The real season kicks off mere days from now - the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs.
Until then, here is a peek at our final regular-season Top 20 rankings. Also included is this week's playoff schedule by division with comments and projections
The Bee's Top 20
1. Franklin 10-0
Top seeds in D-I playoffs in midst of dream season with balance, skill and desire.
2. Folsom 10-0
Top seeds in D-II, the young Bulldogs compete with bite and snarl; 4 punts all year.
3. Elk Grove 9-1
Eager to win D-II title after falling to Folsom in 2011 semis; great run game, O-line.
4. Burbank 10-0
Titans crave a D-I title but open tough with rising-fast Grant in great Saturday matchup.
5. Granite Bay 7-3
Grizzlies aim to defend D-I section title; won Sierra Foothill League with 5-0 showing.
6. Placer 10-0
Hillmen have been monstrous on D all season; aim to win D-IV title and get into Bowl.
7. Oak Ridge 9-1
Trojans have four D-II section titles and now seek their first in D-I; great lines, balance.
8. Del Campo 8-2
Cougars have two D-III titles in 10 years and now enter D-II mix wanting more.
9. Yuba City 9-1
Honkers are league champs for first time since 1987; dangerous draw in D-II.
10. Del Oro 5-5
Two-time defending D-III section champs are back in D-II race; open at Yub City.
11. Rocklin 5-5
Thunder has ace QB in Logan Webb and monster D-II opener at Antelope.
12. Antelope 9-1
Titans rallied to beat Whitney to take Capital Athletic League with ace Tyler Winston.
13. Whitney 8-2
Tough loss to Antelope earns a tough D-II opening draw against Del Campo.
14. Grant 5-5
Pacers loom as dangerous 5-5, No. 15 draw. Scary bunch to be sure.
15. Center 8-2
Excellent team speed, hard and quick runners in D-IV field; no fluke here, folks.
16. Vista del Lago 9-1
Open playoffs on Thursday against Lincoln behind ace sophomore QB Matt Jimison.
17. Cosumnes Oaks 8-2
Wolfpack have competitive losses to Franklin & Vista; dangerous in D-III with skill, speed.
18. Inderkum 8-2
Tigers have talent to win it all in D-III with a defensive stopper in Dedric Allen.
19. Pleasant Grove 6-4
Eagles could very well go to 9-1 Stagg and pull "upset" as PG has faced stronger teams.
20. Rio Linda 8-2
Oh-so-close in CVC title bout loss to Del Campo; the reward: defending D-II champ Vacaville
20. Nevada Union 5-5
Miners struggling down the stretch, but this is NU, and NU always equates to trouble. Open at Franklin
Others: Sacramento (8-2), El Camino (7-3), Bear River (8-2), Capital Christian (9-1), Dixon (9-1), Lincoln (5-5), Christian Brothers (6-4), Foresthill (9-1), Highlands (6-4).
(The Bee will have more playoff previews throughout the week).
No. 16 Nevada Union (5-5) vs. No. 1 Franklin (10-0)
No. 9 Merced (7-3) at No. 8 Lincoln (7-3)
No. 12 Napa (7-3) at No. 5 Granite Bay (7-3)
No. 13 Bethel (6-4) at No. 4 Downey (9-1)
No. 14 Enochs (6-4) at No. 3 Oak Ridge (9-1)
No. 11 Tokay (7-3) at No. 6 Pitman (8-2)
No. 10 Pleasant Grove (6-4) at No. 7 Stagg (9-1)
No. 15 Grant (5-5) at No. 2 Burbank, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Projected champion: Franklin (balanced, fast, healthy, eager)
Or it could be: Granite Bay (superbly coached, emerging QB, defensive stud in Beau Hershberger)
Capable of first-time D-I breakthrough: Burbank and Oak Ridge (played in thrilling opener last year, won by Oak Ridge)
Surprise champion could be: Grant (on the move again with playmaker in Trayvon Henderson, ground game - and a lot to prove)
Defending champion: Granite Bay (won its last 6 playoff games in 2011, downing PG in finals).
Comment: Nevada Union, on the ropes down the stretch, has second life and a chance at payback, too. The Miners, one of the section's storied programs, lost to Franklin in a playoff opener in Grass Valley last season in the driving rain. It was Franklin's first-ever playoff win, and with 17 returning starters, the Wildcats have played the part of top dog this season, including a 17-10 win over then No. 1 Elk Grove, which rolled NU earlier in the season.
Also looming in that upper bracket is defending champion Granite Bay, which went unbeaten in the Sierra Foothill League by beating Del Oro, Rocklin and Nevada Union after getting off to a 1-3 start. Oak Ridge has the makings of a title team with balance, line play and defense, and it's only loss was Folsom, which is 10-0 and top seeded in D-II. Don't be the least bit surprised if Pleasant Grove upends Stagg as PG competed in a much stronger league with tougher nonleague foes. And the Grant-Burbank tilt is a scary draw for a 10-0 Titans team that beat Grant. Have the Pacers rediscovered themselves, and how many skill player burners are going to play from the team's dominant 10-0 junior varsity team? A second round game could pit Grant or Burbank against Pleasant Grove. PG scrimmaged Burbank before the season, leaving Eagles coach Joe Cattolico to remark that Burbank is a top-tier team. And area fans have clamored for a Grant-Pleasant Grove game for years.
No. 16 Atwater (6-4) at No. 1 Folsom (10-0)
No. 8 Rio Linda (8-2) at No. 9 Vacaville (7-3)
No. 12 McNair (7-3) vs. Buhach Colony (8-2)
No. 13 Rocklin (5-5) at No. 4 Antelope (9-1)
No. 14 Ponderosa (6-4) at No. 3 Elk Grove (9-1)
No. 11 Whitney (8-2) at No. 6 Del Campo (8-2)
No. 10 Tracy (7-3) at No. 7 St. Mary's (8-2)
No. 15 Del Oro (5-5) at No. 2 Yuba City (9-1)
Projected champion: Folsom (playing beyond its years and playing really good D, too).
Or it could be: Elk Grove or Del Oro (storied programs both have superb lines and runners).
Capable of first-time D-II breakthrough: Del Campo, Yuba City, Whitney (none have won a D-II title but have won in other divisions).
Surprise champion could be: Antelope (ace in Tyler Winston with good lines, emerging QB)
Defending champion: Vacaville (Bulldogs beat Bulldogs of Folsom in finals; could meet in 2nd round)
Comment: Remember the days when D-I was clearly better, deeper, faster and more talented in every regard than D-II? That's no longer the case as these divisions can easily merge together with similar enrollments and equal skill sets and coaching. Folsom is on a roll with a young team and QB ace Jake Browning (43 touchdown passes as a sophomore), and looming in the second round is either Rio Linda with a ground-and-pound attack or defending champion Vacaville, which beat Folsom in the finals last season. And there's Buhach Colony, with one loss coming on a 35-34 loss to NorCal-ranked power Serra of San Mateo. In the lower bracket, No. 3 Elk Grove braces for a mauling, brawling Ponderosa team led by linebacker/fullback bruiser Jeff Camilli. Interesting that Elk Grove draws a No. 3 seed with only a 17-7 loss to unbeaten Franklin, the No. 1 seed in D-I over No. 2 Yuba City. One way to look at it is that the section selection committee viewed Yuba City's shootout loss to D-IV top seed Placer more impressive than Elk Grove's setback to Franklin. Regardless, the openers are brutal. Yuba City wins its first league title since 1987 and draws two-time defending D-III champion Del Oro, which has caught fire down the stretch behind tailback supreme Brandon Monroe. Another curiosity: Del Oro beat Rocklin on Friday 38-35 and Rocklin wound up in third place in the SFL with a higher seed in this field at No. 13 than Del Oro's 15. Rocklin's reward: a game at Antelope, which is sky high after beating Whitney with a furious rally to win the Capital Athletic League. And the real darkhorse could be St. Mary's, which has a 21-13 loss to De La Salle, which would beat every team in this section, from what I've seen.
No. 16 Pacheco (5-5) at No. 1 Oakdale (9-1)
No. 9 Benicia (7-3) at No. 8 Patterson (7-3)
No. 12 CBS (6-4) at No. 5 Cosumnes Oaks (8-2), Saturday
No. 13 River Valley (6-4) at No. 4 American Canyon (9-1)
No. 14 Rosemont (6-4) at No. 3 Sierra (9-1)
No. 11 Manteca (6-4) at No. 6 Inderkum (8-2)
No. 10 El Camino (7-3) at No. 7 Sacramento (8-2), Saturday
No. 15 Lincoln (5-5) at No. 2 Vista del Lago (9-1), Thursday
Projected champion: Oakdale (ground game, deadly QB, line play, D, hungry after near misses).
Or it could be: Vista del Lago or Cosumnes Oaks (played to 35-34 thriller recently with a ton of skill players).
Capable of breakthrough: Sacramento (losses are to Cosumnes Oaks and Burbank; dangerous QB, D).
Surprise champion could be: Inderkum or El Camino (Tigers have great run game and stopper in Dedric Allen; Eagles have skill players galore)
Defending champion: Del Oro (now in D-II, making for new blood here in wide-open field).
Comment: Oakdale is eager for another title shot, having lost the previous two seasons to Del Oro. The Mustangs lost only to San Diego power Oceanside. Cosumnes Oaks has a playmaker in Alex Van Dyke and a tough runner in Kaelin Willhite, and it faces a hungry CBS team that went 1-9 last season. The El Camino-Sacramento opener is shaping up to be a thriller. And therer's Vista del Lago, growing and maturing by the week with a prolific offense and a win over Cosumnes Oaks. American Canyon and Sierra are a combined 18-2, but those teams played in so-so leagues.
No. 16 Hilmar (6-4) at No. 1 Placer (10-0)
No. 9 Calaveras (8-2) at No. 8 Escalon (8-2)
No. 12 Summerville (8-2) at No. 5 Los Banos (9-1)
No. 13 Modesto Christian (6-4) at No. 4 Capital Christian (9-1)
No. 14 Amador (7-3) at No. 3 Ripon (10-0)
No. 11 Bear River (8-2) at No. 6 Central Catholic (8-2)
No. 10 Center (8-2) at No. 7 Dixon (9-1)
No. 15 Hughson (6-4) at No. 2 Argonaut (10-0)
Projected champion: Placer (wing-T runners and QB, dominating D headed by Eddie Vanderdoes on the line make for title team)
Or it could be: Argonaut (big, physical, ground control team is 10-0 for a reason)
Capable of breakthrough: Center or Bear River (Center scares all comers with speed; Bear River lost 14-7 to Placer)
Surprise champion could be: Capital Chrisitan (improving by the week with a lot of speed and some defensive stoppers).
Defending champion: Hilmar (and guess who the champs get right away: Placer).
Comment: Placer is clear favorite here, particularly since it has an early 48-30 win over Central Catholic, a loaded team that beat St. Mary's, which fell to state-ranked No. 1 De La Salle 21-13. Of course, none of that matters now, but it does offer a glimpse at how close these teams are with the only data available: earlier results. The field is loaded with small-school heavies rooted in passionate communities. Center is a dangerous lot with its speed, and how high would the Cougars be seeded had they beaten Placer on Friday and not lost 15-14? Capital Christian has skill, speed and linemen, with its loss coming to Amador by 19 points. And what about Argonaut at 10-0? The section champion here could be a lock for a NorCal regional game.
No. 5 Bradshaw Christian (5-5) at No. 4 Highlands (6-4)
No. 6 Rio Vista (5-5) at No. 3 Le Grand (8-2)
Byes: No. 1 Waterford (8-2); No. 2 Golden Sierra (7-3)
Projected champion: Le Grand (bowl-game resume with tradition)
Or it could be: Golden Sierra or Bradshaw Christian (GS had some miserable seasons before but also a lot of good ones)
Capable of a breakthrough: Highlands (from large-school power in the 1980s to here, the Scots still play good football).
Defending champion: Le Grand (always a factor with coaching, tradition)
Comment: Highlands and Bradshaw Christian face off right away, and those teams have had some spirited showdowns in the past. Golden Sierra has surged this season with the smallest enrollment of any in the section's 197 schools. By Bradshaw's standards, it's been an off year, but what better way to make it another on season with another title?
No. 5 Elliot Christian (6-3) vs. No. 4 Ripon Christian (8-2)
No. 6 Big Valley Christian at No. 3 Woodland Christian (8-2)
Byes: No. 1 Foresthill (9-1); No. 2 Brookside Christian (8-2)
Projected champion: Foresthill (cannot beat this school for mascot flavor: Wildfires; program came of age in a hurry).
Or it could be: Brookside Christian (has a bowl game to program's resume)
Capable of a breaktrhough: Woodland Christian (prolific, well coached)
Surprise champion could be: Ripon Christian (battle tested from the 209)
Defending champion: Bradshaw (now in D-V, making for an open race here).
Comment: Foresthill emptied its foothill town to watch the title game a year ago, and expect the same as this is one passionate home following. Woodland Christian can score in bunches, and Brookside has had a bounce back season. And yes, the small schools never bore.
* For a video breakdown on previews and projections with Mike Finnerty of SureWest Sports, check out this video:
- Joe Davidson
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