The Alpena football team was picked to finish in fifth place in the Big North preseason media poll by writers from five Northern Michigan newspapers that cover the Big North Conference.
Alpena, who was picked to finish sixth last year, earned 16 points based on a scale that awarded seven points for first place down to one point for seventh place. The Alpena News, Cadillac News, Traverse City Record-Eagle, Gaylord Herald-Times and Petoskey News-Review all participated in the voting.
With a young team, especially at the skill positions, Alpena struggled to a 1-8 finish last season and went without a conference win, the only Big North team to do so.
Petoskey, which went a perfect 6-0 in 2011 was tabbed as the preseason favorite this season and earned 37 points along with three-first place votes. Traverse City Central was picked second with 33 points and two-first place votes; Cadillac was third with 32 points; Traverse City West was fourth with 30 points and a first-place vote. Behind the Wildcats, Ogemaw Heights was picked sixth with 13 points and Gaylord was picked to finish seventh with nine points.
Though Petoskey graduated decorated running back Joe Robbins, the Northmen should have little trouble defending their Big North title, which they won for the first time outright. Petoskey is 34-8 in the last four years and has won the conference title three times.
Behind a veteran defensive front, the Northmen have a lot of experience which should help as their offense looks to replace what Robbins brought to the table. Quinn Ameel and Chase Ledingham will likely split time in the backfield for Petoskey.
Big North Conference
preseason football poll
First place votes in paraentheses
Traverse City Central (2)33
Traverse City West (1)30
West is looking to rebound after a 5-4 season and will return eight of 11 starters on defense. Donnie Cizek takes over under center for the Titans and running backs Matt Kirkey and Griffin bring experience to a backfield committee.
Cadillac improved with each game last season and will look to keep that momentum going this season. The Vikings will be led up front by two hulking senior offensive tackles in 6-7 290-pound Riley Norman and 6-6 265-pound Jack Ford. Jalen Brooks steps in for another year at quarterback and will look to his running backs to help balance out the offense. The Vikings finished in a three-way tie for second in the conference at 4-2 last season with West and Central.
With only 37 players on this year's team, Central may have some concern about its depth, but the Trojans return four offensive starters and five defensive starters. Speedy wide receiver T.J. Schwannecke will likely move to running back where the Trojans can take advantage of his quickness. T.J. Schepperley returns at quarterback for Central and all-conference linebacker Nate Pupel leads a strong, experienced defense.
In its second year in the league, Ogemaw returns six offensive starters and has good depth on that side of the ball, but could struggle with an inexperienced defense. Ogemaw went 2-4 in Big North play last season and 4-5 overall.
Gaylord has struggled as of late, but looks to be on the way to breaking out of the Big North cellar. Second-year coach Doug Berkshire has spent more than a year trying to get players to buy into his spread offense and it could pay dividends as players mature with more experience. Dan Miller will anchor the offensive and defensive lines and Tyler Frisch will step into the quarterback role after seeing time as a backup in 2011.
Alpena lost several key pieces on the offensive and defensive lines, but will still return some experience on the lines with Dustin Swider and Phil McConnell anchoring the lines. The Wildcats graduated defensive leader Tom Dihle and will face some questions on defense with his departure and a preseason injury to senior linebacker Zach Nash, who could miss the entire season.
Offensively, Alpena returns two junior quarterbacks in Tim Atkinson and Brady Marwede who both should benefit from seeing time under center last season. Senior Ashton Dever will be among the running backs who will help to balance the Wildcats' offense and Alpena returns several receivers who saw time in 2011.
Alpena opens the season on Friday against Escanaba at home.