Since every CIF section football champion in the state is going to get to play in a regional bowl game, we’re beginning our coverage of this year’s bowl games by choosing a winner of each section title in the state. Go inside for our predicted champions in the CIF Central Coast Section, CIF North Coast Section, CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF Northern Section as well as D1, D3 and D5 from the Central Section plus the Oakland and San Francisco sections.
For our predictions of which CIF bowl games we think these predicted winners would be playing in, CLICK HERE.
For every section champion predicted in Southern California plus D2, D4 and D6 from the Central Section, CLICK HERE.
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Note: In a few cases, the predictions don’t match the already released preseason State Top 50 rankings. They are two different ways of looking at it: where a team should start this season in the rankings vs. how we think some of these teams will end up.
Division I: Liberty (Bakersfield)
Ranked No. 14 overall to start the year, the Patriots have the leadership and talent on both sides of the ball to be very good. The first game against Mission Viejo will tell a lot.
Division III: Hanford
We love the championship pedigree of senior Ju’waine Hughes (WR/DB) and junior Ryan Johnson (QB). They were part of section title teams last year in football and basketball.
Division V: Immanuel (Reedley)
A tough choice since defending champ Corcoran was senior-oriented. The Eagles welcome back 14 starters and may be poised to step up.
*For this year’s new bowl game alignment, the Central Section champions for Division I, Division III and Division V will be placed against NorCal opponents while the Central Section champions for Division II, Division IV and Division VI will be in the South.
CENTRAL COAST SECTION
Open Division I: Bellarmine (San Jose)*
It’s a new format in the CCS in that 24 teams will now be considered in its Open Division and then broken up into eight-team brackets according to enrollment. The Bells, who are loaded with top returning players, project to be D1 Open Division by enrollment.
Open Division II: Serra (San Mateo)*
Yes, we know the Padres are currently ineligible for the playoffs due to the controversy about consolation games last season, but we think that the Serra administration and CCS will settle things in a manner that will enable the team to be in the postseason. There also probably will be eight teams above Serra and St. Francis of Mountain View in the Open Division with higher enrollments, thereby putting those two perennial powers likely in the second bracket.
Open Division III: Palma (Salinas)*
Ironically, if this format were in place last year, Sacred Heart Prep wouldn’t have qualified for the top bracket by enrollment and never would have gotten to play Bellarmine. The defending champs should still be good enough to get back into the Open Division mix, but Palma (also with a smaller enrollment) may have the better returning players. It’s also too tricky to project where Valley Christian may fall. Could be the second bracket (with St. Francis) or the third (with Palma, SHP).
Division I: Mountain View
CCS teams from its newly created D1 and D2 brackets won’t go on to the NorCal bowl teams. Instead, another new CIF rule about sections with an Open Division allows the CCS to send its three Open Division winners plus two of its second-place squads. CCS schools from a B-level league can move up into the three Open Divisions, but really the only one we see that is going to want to do that is Aptos. With all that said, the Spartans have a lot of offensive talent returning from an 8-2 squad and seem like a solid bet among schools that probably won’t make it into the Open Division or are from a B league and don’t want to apply.
Division II: King’s Academy (Sunnyvale)
Being from a B league and having a small enrollment puts this school in a good spot to win this section title. Coach Mike Johnson’s team went 9-2 a year ago and won the title in the Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division.
*It’s unclear from the CCS web site if the three Open Division brackets will be labeled in this manner.
NORTH COAST SECTION
Division I: De La Salle (Concord)
It’ll be another year of very light opposition to the Spartans in this division. Some of the other teams would actually be competitive in many other top divisions around the state — just not with this team and this season. DLS is pretty much a consensus preseason No. 1 for the nation.
Division II: Clayton Valley (Concord)
Someday, it sure would be nice to see the Eagles in D1. They do lose a few star players from last season, but there’s no one else in this division that makes sense to choose at this point.
Division III: Marin Catholic (Kentfield)
Last year’s D3 state champs from Campolindo will be solid, but the Wildcats are loaded with returnees (led by QB/RB Darius Peterson) and only lost by 27-21 in the section final. We also see them as a prime contender to be in the NorCal Open Division small schools bowl game (enrollment below 1,200).
Division IV: Piedmont
RB Gabe Watson is among a bunch of top players back for the Highlanders, who beat eventual D4 champ Justin-Siena in the first game last year but then lost to the Braves in the section final. The two play again in the first week this season.
Division V: Salesian (Richmond)
While researching this division, we liked the returnees at runner-up St. Helena perhaps a bit more, but St. Helena got moved up to D4. The Pride therefore remain the team to beat.
SAN FRANCISCO SECTION
The defending champion Bears have one of the most dynamic talents in the Bay Area in junior WR/DB Niamey Harris. They won last year’s Turkey Bowl game by 36-12 as well so picking any other team doesn’t make sense.
QB Kevin Davidson has transferred back to San Ramon Valley, but the Warriors rolled without him last year anyway and even with a bunch of top players having graduated they should still be the best in the section. The difference probably will be a lower seed in the bowl game pecking order.
Division I: Folsom
Hey, the Bulldogs won their state game 68-7 last year so why would you pick anybody else? We expect a drop from that group, but against most teams it’ll mean winning by 30 points instead of being ahead by 50 at halftime.
Division II: Grant (Sacramento)
Looking through the SJS landscape of schools with bigger enrollments, our gut says that there will be 16 teams that qualify for the playoffs that will have larger enrollments than the Pacers. They’d then be D2 (same as last year) and not D1 (where Folsom resides). Even if Grant stays in D2, Del Oro of Loomis might be strong enough to win it anyway.
Division III: Central Catholic (Modesto)
The Raiders have a top QB (Hunter Petlansky) and a top RB (Justin Rice) and enough coming back so that their move up from D4 to D3 should be a successful one. But they may have to beat strong teams from their own league a second time. Last year, once the section playoffs began, they were done with Oakdale, Manteca and Sierra of Manteca.
Division IV: Sonora
This team was the one that lost to Central Catholic in last year’s D4 section final and returns a strong group, led by QB Sam Page.
Division V: Bear River (Lake of the Pines)
The Bruins are the defending champions and welcome back 16 starters, including 10 on offense. If QB Jason Voter can be replaced, they will be extremely tough to beat for any team in this division.
Division VI: Modesto Christian
After battling with D4 Escalon in the Trans-Valley League, the Crusaders have the speed and skill to supplant Capital Christian as the top dog.
Division VII: Stone Ridge Christian (Merced)
There’s not much to go on to pick any contender to knock off the Knights, who defeated Elliot Christian of Lodi in last year’s final.
Division II: Pleasant Valley (Chico)
With the way Enterprise of Redding has gone in recent years, this pick is risky. Still, we like the Vikes with 13 returning starters plus an upcoming 10-0 junior varsity. Pleasant Valley lost to graduation-depleted Enterprise 31-0 in last year’s D2 final.
Division III: Sutter
Speaking of grad losses, the Huskies have their fair share of them, too. We just didn’t see enough back from Lassen or West Valley to choose higher yet, however.
Division IV: Williams
The Yellowjackets went 11-1 last season and have 17 returning starters. They get the preseason nod over defending champ Winters. We love their duo of Luis and Lewis Davalos.
Division V: Fall River (McArthur)
QB Jace Neugebauer is one of the best in the section and may have enough around him for a section title run. Maxwell is defending champ.
Thanks to Stockton office assistant editor Paul Muyskens for assistance on this post. Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports