By Joe Davidson
Breaking down The Bee's Top 20 prep football rankings to conclude the regular season heading into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs
1. Pleasant Grove 9-1
The Eagles now target a section Division I repeat and can do so with Cody Demps passing, Isaiah Saunders and Mark Jenkins running, the lines dominating and corners Brandon and Desmond Lewis locking receivers down.
Playoff history: Winners of 6 of last 7 playoff games, 1 D-I title.
Next: vs. Rodriguez (5-5), Thursday
2. Del Oro 9-1
The Golden Eagles are shooting for their second consecutive D-III title and the program's eighth banner. A clean sweep through the playoffs gives Del Oro a real shot at a bowl game, with the only loss coming to state-ranked No. 3 Westlake in overtime.
Playoff history: 22 appearances, 7 titles
Next: vs. Sacramento (6-4)
3. Elk Grove 10-0
The Thundering Herd won a total of eight games in the last two seasons combined but beware EG again. The Herd has five section titles in D-I but now seeks their first in D-II, and can do it with more line play, more ground control and more dominating defense, headed by nose guard Matt Nugent.
Playoff history: 26 appearances, 5 D-I titles
Next: vs. River City (5-5)
4. Granite Bay 8-2
The Grizzlies are back in the playoff chase for the 13th time in 15 seasons and now seek their first D-I section title after winning it in D-II three times. Brendan Keeney is remarkably cool and composed and has a good run game and receiving targets. How the D stops the run is key, but a title would not be a surprise, certainly for the Grizzlies.
Playoff history: 13 consecutive playoff trips, 3 D-II titles.
Next: vs. Napa (7-3)
5. Grant 7-3
The Pacers are in the playoffs for the 21st consecutive time under coach Mike Alberghini and he seeks his seventh section title and fifth in D-I. Grant has all-world Shaq Thompson, an improving line, a defensive stopper in linebacker Jonathan Iulio and terrific tradition.
Playoff history: section-leading 21 successive trips, 6 section, 1 state title.
Next: vs. Turlock (7-3)
6. Folsom 8-2
The Bulldogs absolutely expect to repeat as D-II champions with the way the line has played, with how Tanner Trosin continues to punish teams (he's 265 yards away from setting the area's all-time total offense mark for a season with 4,756 total yards and 50 total scores). How the D does is critical.
Playoff history: 4th straight appearance; 3 section, 1 state title
Next: vs. Rio Linda (7-3), Thursday
7. Nevada Union 7-3
The Miners bound back into the D-I playoffs with its trusty wing-T and lots of confidence. The only losses were to Elk Grove (23-7) and agonizingly close setbacks to Granite Bay and Del Oro. NU seeks its fifth section title and would love a shot at Lincoln-Stockton in a semifinal.
Playoff history: 23 playoff appearances, 7 section title appearances, 4 titles.
Next: vs. Franklin (7-3)
8. Franklin 7-3
The Wildcats are a bounce or two away from being 9-1, including watching with wonderment at Shaq Thompson raced through them for scoring runs of 81 and 90 yards on Friday in a 28-20 victory. Franklin has one of the youngest teams in the section, and one of the fastest. It seeks its first playoff win.
Playoff history: Four playoff appearances, no wins for relatively new school
Next: at Nevada Union (7-3)
9. Colfax 10-0
The Falcons seek an eighth trip to the section finals (this time in D-IV) and a fifth title under coach Tony Martello, who has a balanced offense headed by QB Austin Young and RB Hunter Perez. This is also one of the very few teams in the state that still platoons with one-way starters. Looming in the finals is defending state D-III champion Escalon (10-0).
Playoff history: 4 titles in 7 appearances
Next: vs. Dixon (4-6)
10. Casa Roble 8-2
The Rams have won 85 games in 10 seasons under coach Norm Ryan, and their dominating 2008 section title team is the measure by which all Rams teams will be measured. The seniors this season invite it, including leaders such as Mitch Samson. This is absolutely a threat in D-III, and the Rams crave a shot at Oakdale and Del Oro.
Playoff history: 9 appearances in 10 years, 1 D-III title
Next: vs. Benicia (7-3)
11. Placer 8-2
The Hillmen are back in the dance and seek another title. Placer won five D-II titles in the glory days of 1975-81 under coaches Bill Miller and Tom Johnson, and now it's Joey Montoya - grandson of Miller - seeking his first title after D-IV title appearances in 2008 and 2009. Now in D-III, Hillmen could draw Del Oro in a second-round game to bring back images of the 1970s and '80s super showdowns in the Sierra Foothill League. The wing-T is explosive, and no one out-muscles Eddie Vanderdoes at noseguard.
Playoff history: 7 title appearances, 5 titles
Next: vs. Patterson (7-3)
12. Burbank 9-1
The Titans haven't sported this glossy of a record since the dominating Titan teams of the 1960s, well before the section playoffs. What makes this D-I playoff run all the more electrified is there is a home opener under the lights on a splashy new facility on Florin Road, exciting scores of alumni and students.
Only loss was to Grant early.
Playoff history: 7 consecutive appearances, 1 title appearance
Next: vs. Oak Ridge (6-4)
13. Inderkum 9-1
The Tigers are back in the D-II scramble, sporting a young team (four senior starters) and speed to burn in the wing-T, headed by Hunter Royal and D.J. Myart. Inderkum gave St. Mary's all it could handle last season in the postseason, and expect a continuous fight for all comers again.
Playoff appearance: 6th straight postseason year, 2 title game appearances
Next: vs. McNair (5-5)
14. Whitney 8-2
The Wildcats fully expect to win the D-III title, and may have to get through Del Oro to do so (Del Oro prevailed a year ago) as coach Mike Gimenez understands he won't have blue-chip talents such as Jake Rodrigues and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick every season.
Next: vs. Pioneer (7-3)
15. Oak Ridge 6-4
The Trojans are one very gritty, determined and resilient bunch, a credit to coach Eric Cavaliere and senior leaders such as Preston Dean and Dylan Collie. Oak Ridge has battled injuries and yet here they are, confident it can take down Burbank in an opener and make a run. Oak Ridge has won four D-II titles and seeks its first in D-I.
Playoff history: 22 appearances, 6 in a row, 4 D-II titles
Next: at Burbank (9-1)
16. Vista del Lago 7-3
Thrilled with a share of their first league title, the Eagles now covet much more: their first playoff win. In D-III, Vista will unleash standout QB Aaron Young and WR Logan Smith and a solid defense that will have its hands full with do-all QB Dalen Jones in an opener.
Playoff history: 2nd appearance for new school.
Next: vs. Woodland (8-2)
17. Liberty Ranch 7-3
This is all new for LB, a share of its first league title with its first senior class and now a chance to make a move in the D-IV playoffs, where a win would also be a first. Hard-charging RB John Wiernicki is the key.
Playoff history: 1st appearance with 1st senior class
Next: vs. Calaveras (6-4)
18. Woodland 8-2
The Wolves have never been to a section title game in football, but have won such titles in other sports such as baseball and softball. Coach Bert Salinas has a team that has overcome all sorts of challenges this season and looms as a real dark horse in D-III. First, the Wolves have to solve Logan Smith, who has set receiving records.
Playoff history: Best team of 1970 (10-0) didn't have playoff format; best since: 1996.
Next: vs. Vista del Lago
19. Del Campo 7-3
Coach Mike Dimino typically downplays his team, but the Cougars are here again, ready for a march in D-II. Dimino will remind that a quick playoff exit last season is proof that nothing is a given. Del Campo won D-III titles in 2006 and 2009.
Playoff history: 14 appearances, 2 D-II titles
Next: at Downey (8-2)
20. Jesuit 5-5
The Marauders are back in the playoff fold with some nice tradition to inspire Big Red followers: two section D-I titles. For now, Jesuit seeks a playoff win after some down seasons, and defending speed will be the key.
Playoff history: 20 appearances, 2 D-I titles
Next: at Bethel (9-1)
Others: Union Mine (5-4); Cosumnes Oaks (7-3); Rio Linda (7-3); Pioneer (7-3); Roseville (5-5); Sheldon (5-5); Antelope (6-4); Center (5-5); Bear River (7-3); Woodcreek (5-5); Bradshaw Christian (9-1); Highlands (8-2); River City (5-5);