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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
It's about time for the rubber to hit the road in the top 25: Eleven of the teams in the top 25 are from either the Tri-River Athletic Conference or the Southwest Yosemite League (out of a possible 12; Clovis East is the only team out right now), so there will be plenty of head-to-head battles that will clear up quite a bit in the rankings.
In the TRAC, that will have to wait just a bit: The three clear front-runners — Clovis North, Central and Clovis — play the other three teams, so unless there's a big upset, there likely won't be much movement.
In the SWYL, however, you have Bakersfield and then five very solid teams contending for second place. That's not to say any of those five couldn't jump up and surprise the Drillers, but right now BHS is the clear favorite. That makes for two very interesting, evenly matched games each week, starting with Frontier-Centennial and Independence-Stockdale on Friday night.
As for the pre-league season rankings, not much change from last week. A lot of byes in the top 25. Check out a video discussing the top 10, then see below for the complete top 25.
1. Bakersfield (5-0, Division I, last week: 1) — For as dominant as these Drillers have looked at times in the preseason, there's no doubt they'll be tested once or twice (or more?) in the SWYL. These are teams and coaches that have seen BHS before, and the Drillers have been prone to a few mistakes at times in an otherwise glorious preseason.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 9 Liberty
2. Clovis North (5-0, Division I, last week: 2) — Of the three clear TRAC favorites, the Broncos have the biggest test this week, against an improving Clovis West team. But I don't think there's a very big chance Carson Guzman (715 rushing yards on just 55 carries) and the new kids on the Clovis block are tested until a marquee Thursday matchup with Central in two weeks.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 16 Clovis West
3. Garces (4-1, Division II, last week: 3) — Speaking of not being tested, no top team in the section has an easier road left than the Rams, who have one game left against a winning team — Tehachapi in Week 10 — and then should be big favorites in the Division II playoffs. Coach Jim Maples and his staff's biggest challenge will be keeping Garces sharp over the next four weeks.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: at Highland
4. Fresno-Central (5-0, Division I, last week: 4) — After their league opener with Buchanan this week, the Grizzlies get the other two top TRAC contenders in back-to-back games within six days. The quick turnaround is probably a slight disadvantage to a Central team that is extremely talented but perhaps not as deep as Clovis and Clovis North.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 22 Clovis-Buchanan
5. Clovis (4-1, Division I, last week: 5) — In their first full game without starting quarterback R.J. Hartmann (out for the year with multiple concussions), the Cougars struggled mightily to score against a good-but-not-great Atwater team. It's definitely worth watching this week's game against Clovis East to see if the Cougars got the offense in gear during their bye week.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. Clovis East
6. Fresno-Edison (3-2, Division I, last week: 6) — The Tigers played a whale of a game against a rival in memory of fallen teammate Marquis Sutton. Honoring Sutton will be a season-long task for Edison; whether it can bring that type of emotion week in and week out could determine just how far this team goes.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 15 Clovis West, 54-35. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 25 Sanger
7. Frontier (2-3, Division I, last week: 7) — Still not sure what to make of the Titans, who are living off of a turnover-filled victory against Ridgeview to open the season and a close loss at Lompoc a week later. Both of those results are impressive, but Triton Douglas and company will need to win a few SWYL games before we can safely label them as a bona fide D-I contender.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: at No. 15 Centennial
8. Ridgeview (3-3, Division III, last week: 8) — More impressive by the week, the Wolf Pack is once again a big favorite in the South Yosemite League. But this won't be quite the cakewalk it was last year: South, West and Golden Valley are all good enough to challenge Ridgeview on a given night. First up, though, is Mira Monte and what should be a comfortable win.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Fresno-Washington Union, 41-14. THIS WEEK: vs. Mira Monte
9. Liberty (3-2, Division I, last week: 9) — With a bye week in between the games, you wouldn't think the Patriots would have been caught looking ahead to Bakersfield when they lost to Ridgeview. Probably just a bad performance. But in the three weeks before that, Liberty looked every bit like the top challenger to Bakersfield in the SWYL. We get to find out whether that's true this week.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: at No. 1 Bakersfield
10. Visalia-El Diamante (4-2, Division II, last week: 10) — With a victory over Mt. Whitney in the rearview mirror, El Diamante's run at a West Yosemite League title probably comes down to back-to-back games against Redwood and Lemoore at the end of October. Win those, and a No. 2 seed in Division II is all but guaranteed.
LAST WEEK: won at Hanford, 34-10. THIS WEEK: BYE
11. Wasco (5-0, Division IV, last week: 12) — You can't possibly ask for more from Wasco, which has won its first five games by an average of 43 points. But the fact remains that of every team on this list, the Tigers have played by far the weakest schedule. Will that cost them in a tough four-game stretch to end the season, or down the road in the playoffs?
LAST WEEK: won vs. Chavez, 57-6. THIS WEEK: at Kennedy
12. Kingsburg (5-0, Division II, last week: 11) — Unlike last year, when the Vikings lost twice early, flew under everyone's radar and then stormed back to take yet another section title, Kingsburg is still unbeaten. But I'm still not sure they're quite as good, especially after last week's close call with Coalinga. Games against Paso Robles and Dinuba in the next two weeks will be telling.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Coalinga, 28-23. THIS WEEK: at Paso Robles
13. Visalia-Mt. Whitney (4-1, Division III, last week: 16) — The win of the week in the Central Section belongs to the Pioneers, who came up with the goods defensively against Mission Oak in overtime a week after a disappointing second half against El Diamante. The worst quote of the week belongs to Mt. Whitney coach Marty Martin, who told the Fresno Bee, "This proves to people last week was what it was, last week." Huh? Anyway, if both teams win out, Mt. Whitney vs. Ridgeview is an interesting debate for the top seed in Division III.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 14 Tulare-Mission Oak, 28-21 (OT). THIS WEEK: vs. Hanford West
14. Tulare-Mission Oak (4-1, Division IV, last week: 14) — Another interesting seeding debate — if both Mission Oak and Wasco should win out, would the 10-0 Tigers or 9-1 Hawks, who have a much tougher schedule, get the nod? In the meantime, Mission Oak's loss will drop them from the No. 1 spot in Cal Hi Sports' Division III bowl rankings.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 16 Visalia-Mt. Whitney, 28-21 (OT). THIS WEEK: vs. Porterville
15. Centennial (2-3, Division I, last week: 18) — You walk away from a Golden Hawks game impressed by their explosiveness but miffed by their inconsistency. This just might be the sleeper in the SWYL race — but I'd like to see Centennial play well two weeks in a row first. A home game against Frontier is a great chance to make a statement.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 25 Tulare Union, 56-33. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 7 Frontier
16. Clovis West (1-4, Division I, last week: 15)
17. Stockdale (2-3, Division I, last week: 21)
18. Fresno-Bullard (3-2, Division I, last week: 17)
19. Visalia-Redwood (5-1, Division II, last week: 20)
20. Tehachapi (4-1, Division II, last week: 19)
21. Dinuba (5-1, Division III, last week: 22)
22. Clovis-Buchanan (2-3, Division I, last week: 13)
23. Mendota (5-0, Division VI, last week: 23)
24. Independence (4-1, Division III, last week: 24)
25. Sanger (4-1, Division II, last week: NR)
Dropped out: No. 25 Tulare Union