The Southern Connecticut Conference has drastically changed its look over the past few seasons.
In an attempt to address a range of scheduling concerns from both its large and small school members, the league in 2016 realigned into a three divisions based on team size and recent performance. The SCC realigned again for 2017 when it added Constitution State Conference castoffs Harding and Bassick into the conference.
But the SCC wasn’t finished. Commissioner Al Carbone sought and secured an elaborate scheduling arrangement with the South-West Conference and Eastern Connecticut Conference, which begins this season and continues in 2018.
The result is what Carbone believes is a much more equitable schedule for, not just his league’s schools, but for the SWC and ECC as well. Teams were scheduled by their recent program strength and, perhaps more important, by state playoff classes.
Concessions had to be made, of course. Complete interdivisional schedules were dumped in favor of finding more favorable crossover matchups for the league’s members.
So, while we won’t see some matchups like Shelton vs. Xavier, Fairfield Prep and Xavier vs. Cheshire (for example), we do get Xavier vs. NFA and Newtown; West Haven vs. NFA; Shelton vs. Newtown; Fairfield Prep vs. New London; Cheshire vs. NFA … and so on.
While there aren’t official Tier championships to play for, the new scheduling will have an enormous factor on who qualifies for the state playoffs.
5 TEAMS TO WATCH
CHESHIRE — Seven starters return on both sides of the ball, including QB Jack Raba, WR/DB Michael Jeffrey and linebacker Nick Nelson, make the Rams the most experienced returning team among the Tier 1 schools. The town has been waiting for this senior class to come of age. It all gets put on the line early when Shelton comes to town Friday. A win over the Gaels officially would catapult the Rams into contender status and set them up for a potentially glorious season.
SHELTON — Sure, the Gaels graduated the motherlode of players from last year’s state semifinalist, but they don’t suffer rebuilding years here. Shelton has every intention of returning to the state playoffs for the fourth-straight season. The vast junior class — spearheaded by new QB Jake Roberts — is expected to perform to make it happen. The Cheshire game Week 1 is Shelton’s chance to prove it’s still boss in the SCC.
XAVIER — It’s a new era in Middletown as defensive coordinator Andy Guyon takes over for departed championship coach Sean Marinan, who was ousted by the administration. Guyon and the program have quite a legacy to maintain and are determined to do so. It shouldn’t be too hard this season. The Falcons boast one of the state’s best quarterbacks in Penn State recruit Will Levis and a number of other as-of-yet unknown talent anxious to make their mark and return to the state playoffs after a two-year absence.
HILLHOUSE — Last season’s Class M champions are retooling for another run at a title, although this time the Academics will be competing against four-time champion New Canaan in Class L. While Hillhouse returns much of its beefy line, there will be new faces in the offensive backfield — including transfers Naszier Torrence-Robinson, Neal Eley and QB Terrell Watts (who is in competition with last year’s starter Quintus Reid) — charged with moving the ball. The defense, anchored by big boys Prince Boyd, Jevon Brown, Jacarie Houston, should be one of the league’s best.
LAW — They’re big, they’re strong, they’re all back. And so, excitement is brewing in Devon as the Lawmen attempt to earn that elusive first football playoff berth. Seventeen starters return, including fiveIt all hinges on a new QB. That Week 1 game vs. defending SCC Tier III champion Sheehan is as big as they get.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
WILL LEVIS, XAVIER — When you’re a talented quarterback, fans and opponents take note. And the 6-foot-2, 222-pound Levis certainly earned that after throwing for 1,972 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. When you commit to a Big Ten school the summer before your senior year, you’ll find you have everybody’s strict attention. If Xavier’s revamped offensive line can protect him, it’ll be curtains for plenty of Xavier’s opponents.
TRAVIS JONES, Wilbur Cross — Easily one of the best — if not the best — two-way linemen in the CIAC right now. The 6-foot-5, 352-pound senior who is committed to play at UConn is massive, powerful and, best of all, quick. He clocks a 5.0 in the 40-yard dash. In short, he’s be sure to terrorize opponents and keep coordinators tossing and turning.
MICHAEL JEFFREY, Cheshire — You don’t see many freshmen starting in the SCC. But Jeffrey did for Cheshire. In the proceeding three seasons, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior has been a major contributor for the Rams at safety, wide receiver and kick returner. He has made six interceptions, caught 57 passes for 719 yards and six touchdowns and compiled 1,206 yards of total offense. Jeffrey figures to be a prime target for three-year starting QB Jack Raba and, by extension, a key to Cheshire’s 2017 playoff hopes.
KYLE GODFREY, West Haven — A CHSCA and Walter Camp All-Stater and an integral part of West Haven’s 10-0 regular season. He was overshadowed a bit by his consensus all-state brother, Anthony. Now it’s his time to ball alongside teammate Chris Chance. Already great as a defensive back, the Westies will be relying on Godfrey heavily to move the sticks and score touchdowns.
DOUG HARRISON, Fairfield Prep — As a sophomore he catapulted into the state’s consciousness when he ran for 334-yard, five-touchdown performance in a 38-15 upset of Shelton at midseason. He wound up with just over 1,000 yards rushing for the season. Now a 5-foot-8, 195-pound junior, he prominently should figure into the Jesuits’ offensive plans in 2017. Fairfield Prep’s success might depend on him.
5 GAMES TO WATCH
SEPT. 8, SHELTON AT CHESHIRE — If the SCC was legitimately crowning Tier champions (and they can’t, because not everybody plays everybody), then this could be the de facto Tier 1 title game. It’s a Week 1 clash that will set the tone for everything that comes after. On the visiting side, you have a recent perennial SCC power looking to maintain its league dominance. On the home side, you have a veteran squad anxious to prove it’s for real. You wanna ring the bell, Apollo?
SEPT. 8 LAW AT SHEEHAN — Of almost equal importance is this SCC Tier III game. We rarely get to say that, but this matchup passes the hype test. First, consider the local hype surrounding Law, which brings back one of the league’s most veteran teams. Then consider the Lawmen’s deep desire for payback almost a year after Sheehan’s Zach David scored 10 touchdowns in a 66-20 wipeout at home. Sheehan doesn’t have Davis anymore, but the Titans think they have enough to contend again. Here’s where we learn who’s right. Said one SCC coach, “It’ll be a donnybrook, that game.”
SEPT. 8, HILLHOUSE AT HAND — *Another* Week 1 game??? Yes. How could we not mention this one? It’s the first Hillhouse game since winning the Class M title last season. It’s also the first game that won’t feature Steve Filippone on the Hand sideline (in a coaching capacity, at least. He’ll probably be lurking somewhere around the Surf Club) for the first time in three decades. These two just so happen to be the two best teams in SCC Tier II. It gets third billing in Week 1, but it’s a Top 5 matchup in 2017.
OCT. 6, WEST HAVEN AT CHESHIRE — The reigning SCC champions head to the Maclary Complex for what should be a critical midseason game for both clubs. In 2014, Cheshire famously slammed the Westies at Ken Strong Stadium, 42-28, en route to an 8-2 season. But West Haven has dominated the last two meetings. This game
NOV. 22 LAW AT FORAN — Call us optimistic, but we see Law reaching this typically disregarded Thanksgiving rivalry with a chance to clinch the school’s first playoff berth. Foran will likely have playoff hopes of its own. This doesn’t seem like a game to disregard.