BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday night is exactly why I've been talking down rankings since the end of the regular season ... they sure didn't mean much then, and now ranking teams is a mess. How do you sort out teams that have been eliminated from higher divisions from teams still alive in lower ones? How much credit do you give for a playoff win, and how much do you punish for a loss? Are the playoffs all that matters?
I don't believe so, in regards to the last question. I think a top-ranked team better have won its division, but after that, it's hard to punish a team that had a great regular season for one bad night in the playoffs. That's why you'll see a familiar name in the No. 2 spot. We'll also see over the next few weeks, but it's very possible that Clovis North is by far the best team in the section ... the Broncos lost a 38-33 game to Clovis in which the Cougars pulled out all of the trick plays in their playbook, but other than that, CN hasn't lost and has won everything by double digits. Edison, a new top 5 team, awaits next.
1. Clovis North (10-1, Division I, last week: 2) — No question who belongs here now. The Broncos conceded the first touchdown to Bullard, then rolled to another easy win in what's becoming quite the collection. Up next is Edison, which is playing as well as anybody in the section. Whoever wins that semifinal will be favored against either Central or Liberty.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 13 Fresno-Bullard, 35-7. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison
2. Clovis (9-2, Division I, last week: 1) — Tough to punish a team too much for losing a two-point game when the difference was two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns. Here's the truth: The Cougars played a ton of close games this year and eventually got burned by a bad break and a big play by the other side. It happens when you're in so many tight ones; unfortunately for Clovis, it's going to sour the whole season.
LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 8 Liberty, 25-23. THIS WEEK: season over
3. Garces (10-1, Division II, last week: 5) — After the Rams pulverized Kingsburg in their playoff opener, it's fair to ask whether this is the best team in the section. The early loss to Bakersfield will keep that from becoming a real talking point, but remember: The Drillers were playing their best ball of the season at that time, and Garces led the game with five minutes remaining. Since then, it's been eight straight wins, all by at least 14 points.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Kingsburg, 73-14. THIS WEEK: vs. Fresno-Sunnyside
4. Fresno-Central (10-2, Division I, last week: 6) — A breakthrough playoff win for the Grizzlies against Bakersfield in Justin Garza's first year; this is the kind of victory it seems Central hasn't been able to get in the playoffs. Now it'll try to build on it, with Liberty coming to town in a rematch of a quarterfinal the Patriots won in overtime two years ago — and the rematch of a 10-9 Central victory from Week 1. Both teams will feel like they should win this one.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 4 Bakersfield, 42-28. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 7 Liberty
5. Fresno-Edison (9-3, Division I, last week: 9) — A preseason top 5 team is back in rarefied air after some bumps and bruises along the way. I'll say this: The Tigers looked as good as any team I've seen this year, Bakersfield, Garces, Liberty and Clovis included, in thumping Frontier on Friday night. Edison has speed, they've bought into what Ricky Manning is telling them, and they've got an ultimate weapon at quarterback in Khari McGee. Should be a battle royale with Clovis North.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 3 Frontier, 42-21. THIS WEEK: at No. 1 Clovis North
6. Frontier (7-4, Division I, last week: 3) — I thought about dropping the Titans further, but again, one bad week in the playoffs isn't going to erase all the good this team did in the regular season. Still, the Titans looked alarmingly slow and unathletic next to Edison. The school will need the injection of a few more horses to win a title in Division I, methinks.
LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 9 Fresno-Edison, 42-21. THIS WEEK: season over
7. Liberty (7-4, Division I, last week: 8) — The Patriots seemingly end their season with a road trip to a Clovis Unified school every year, but they were able to turn the tide with two huge plays late against No. 1 Clovis. Can that springboard this team into its first D-I Valley final appearance? Certainly possible, especially with how closely Liberty played Central early this year. A balanced offense and a solid defense can go a long way in the postseason.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 1 Clovis, 25-23. THIS WEEK: at No. 4 Fresno-Central
8. Ridgeview (9-2, Division III, last week: 7) — The Wolf Pack slips a spot to make room for D-I winners Edison and Liberty, and because Ridgeview struggled a bit defensively against 6-5 Delano. There's still room to move up if this team finishes the business it couldn't last year with a D-III title. First comes Independence, a team Ridgeview can't be too comfortable facing.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Delano, 56-35. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 16 Independence
9. Bakersfield (9-3, Division I, last week: 4) — Pretty severe drop here for the Drillers, who I still believe have one of, if not the, section's most talented teams. But the bottom line is Bakersfield didn't take care of business against three very beatable opponents in Liberty, Frontier and Central. All of them stung, but it's the last one that BHS will remember until next August. A whale of a team should be coming back.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 6 Fresno-Central, 42-28. THIS WEEK: season over
10. Wasco (11-0, Division IV, last week: 10) — Going 11-0 is hard enough, but doing it without playing a remotely close game seems almost impossible, no matter how much better you are than your opponents. But the real season begins Friday for Wasco, which faces Chowchilla and then likely Mission Oak with the school's first section title and a probable spot in a regional bowl on the line. The Tigers will want to avoid their first bad week of the season, because these gonna be tough ones (I think).
LAST WEEK: won vs. Arvin, 54-14. THIS WEEK: vs. Chowchilla
11. Dinuba (10-1, Division III, last week: 14) — During the playoffs, the time is ripe for Division III and IV teams to rocket up the rankings as Divisions I and II beat themselves up. That's how the Emperors have ended up on the doorstep of the top 10 without playing a tough team since a win over Porterville on Sept. 20. The Panthers are up next, with a spot in the D-III final on the line. Remember, Dinuba lost in this spot as a top seed last year, so some retribution is at stake, too.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Madera, 55-28. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 23 Porterville
12. Sanger (9-2, Division II, last week: 15) — With one of the Central Section's best home crowds behind them, the Apaches held off hard-charging Redwood in the Division II quarterfinals. Up next is upstart West, which has already dispatched two higher-seeded teams on the road in the D-II playoffs. With Garces probably waiting on the other side of the bracket, some might call this a second-place game, but remember: Sanger beat Edison earlier this season, and that win looks pretty darn good right about now.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 21 Visalia-Redwood, 17-14. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 20 West
13. Fresno-Bullard (8-4, Division I, last week: 13) — No punishment for the Knights for dropping a game to what appears to be the section's best team. All in all, it was a decent bounceback year for Bullard after it lost a lot from a Valley runner-up team in 2011. But this is now a program with higher expectations for itself, and an 1-3 mark against the TRAC will leave a sour taste in the mouth.
LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 2 Clovis North, 35-7. THIS WEEK: season over
14. Tulare-Mission Oak (9-2, Division IV, last week: 16) — Here in Kern County, we talk mostly about Wasco's perspective in Division IV, but think about it the Hawks' way for a minute: This is a team that breezed to the semifinals as a No. 2 seed last year and then got surprised in a Wasco rout that kept Mission Oak from a chance at mighty Washington Union. To get a second shot at the Tigers, the Hawks need to beat another very capable SSL team, Bakersfield Christian.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Hanford West, 35-7. THIS WEEK: vs. Bakersfield Christian
15. Stockdale (5-6, Division I, last week: 17) — This ranking sure seems high, but remember that the Mustangs beat Independence like a drum and also took care of Liberty during SWYL play. The losses were mostly lopsided, but they were all to good teams. Stockdale loses D.J. Martin but brings back a pretty good junior class. We'll see if a more balanced team means a better team in 2013.
LAST WEEK: season over
16. Independence (6-5, Division III, last week: 18)
17. Visalia-El Diamante (7-4, Division II, last week: 11)
18. Visalia-Mt. Whitney (8-3, Division III, last week: 12)
19. Centennial (2-8, Division I, last week: 20)
20. West (6-6, Division II, last week: NR)
21. Lemoore (7-4, Division II, last week: 19)
22. Clovis-Buchanan (4-7, Division I, last week: 24)
23. Porterville (6-5, Division III, last week: NR)
24. Visalia-Redwood (9-3, Division II, last week: 21)
25. Tehachapi (8-3, Division II, last week: 22)
Dropped out: No. 23 Bakersfield Christian, No. 25 Clovis West