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Opening night is still a little over four months away but I want to try and look in my crystal ball to see what to expect from the Indians after such a memorable 2021 campaign.

A lot has changed: a 30% turnover in the schedule and major graduation losses to name just a couple. Will Juniata be able to duplicate last season’s storybook campaign? Can they repeat as Liberty Division champs? Can they qualify for District Playoffs? Can they add a third consecutive District title to their resume? Can they win a regional title and advance to the state playoffs? A lot of questions and question marks. So let’s begin, keeping in mind that what follows is strictly my own personal opinion…

Let’s’ begin with the schedule. Three teams rotate off the schedule and three new teams take their place. Last year’s schedule was brutal. This year’s is worse. Rotating off are Steelton-Highsphire, Middletown and Midd-West. They are being replaced by Clearfield, Selinsgrove and Big Springs. Let’s take a look at the three newcomers.

Clearfield. I have great respect for this team and their coach. Clearfield is very consistent program…they are always good. Under the tutelage of Tim Janocko, the Bison have had 23 consecutive non losing seasons and Janocko has a winning percentage north of 70%. And one other pertinent stat…he has 299 career wins and he will go all out to get number 300 against the Indians. No matter how you look at it, this will be a tough opener.

Selinsgrove. It’s nice to see the Seals back on the schedule after a lengthy absence. The two teams have met nearly three dozen times and the Seals have consistently had our number. The last couple years have been down years for Selinsgrove but a lot of that can be attributed to a really tough schedule. A lot is going to depend on their graduation losses but it’s still going to be a question as to whether they are going to be good or really good. Any Big Red Fans making the trip out 35 will find an absolutely beautiful turf stadium.

Boiling Springs. I’m not sure what to make of the Bubblers. The last few years they have been really good, advancing well into the state playoffs. Traditionally Boiling Springs has been a very average football team. I have to think graduation hit them hard and if it did, do they have the talent to replace the graduation class? History says no but I just don’t know. For now, this is a game that we should be competitive in and could win.

That leaves one team on the schedule that is not a Conference opponent and that team is the West Perry Mustangs. They were pretty good last season, good enough to beat us. And I am hearing that they were not hard hit by graduations, so they should be a very tough opponent for us this coming season.

Now, let move on to the Liberty Conference. The Liberty Conference is the remnants of the Tri-Valley League plus James Buchanan, and it’s very risky business trying to forecast what is going to happen with this group of teams, but let’s give it a shot…

I believe three teams have a legitimate shot at winning the Conference crown: Juniata, Upper Dauphin and Newport. Upper Dauphin played lights out last season but was hit hard by graduation. They play an intricate offense that makes the defense pay every time they miss an assignment. Newport had a year to forget last season as they were devastated by injuries and Covid. They had to play a lot of underclassmen last season and that should pay dividends this upcoming season. I expect them to be better than most people think, as long as they can keep everyone healthy.

The remainder of the conference I rank in the following order: Line Mountain, Susquenita, Halifax and James Buchanan. Of those four Line Mountain could jump up and surprise some people. They always have good coaching and we must play them over there. Over the years I have seen a lot of very strange things happen at Line Mountain and none of them have been good for Juniata. Keep your fingers crossed.

District Playoffs are again on the table for Juniata. They will be one of three teams competing for two playoff slots. It originally looked like it would be just Juniata and Greater Johnstown as Bellefonte was reclassified AAA. But Bellefonte elected to “play up” and will compete in AAAA. Bellefonte will be better this year. After winning one game in the last three seasons, Greater Johnstown made a coaching change in the off season. They have hired Antuwan Reed. He played his high school ball at Johnstown. He went on to play college ball at Pittsburgh. He went undrafted by the NFL but was signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns. He suffered an injury in preseason and never saw the field in the NFL.

Should Juniata capture another District Title they will move on to Regionals where they will face the District 9 champion which will be either Dubois or Bradford. It will almost assuredly be Dubois as they have been improving every year. A victory in this game would place Juniata in the state tournament against one of four teams. We would face the winner of another regional contest that would feature the District 8 champ vs. the District 10 champ. In D8 it will be the winner of Carrick vs. University Prep and in D10 it will be the winner of Corey vs. Meadville. (Interesting note…because of the new classification numbers, the number of AAAA team in D10 went from 7 to 2). That is how it is laid out. It is a perilous journey fraught with land mines; step on one and the season is over!

I will take closer look at 2022 team about a month prior to season’s start. Generally I think Juniata will be a good overall team. Probably not quite up to last season’s squad, but good enough to have a successful campaign. The defense will carry the team as it did last year. The offense will not be flashy; it will be a grind it out offense and then turn it over to the D.

I close with my over-under proposition. Over-under is a betting proposition used in Vegas. They assign an over-under number on wins in the regular season. I was right on last season with my number 7 ½. We finished with eight regular season wins. I kicked this number around a lot already and have decided to set it at 6 ½. This could change prior to the start of the season.

As always, comments are welcome, desired and appreciated.


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