The Suburban League is coming off a fantastic 2017 in which it sent seven of the 15 teams to the playoffs and produced Mr. Football in Joey Baughman of Wadsworth. The American Conference in particular was dynamite, as Barberton, Highland and Tallmadge won at least one playoff game.
That was understandably due in large part to a talented, deep and balanced senior class, highlighted by a once-in-a-generation Barberton roster featuring Zane Ries, Garrett Turnbaugh and Keye Thompson. Most schools were gutted by graduation, particularly Aurora, Highland and Barberton, and predicting an order of finish for the conferences this season proved to be a near-impossible chore.
The National Conference is clearer because Wadsworth has a dynamite defense and enough offensive horses to repeat as champion. Hudson and Stow might be the best 0-3 teams in Ohio because the Explorers have lost by a combined 24 points to 3-0 teams Austintown Fitch, Strongsville and Springfield and Stow was competitive against much-improved Mentor Lake Catholic, Hilliard Bradley and Solon.
North Royalton and Nordonia make up the second tier and could sneak into contention because of standout quarterbacks Joey Marousek and Robby Levak, and the world will find out how good the Knights really are tonight at Wadsworth. Twinsburg, Brecksville and certainly Cuyahoga Falls are on the outside looking in.
The American Conference? That’s a mess for many reasons.
No. 1, there are so many new faces it’s hard to gauge talent levels. Only Highland all-purpose star Jake Rogers, Barberton linebacker Gavin Krska and Revere running back Matt Buser return as first-team all-conference picks.
No. 2, Barberton and Revere have played cupcake non-league schedules, making their 3-0 records highly suspect. The Magics in particular have a huge red flag with an overtime win over Norton, the reigning seventh-place team in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division that infamously lost to Cloverleaf last season.
No. 3, Highland went 2-1 against larger neighbors Brunswick, Medina and North Royalton, and Aurora, also 2-1, continued its longstanding tradition of a solid non-league schedule with Solon, CVCA and Twinsburg. Tallmadge (2-1) played close against its usual PTC-inspired trio of Ravenna, Akron Ellet and Coventry, which is fair considering all three opponents have been respectable in recent years.
Who knows at this point, but it appears Copley and Kent Roosevelt are the only teams without title hopes. The young Indians couldn’t even get a running clock against awful Firestone, and Roosevelt continues to struggle with consistency after (smartly) leaving the big-fish, small-pond PTC Metro Division.
The writing is on the wall that this is a down year for the American, and that’s perfectly acceptable coming off last season’s brilliance. While playoff success appears unlikely, the SL has subconsciously done a good job of scheduling winnable non-league games that help the entire league compile loads of computer points. Three playoff qualifiers is almost a lock, as the schools carry a collective 15-6 record.
All this doesn’t mean the season won’t be thrilling. In fact, it could be wildly entertaining.
- Aurora and Barberton can’t be counted out regardless of their inexperience. Both are well-coached, play physical defense and run the ball well. The Magics have won 18 consecutive regular-season games and already have a one-two punch of intriguing, well-built sophomores Kyree Young and Keyondra Turner. The latter returned from St. Vincent-St. Mary.
- Undersized Highland certainly has plenty of concerns with a rebuilt offensive line and defense that struggled last week against North Royalton. The Hornets also haven’t won a season-defining SL league game since 2013 — save for a 2015 upset of Aurora — but don’t underestimate the best-player-on-the-field effect. Rogers is that good and single-handedly led his team to its two wins.
- Tallmadge is having a feel-good resurgence under coach Alan Vanderink and recording gaudy pound-the-rock rushing numbers with second-team all-conference picks Richie Eyre (61 carries, 422 yards, TD) at running back and Sam Seeker (45, 459, 6) at quarterback. A litmus test is tonight at Aurora, which feels like a 10-point favorite.
- The sleeper is without question Revere, a once-proud program that posted a 22-58 record from 2010-17. The Minutemen have experience, a scatback in Buser and a vastly improved quarterback in Nate Klonowski, though let’s make it clear that their No. 6 rating in The Associated Press Division III state poll is nothing more than voter laziness.
To be totally fair, however, Revere has passed the eye test — despite a sketchy schedule of clearly-not-as-good Buckeye, Eastlake North and Firestone — because its offense under first-year coach James Boyeas is athletic and versatile with many run-pass option concepts designed to get favorable one-on-one matchups. The home showdown with Barberton is clearly the game of the week.
This publication went with a last-second, throw-names-against-a-wall, knowing-it’s-probably-going-to-be-wrong preseason order of Aurora, Tallmadge, Highland, Barberton, Revere, Copley and Kent Roosevelt. Fantastic50.net, which has proven to be more accurate than the AP poll will ever pretend to be, currently has Aurora, Barberton and Highland in the top tier, Revere and Tallmadge in the second tier and Roosevelt and Copley bringing up the rear.
The former order looks worse by the week and the latter is generic and likely accurate, but who knows? Roosevelt could knock off Highland, Tallmadge could beat Aurora and Revere could pick up its biggest win in decades against Barberton, all on the same night.
That would certainly throw yet another monkey wrench into things, huh?