The Alpena High School football team has been picked to finish sixth in the Big North Conference this season in a preseason media poll by six Northern Michigan media outlets that cover the conference's seven schools.
Alpena finished with 14 points, just ahead of last-place Gaylord which had six. Alpena was picked to finish fifth last season and sixth in 2011. Points were given on a scale that awarded seven points for first place down to one point for last place. The participating newspapers were The Alpena News, Cadillac News, Traverse City Record-Eagle, Gaylord Herald-Times, Petoskey News-Review and Northeast Michigan Preps.
Traverse City West, which finished second in the Big North last season with a 4-2 conference record, was picked to win the conference this season with 39 points. Cadillac was picked to finish second with 31 points. Ogemaw Heights and defending Big North champion Traverse City Central tied for third with 29 points. Petoskey was fifth with 20 points.
Bolstered by a hulking offensive line, West will be a tough team to beat in conference play this season. The Titans' offensive line averages around 275 pounds and returns three starters including Pittsburgh commit Connor Hayes. Left tackle Thiyo Lukusa has also been offered a scholarship by Michigan State.
Cadillac features perhaps the conference's best player in senior quarterback Jalen Brooks, who is a dual-threat under center in the Vikings' spread offense. Brooks led the Big North in scoring with 18 touchdowns last season.
Cadillac returns a veteran running back in senior Tanner Derror and an experienced group of receivers, but the biggest problem for the Vikings is the offensive line, where they will have to replace Riley Norman and Jack Ford. Cadillac is hoping to make up for a lack of size with a talented group of younger athletes and is shooting for a program-best fifth straight playoff appearance.
Ogemaw Heights was arguably the hottest team in the Big North late in 2012 season, reeling off six straight wins before a second-round playoff loss.
Bill Foster, Ogemaw's defensive coordinator last season, takes over for Andrew Prater and is focused on improving the Falcons' defense which surrendered 28 points a game last season.
Central will be looking to keep the momentum going from last season's success, which included a home playoff win and a perfect 6-0 run through the conference. That won't be easy though as the Trojans will have to replace two-year starter T.J. Schepperly. Schepperly was an offensive juggernaut for the Trojans last season, rushing for 1,331 yards and 17 touchdowns and passed for 957 yards and eight touchdowns.
Graduated running back T.J. Schwannecke is among the other players Central will need to replace, but the Trojans have a good crop of juniors on the squad this season and six of them played on the varsity team as sophomores.
The Wildcats scored a win over Gaylord last season for their only win of the season. With Mel Skillman taking over the Alpena program and implementing the spread offense, the Wildcats will look to improve on last year's 1-8 record.
Junior Tyler Pintar, who quarterbacked Alpena's JV team to a 7-1-1 record last season, will lead Alpena's offense and has an experienced group of receivers to get the ball to. Senior Tim Atkinson provides a big target for Pintar at 6-3, 220 lbs and Kaleb Smith, Josh Bell and Dylan Glennie are among the other receivers who could be on the receiving end of many passes throughout the year.
One of the main areas the Wildcats are looking to shore up is defense after they gave up 329 points last season; one of their highest totals in years. Giving up 41 points a game didn't do the Wildcats any favors and they struggled offensively, scoring under 10 points a game.
Gaylord has been at the bottom of the Big North as of late, going just 2-20 in conference play since 2009. But better days could be ahead for the Blue Devils as Will Cleaver returns as head coach. Cleaver advanced six of his eight teams in Gaylord's heyday to the playoffs, including a regional appearance in 2002.
Offensively, Gaylord will lean on the junior trio of quarterback Steven Fitzek, running back Collin Watters and running back Colton Neff.