By Samuel Houseworth
(8-18-21) The 2021 OHSAA Football season will be a return to normal after the 2020 season saw a modified playoff and state champions crowned before Thanksgiving. This also marks the new 64-team playoff format, meaning that the bar to make the postseason has been signficantly lowered, especially in D-I. But with the OHSAA regular season beginning this weekend, it’s time to take a shot in the dark at what to expect this coming fall!
Despite a 2-2 start last season, St. X gathered themselves nicely en route to their 4th state football championship, defeating Pick Central in the most lopsided D-I championship in Ohio history. This year, the Bombers are the preseason #1 team in the Projection Index with Mentor, Springfield, St. Edward, and Pick Central rounding out the top 5. Though the Bombers get what is arguably their toughest game of the year in Week 1 when they host Region 4 runner-up Lakota West on Friday.
Regardless of division, Hoban the top team in the state going into the 2021 season. Having won 5 state championships in the last 6 years, the Knights are strong favorites to bring home the hardware again in 2021. D-II isn’t without some strong competition statewide. We will get a good look at how strong the division is with Week 1 games like Pick Central at Massillon, St. Edward at Toledo Central Catholic, and Colerain at La Salle.
Chardon won their first state football championship since 1994 and will start the year as the top team in D-III according to the Projection Index. Their path come playoff time won’t be easy as Region 9 is home to Streetsboro, New Philadelphia, SVSM, and Canfield. But keep an eye out for Columbus St Francis DeSales, who is #3 in the division and opens the season at Olentangy Berlin this Friday.
Unlike the three big division, D-IV’s state champion is not the preseason #1. That honor goes to the Braves of Indian Hill, who went 7-1 last season, their only loss coming to Valley View by 1 point. By far the most balanced division in the state, Van Wert, Clinton-Massie, Mentor Lake Catholic, and Wyoming round out the top 5. Speaking of, keep an eye on Lake Catholic as they head to Dover on Thursday to open up their season.
Kirtland is looking to make it four straight state football championships in 2021 and will begin the season as the clear #1 in D-V. There is plenty of competition though in the form of Ironton, Ridgewood, South Range, Liberty-Benton, and Wheelersburg. In fact, the opening week contest between Wheelersburg and Ironton should give us an idea of who is the biggest threat to the Hornets’ drive for five straight state titles.
Defending state champion Coldwater will be the preseason #1 in what is expected to be a down year by MAC standards. Only 2 teams sit in the top 15 in D-VI, the other being Fort Recovery. Look for Mechanicsburg, New Middletown Springfield, Fairview, and Norwayne to be in the state championship conversation throughout the season. In fact, New Middletown Springfield will be tested early as they host South Range on Friday.
The MAC holds 3 of the top 6 spots in D-VII with Marion Local leading the way. The trio of the Flyers, state champion New Bremen, and LCC are head and shoulders above the rest of the division. Another team to keep your eye on is Fort Loramie, who will face Minster on the road this Friday as a measuring stick to see how they stack up against the rest of the MAC.
Stateline Area Leagues
Midwest Athletic Conference
With the expanded playoffs coming in 2021, look for the MAC to be one of the beneficiaries. It is very likely for 8 of the conference’s 10 teams to make the postseason with St. John’s and Parkway left out in the cold. That said, both teams are easily in the top 64 in their respective divisions. It will just be a strength of schedule issue that would keep them out. The MAC is topped by two usual suspects in Coldwater and Marion Local with defending D-VII champion New Bremen and Fort Recovery nipping at their heels.
Western Buckeye League
After Van Wert, O-G, and possibly St. Marys, there isn’t much to talk about in the WBL. The first two teams will be in the state title talks throughout the season, while the Roughridgers could work their way up there. Kenton and Wapak are playoff bound teams, but it’s hard to picture either making a deep run into the postseason. Shawnee, Bath, and Elida could all make it to Week 11, but that’s probably the ceiling for all three teams. Thankfully for the other two Bulldogs, Celina and Defiance meet in Week 8 which could be a battle of two winless teams late in the season.
There is a strong divide between the top half and bottom half of the NWC this coming season. Columbus Grove is the heavy favorite and will be in state championship talks as the Bulldogs are as good as anybody in Region 22. Allen East, Crestview, and Spencerville could all get a postseason win or two with the new expanded playoffs. As for the rest of the conference, one of them may get in jump by beating up on the others at the bottom of the standings.