Answers sought for prep football
The stage is set for a season of transition for central Ohio high school football.
Realignment inside the OCC and MSL has become a common occurrence over the past two decades, but the reactivation of an old league will add a new wrinkle to title races this fall.
Throw in playoff expansion, and the fact that last year's teams lost more proven talent than usual to graduation, and the 2013 season has a cloud of unpredictability looming over it.
Here are five questions to consider entering the season:
5.) What effect will the addition of the Licking County League have on area football programs?
The potential is there for the LCL to be a strong league, particularly at the top.
The LCL takes some of the best from the MSL in Granville, Newark Catholic, Licking Heights and Licking Valley, adds a perennial MBC juggernaut in Johnstown and throws in Watkins Memorial, which should be better suited for this league after years of struggles in the OCC.
The only potential downside is parity: There could be a lot of teams that go 7-3 -- also known as the playoff bubble.
Canal Winchester has put together several playoff seasons while competing in the MSL, but the Indians likely will find life much tougher in the OCC-Cardinal Division.
4.) What will be the impact of the OHSAA's expansion to seven playoff divisions?
The obvious answer is that more area teams likely will make the playoffs.
While a cynic might see a bigger postseason field as subtracting from the specialness of being a playoff team, there should be much to like for everyone else.
With more playoff teams, more games late in the regular season will have meaning. That means more gate receipts for schools and more experience for players with college hopes.
Since Ohio added a sixth division in 1994 and an extra round to the playoffs in 1999, the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
We should expect nothing less than the same this time.
3. Who will emerge as top players?
In 2011, 15 of the 60 players who were named either ThisWeek Super 25 or honorable mention were juniors.
Among the 57 players ThisWeek recognized in 2012, only four are eligible to return this season.
The most proven returning offensive player is Westerville Central senior quarterback Jared Drake, who made the Super 25 last season.
The top recruits from the 2014 class thus far are Lancaster's Kyle Trout (OL, verbally committed to Ohio State), Hartley's Alonzo Saxton (RB/DB, Duke), Westerville South's Darryl Long (TE/DL, Kentucky), Newark Catholic's Chayce Crouch (QB, Illinois), Upper Arlington's Chris Frey (LB, Michigan State) and Hilliard Davidson's Phillipie Motley (WR/DB, Pittsburgh).
2. Who will be central Ohio's top teams?
After putting things together late last season to earn a regional runner-up finish, Davidson returns a nucleus of talent and is -- as usual -- a safe place to start.
The Wildcats and Pickerington Central, which started several juniors a year ago, should be among the best of the 20 central Ohio teams in the new Division I.
A team that could emerge after coming short of the playoffs last year is Westerville Central, which will be led by Drake and offensive lineman Nick Richardson.
Dublin Scioto, Olentangy and Olentangy Orange, which previously competed in Division I, now will battle in the new Division II with New Albany and Canal Winchester.
Expect some of the area's other top programs from recent years such as Marion-Franklin, Brookhaven, Beechcroft, DeSales and Eastmoor in Division III, Watterson, Licking Valley and Johnstown in Division IV, Hartley in Division V and Ready and Newark Catholic in Division VI to remain strong.
1. What area teams might contend for state titles?
Playoff expansion should have a positive effect on each of the teams in the CCL.
Hartley has enough returning talent that it should be considered one of the favorites to win the Division V title.
Ready, which returns almost every key player after making the Division IV playoffs, is making a two-division drop and could be a sleeper in Division VI.
DeSales and Watterson should find life enjoyable in Divisions III and IV, respectively, once the postseason arrives.
And in the new Division I?
It wouldn't be a big surprise to see either Davidson or Pickerington Central playing for a title Dec. 7.
Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.