By Corey J. Corbin
Herald Sports Correspondent
LATROBE — No matter how much the Presidents’ Athletic Conference has changed over the years, some things are expected to remain the same — at least for the 2013 football season.
The preseason conference standings look surprisingly similar to the final standings at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season with Washington and Jefferson, Waynesburg and Thomas More battling it out for the league’s lone automatic bid into the national tournament after voting among the conference’s head coaches, sports information directors and media members during the PAC Football Media Day Wednesday afternoon at Saint Vincent College’s Sis and Herman Dupre Science Pavilion in Latrobe.
Finishing with 16 first place votes and 271 overall points, 2012 regular season champion and automatic qualifier W&J was selected to claim the crown again this season.
Thomas More, who finished with a 6-2 PAC record a season ago and 7-3 overall, leapfrogged 2012 co-champion Waynesburg into second place with 10 first place votes and 248 points overall, while the Yellow Jackets finished with 6 first place votes and 233 points.
From there, it was Grove City College (159) picked to finish fourth and was followed by Bethany (138) and Geneva (138) in a tie for fifth with Westminster (107), Thiel (106) and Saint Vincent (40) slated for seventh through ninth place.
“The conference is becoming more competitive every year,” Grove City coach Chris Smith said. “The three teams at the top could all have very good years, but as evidenced by last season, they can be beaten by anyone. There was a time when the conference champion was always undefeated. This year and hopefully in the future, we may have a conference champion with one or two losses, which makes for an exciting conference championship picture.”
“I think the conference is outstanding,” Thiel coach Kurt Reiser echoed. “I have a lot of respect for the coaches in this conference, because it is a grind and there are no easy games. You have to prepare for each week as it’s another season and focus on the task at hand. You can’t overlook anybody. I think when we add Carnegie Mellon and Case Western it’ll be even more of a challenge.”
With 22 seniors, the Tomcats (3-5, 3-7 in 2012) could make similar jump to the one they made a season ago after failing to win a game over the 2010 and 2011 campaigns with a defense intent on staying near the top of the conference leaderboards and an offense that hopes to be much more balanced.
“I think we will (make a jump),” Reiser said. “Those 22 seniors are going to give us great leadership. If you ask any coaches in here, they’d recognize that lining up with freshmen and sophomores on a weekly basis in this conference will get you run over. That’s what happened to us. Having 22 seniors is one of the proudest things for me, because it’s a credit to the kids that they stayed committed to the program and stayed committed to us as a coaching staff. I think every single one of them is excited for this season. They’ll come in and set an example for the younger guys.
“I think we’re on our way. We made steps last year. We made strides both offensively and defensively, but especially on defense. We’re excited about the opportunities that lie ahead of us.”
Meanwhile in New Wilmington, the Titans (2-6, 3-6) are attempting to find ways to ‘finish’ games after losing four games by no more than 6 points.
“Simply, we have to finish games,” Westminster coach Jeff Hand said. “Early in the year, we didn’t finish the games that we needed to finish. One of the things I want to work on with the team is what I call ‘The Slight Edge.’ You need that slight edge to make a difference. That slight edge is something that every single one of us in this room can do to make ourselves better. The reality of the situation is those little things that we do every single day consistently over time that compound to make us better … those things that are so easy for us to do but are also so easy for us not to do. We always have to have that slight edge.”
At Grove City College, Smith and Company are looking to close the gap on the PAC’s ‘Top 3’ in 2013 with another solid effort from its top ranked defense and a balanced attack from its offense that features a four-year starter in Brian Pell.
“It’s really assuring to have people back (defensively),” Smith said. “With offenses today, leading the conference in defense means to just slow them down a little bit and not necessarily stonewall them like we used to do. We have a good group coming back with a good defensive coordinator and a good staff.
“Like every coach will tell you, your offense will only be as good as the leadership you get from the quarterback position. It’s been a pleasure to work with (Pell) these past four years. He’s not undervalued as a quarterback, because people in conference are aware of him, but he’s deceivingly effective. He does a great job of flipping fields for us.”