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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
We're now only about 26 hours away from the first high school football games of the season, and about 50 hours away from things really getting going on Friday. Are you excited yet?
Some coverage notes for the next few days:
2 p.m. Thursday: BVarsity Preview Show with talk about rankings, picks and special guest Blake Haney
7:30 p.m. Friday: BVarsity Live presentation: Frontier at Ridgeview (will have updates from games across the section)
approx. 11 p.m. Friday: BVarsity Live with scores, highlights and analysis of all of Friday night's action
6:30 p.m. Saturday: BVarsity Live presentation: San Luis Obispo at Garces
Let's go ahead and get to those picks. First a recap of how I've done in years past. 2012 was a slight step backwards.
2008: 183-70 (.723)
2009: 216-68 (.761)
2010: 223-63 (.780)
2011: 226-51 (.816)
2012: 232-61 (.792)
TOTAL: 1,080-313 (.775)
Thursday, Aug. 29
CHAVEZ (5-6 last year) AT FRESNO-ROOSEVELT (4-7) — I'm more bullish on the Titans than most around here. In our preseason SSL coaches poll (full results available in our HS Football Kickoff section in Friday's paper), Chavez was picked fourth, but this is a team with a lot of returners and that seems to be trending upward. Roosevelt, meanwhile, figures to be one of the most inexperienced teams in the entire section. The Roughriders return just four starters from a team that finished third in a poor North Yosemite League last year and lost the opener 29-28 to Chavez. Expect the Titans to win by a more comfortable margin to open this season, even on the road.
Prediction: Chavez 30, Roosevelt 17
Friday, Aug. 30
BAKERSFIELD (9-3) AT WESTLAKE VILLAGE-OAKS CHRISTIAN (8-3) — From a state-wide perspective, this is clearly the biggest game of the weekend in Kern County. Cal Hi Sports slots the Drillers No. 23 in its preseason rankings, and Oaks Christian is No. 19, so there's a chance to make a statement for Bakersfield here. It's going to be difficult, though — Oaks Christian returns somewhere between 18 and 20 starters, depending on what you believe, and this from a team that lost a one-point game to Sherman Oaks-Notre Dame in the first round of the Pac-5 playoffs last year. The Lions have one of the better quarterbacks in the state, senior Brandon Dawkins has already committed to Arizona. Six other Lions garner at least a two-star rating on Rivals.com — that doesn't include a banner junior class that doesn't have recruiting ratings yet. So Oaks Christian is certainly the more heralded team here. Bakersfield will go down and do what it does, though, and that's been good for some big-time victories in Southern California over the past two seasons. I think a season-opener on the road against a team this experienced and talented might be asking too much, though. Bakersfield could win this game, but the season certainly isn't over with a loss, either.
Prediction: Oaks Christian 31, Bakersfield 21
FRONTIER (7-4) AT RIDGEVIEW (11-2), broadcasted LIVE on bakersfield.com (7:15 p.m.) — One of 2012's biggest non-league showdowns occurred in this matchup, with eventual SWYL champion Frontier taking out eventual Division III section champ Ridgeview 17-6 behind a suffocating defense and opportunistic offense. Both teams lost many key parts from those teams, but expectations haven't been tempered a whole lot. Frontier still thinks it can challenge Bakersfield (or Liberty or Stockdale?) atop the SWYL, and Ridgeview still fancies itself the favorite in the SYL and a contender to defend its section title. This game is intriguing because so many of the faces will be different, from likely Frontier starting RB Troy Banks and a bunch of young defenders to an entirely new Ridgeview backfield (Jaccob Lopez likely will see some carries, but we're still not sure who the quarterback will be). The difference, to me, is two players that do return: Frontier QB Evan Moore and WR Jaz Thind, who need to take center stage for the Titans this season. I think that'll happen for the first time this week.
Prediction: Frontier 28, Ridgeview 19
STOCKTON-ST. MARY'S (9-3) AT STOCKDALE (5-6) — A missed field goal in the fourth quarter and another stalled drive late cost Stockdale a victory up in Stockton last year as St. Mary's held on, 31-26. The Rams return only 11 starters from that team, but they did have a 10-0 JV squad last year. That's the same record Stockdale's seniors put up as a JV team two years ago, and they have big plans again this year. The Mustangs are Kern County's mystery team to me; I'm not sure whether to think they'll be one of the best teams around or another up-and-down unit. I'm inclined to go with them here though, because St. Mary's struggled to defend the wing-T a year ago, and this is a more experienced Stockdale team playing at home. Give the Mustangs the close home victory this time.
Prediction: Stockdale 27, St. Mary's 24
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (10-3) AT HUNTINGTON BEACH (6-6) — This is the sneaky good game of the week. With much of our attention focused on the three games above, it's easy to forget that Bakersfield Christian, which has championship aspirations, opens with a really tough opponent, in Huntington Beach, a big school ranked in its Southwest Division of the Southern Section. BCHS avoided a bad break when QB Brandon Jones was declared eligible after an appeal of his transfer penalty, and that will help. I do think the Eagles can develop into a very balanced team with the chance to be a power among small schools. But Huntington Beach is not a small school, and the Oilers themselves bring back much experience and talent from a playoff team. A BCHS win would immediately vault it into the Division IV state bowl conversation, but I don't think the Eagles have quite enough here.
Prediction: Huntington Beach 35, Bakersfield Christian 21
WEST (6-7) AT EAST (2-8) — Optimism always reigns in preseason camps, and that's true at almost any level of any sport, but things seemed especially sunny at both of these schools this month. West is coming off of a surprise run to the Division II semifinals, and many of the key pieces — QB Enrique Salazar and RB Stanley Dubard included — are back. East won two of its final three games after starting last year 0-7, and coach Dave Thorp, in his third year, said the Blades are finally starting to take on the type of personality he'd like to see from players. East is at home and might have a few surprises in it this season, but the Vikings are simply further along in the process of building a program right now. This is a game West should win, and I don't think its experienced offense is going to let anything else happen.
Prediction: West 32, East 13
CENTENNIAL (2-8) AT FRESNO-SAN JOAQUIN MEMORIAL (4-6) — Yes, Centennial was 2-8 last season, but that was one of the stronger 2-8 teams you'll see. Most of the losses were by one possession, and the others came against really good opponents. Memorial fell off the radar last year after a good run, and the Panthers' talent level just isn't the same right now as it was when the team was a perennial Division II contender a few years back. The biggest question for the Golden Hawks, then, is how smoothly things run against a beatable team during the game under Kevin Sneed. A stat worth repeating: In 12 years as a head coach, Sneed has never had a losing season. You don't run off a streak like that without winning the games you should win. This falls into that category for Centennial.
Prediction: Centennial 27, Memorial 14
DELANO (5-7) AT LIBERTY (8-5) — The man who left Centennial after 12 seasons, Bryan Nixon, makes his Liberty debut as a big favorite here against Delano. Tigers coach Mario Millan said his team figures to rely on its offense early while a young defense comes around. That could spell trouble in the opener, because Liberty will wing it around with returning QB Josh Medina in a more spread-out offense, giving the Patriots a chance to rack up some points. Delano probably can't keep up in a shootout with a Liberty defense that is young but still returns a few parts from a unit that keyed a playoff upset of top seed Clovis in last year's Division I quarterfinals.
Prediction: Liberty 45, Delano 13
TAFT (4-6) AT GOLDEN VALLEY (3-7) — Taft might be ready to make the second-year leap under coach Jarudd Prosser, but a shift in offensive scheme to a more ground-and-pound style might make for another short transition period. Golden Valley, remember, is just two years removed from splitting the SYL title with a very good Ridgeview team. Last year seems like more of an aberration than anything. The most interesting question to be answered here is whether Golden Valley's defense is any better, especially against a team that wants to hit the Bulldogs in the mouth. Even if GV struggles on that side of the ball, I think the Bulldogs will get back to their high-flying ways when they have the ball. This could be a shootout, and Golden Valley wins it to kick off a bounceback season.
Prediction: Golden Valley 41, Taft 28
WASCO (13-0) AT MIRA MONTE (3-7) — Check out film of Wasco's really impressive scrimmage at Garces here and tell me you're not impressed. The Tigers lost four key offensive linemen and still kept rolling against a big-time program. Now comes what should be a tune-up against Mira Monte before the fascinating showdown with Bakersfield High next week. Junior RB Isaiah Sharp begins his run at what could be a 3,000-yard season if he's able to stay healthy and play more than one half each week. Wasco QB Austin Sutton also has a stronger arm than departed quarterback Kyle Wedel, so there could be big plays in the passing game for this developing juggernaut, too. For Mira Monte, this is an unfortunate way to open a season for a young program still trying to gain its footing.
Prediction: Wasco 56, Mira Monte 6
ARVIN (7-5) AT HIGHLAND (4-6) — High school football goes in cycles, as we all know, and this game could be the tale of a team cycling down (Arvin lost nearly all of its main contributors from a year ago and returns just five starters) against one cycling up (Highland has nearly all of its playmakers back except for running back Tre Ayers). The Scots are also in year 2 of a wing-T offense that Steve Montanio thinks fits the team's personnel better. The offense struggled last year, so we should see some improvement here. This is a series that has been filled with close games in the recent past, between two similar schools that seem to play every game hard. That means the unexpected can certainly happen, but I anticipate a Highland victory.
Prediction: Highland 23, Arvin 14
EXETER (5-6) AT TEHACHAPI (8-3) — The more I think about it, the more I expect a big year from Tehachapi. The Warriors have been slightly down — by their magnificent standards, at least — the past two seasons, and this year they bring back a ton of experience, including super sophomore Angel Garcia, who could excel on both sides of the ball. I picked Garces to win the SEYL (as did the league's coaches), but there would be no surprise on my end if we've decided Tehachapi is actually the favorite by the time league play rolls around. The Warriors won this matchup 55-35 on the road last year, and I don't think it'll be that close this time around.
Prediction: Tehachapi 42, Exeter 14
STRATHMORE (6-6) AT SHAFTER (6-5) — Last year, the Generals kicked off a six-game winning streak to start the year with a rout of the Spartans. I'm not convinced Shafter is a whole lot more talented this season, but the team and young coaching staff might have learned how to handle success a little better. We'll probably get a chance to find out, because the Generals and returning QB Kyle Millwee shouldn't have too much trouble at home here. One thing to keep an eye out for is who steps up as a playmaker for Shafter. They need someone (or someones) to fill the role of the graduated Derrick Barton, who was a kind of super-utility man.
Prediction: Shafter 38, Strathmore 13
BORON (10-2) AT KERN VALLEY (7-4) — Most of the newly minted Central Section schools from the High Desert League will mark the occasion by ... playing Southern Section teams. That's natural, of course, because games are scheduled with two-year contracts, and there are plenty of SS teams in the High Desert area anyway. This is a series Boron has dominated in the recent past, but there are actually many signs pointing to a Kern Valley victory this time around. The Broncs are at home, for one thing, but Boron has a new coach and KV also returns more skill-position talent than the Bobcats do. Still, I can't bring myself to pick against the football factory at Boron. If Kern Valley does win, that means the Broncs could be in store for a big year in the Division V playoff picture.
Prediction: Boron 38, Kern Valley 31
FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (6-5) AT L.A.-RIBET ACADEMY (9-2) — Perhaps the finest moment of Russell Heasley's first season as Frazier Mountain's head coach came when the Falcons handed Ribet its first loss of the season, 20-14. That was the moment you kind of knew Heasley was the right man for the job in Lebec. Now, even though Ribet is probably a favorite on paper here, you have to like the Falcons' chances again. Heasley said early in training camp that everything was already much smoother for Frazier Mountain. Kind of like Kern Valley, Frazier Mountain can announce itself as a D-V contender with a big road victory here.
Prediction: Frazier Mountain 28, Ribet Academy 24
BIG BEAR (9-3) AT ROSAMOND (3-7) — I like what new Roadrunners coach Kris Krempien has to offer a perennial sleeping giant (relatively speaking) like Rosamond. But there's no way around it: This is a tough, tough way to open the season, against a team that reached the quarterfinals of the Southern Section playoff division above the one Rosamond just left. There will be some wins in store for Krempien and the Roadrunners in the coming weeks, but this probably isn't one of them. Big Bear is rewarded for its drive down the mountain with a comfortable win.
Prediction: Big Bear 37, Rosamond 7
PALMDALE (10-1) AT BURROUGHS (6-6) — Burros coach Todd Mather said this should be the best team in his four years in Burroughs, and I think he's right; this team has potential to win a Desert Sky League title and maybe take an extra step in the Southern Section Eastern Division playoffs. Still, this is a really stiff opening test. Palmdale was 10-1 in a much bigger playoff division a year ago, and the Falcons return running back DeMario Richard, who has scholarship offers from nearly every Pac-12 school. Burroughs plays really well at home historically, but the Burros have their hands more than full here.
Prediction: Palmdale 34, Burroughs 13
DESERT (7-5) AT FILLMORE (8-3) — Here's another case of a team playing an opening opponent from a higher playoff division. The Scorpions elected to move into the Desert Mountain League rather than into the Central Section with the rest of the High Desert League, so some traditional rivalries have been severed, and an unwieldy DML schedule begins next week already for Desert. That makes this game a bit more important. The teams look pretty evenly matched, but I'll tilt towards a Fillmore team that made the playoffs last year and is at home. I'm curious, though, to see what kind of numbers Scorpions QB Matthew Moore puts up in Chris Hinton's new spread offense.
Prediction: Fillmore 31, Desert 23
Saturday, Aug. 31
SAN LUIS OBISPO (6-5) AT GARCES (12-1), broadcast LIVE on bakersfield.com (6:15 p.m.) — I wonder if Garces' season would have been different if the Rams hadn't pulled out a 21-20 comeback victory at San Luis Obispo in a Saturday opener last year; Garces trailed 20-0 in that game and pulled a rabbit out of its hat, then didn't really have any close calls in any of its other 11 victories. This year, Garces comes in with a much higher pedigree but much less experience. How will expectations of another big year affect a young team? How much different will the Rams look than they did in a lackluster scrimmage against Wasco last week? Lots of questions to be answered here. This reminds me a bit of a game the Rams won against Cypress two years ago at Mission Viejo. They were an unknown quantity playing a good Southern Section team. That kind of announced the arrival of a really good two-year stretch for the program. This could be the newest version of that announcement, because there's still an awful lot of talent up on the hill.
Prediction: Garces 27, San Luis Obispo 21
KENNEDY (2-9) AT PORTERVILLE-GRANITE HILLS (1-9) — As bad as Kennedy has it right now — and losing your head coach after the first semi-successful season in school history isn't great — things might be worse at Granite Hills. The Grizzlies won a single game last year, against Division VI lightweight Sierra Pacific, and then lost all but six starters. In many ways this will be a test of how much residual effect Shawn Austin had on the Thunderbirds' program in just one year: Kennedy was in shambles when he came and seem to be in much better shape now even though he left in short order. If that's true, Kennedy will handle this one. If not, this is going to be a looong season at RFK.
Prediction: Kennedy 35, Granite Hills 20
CALIFORNIA CITY (3-7) AT LANCASTER-DESERT CHRISTIAN (5-6) — There's an interesting storyline here, as first-year Ravens coach Luis Vasquez returns to the school where he served as a very successful defensive coordinator. I'm not sure who will have the advantage of familiarity, but it could decide this matchup. Both teams had disappointing 2012 campaigns, with Cal City dropping down to the depths of the High Desert League after a surprising playoff run in 2011. If the Ravens are going to compete in the new-look HDL this year, this is a game they should win. But with a first-year coach, on the road at an established program, that's not a limb I'm venturing out on this time.
Prediction: Desert Christian 30, California City 24
Last season: 232-61 (.792)