by every publication I've seen, but the gap between second place and last place (OK, leave Brownsville out of this) is much closer.
"It's definitely a lot more competitive," McGuffey coach Derek Bochna said. "The East Allegheny game with Greensburg Central was much closer and you know Wash High is going to be good. Southmoreland is better again. It's wide open. Even with Yough losing all those guys, that's a good football team."
McGuffey (1-0, 1-0) beat Yough, 14-13, last Friday and can improve to 2-0 with a win at Southmoreland.
With only three teams per conference qualifying for the playoffs in Class AA, each game is critical.
And the new-found competitive balance makes for some interesting Interstate match-ups.
"It's very encouraging," Bochna said. "Every year, you want to be right up there with the top three teams. The goals are set and you work for those goals. For us, the playoffs are where we want to be at the end of the year."
So does Washington (1-0, 1-0), which faces a difficult home game tonight against No. 1 Jeannette (1-0, 1-0).
Prexies coach Bill Britton, however, isn't quite as sure that the Interstate is wide open.
"You look at the East Allegheny-Greensburg game and what is East Allegheny? There's 18 kids from Duquesne on that football team and that makes a tremendous difference at this level," Britton said. "Do that to us and you'll see quite a change too. It's really too early to determine how it's going to play out."
The Interstate has arguably been the state's premier small-school conference in recent years. Yet, despite Jeannette and GCC playing for the 2006 WPIAL championship, teams don't seem to get there due.
"Coming back from the Waynesburg game, we were listening to the radio and someone was talking about the teams from Beaver County," Britton said. "Then he added, 'Yeah, I guess that Interstate Conference is tough.' That's a little bit of an understatement. With all due respect, I don't see a much tougher conference, even if you go up to triple-A."