FB: What are preseason rankings?

Here is a version of a column written last week for the Stockton Record, which is a column that I do every week for that paper. This is not the edited version — which frankly was better and much tighter (thanks sports editor Bob Highfill) — but this version is easier to post on our site. Check out the Stockton Record’s local preseason football coverage, which is beginning this week.


At this time of the year, preseason high school football rankings are beginning to be compiled in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

You might see a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Top 20, Northern California Top 25, State Top 50 and even a National Top 100.

In all of that, however, one has to break down a preseason ranking first to determine if the people doing the rankings view them as a starting point to the season or more as a prediction as to which teams will be raising banners in December.

For the Cal-Hi Sports preseason rankings that I have directed for many years and for some of the national rankings I’ve done, it’s always been the starting point. That approach also tends to work best if one considers a ranking in the first place as something that needs to be earned and not simply given out.

Folsom' co-coaches Troy Taylor & Kris Richardson raise 2014 CIF state title plaque. Richardson will be by himself as head coach this season. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Folsom co-coaches Troy Taylor & Kris Richardson raise 2014 CIF state title plaque. Richardson will be by himself as head coach this season. Photo: Mark Tennis.

This year’s preseason pecking order for the SJS is a perfect example. If one were doing a prediction, all of the graduation losses suffered by defending Division I section champ Folsom combined with the great players coming back both at St. Mary’s and at Del Oro of Loomis (which won a CIF state bowl game last season after going 4-6 in the regular season) might lead one easily to conclude that St. Mary’s and Del Oro should be ranked higher in the preseason.

But Folsom isn’t just a defending champion. The Bulldogs have won four straight section titles, three by blowout margins, and actually haven’t lost to another team from the section since an upset to Vacaville in the SJS D2 final in 2011.

Folsom clearly has earned the right to be considered the No. 1 team in the SJS until it loses on the field and not on paper. If the Bulldogs were just a one-year champ, then maybe that statement isn’t true. But it’s been a four-year run and even though co-head coach and offensive guru Troy Taylor has left for Eastern Washington, head coach Kris Richardson and staff have proven themselves to be formidable under all circumstances.

So even though St. Mary’s didn’t win a CIF state title like Del Oro did, should the Rams then be No. 2 or No. 3?

Both teams have returning quarterbacks – St. Mary’s with Jake Dunniway and Del Oro with Stone Smartt – and both have other game-breakers coming back, the Rams with receivers Dewey Cotton and Keaton Hampton and the Golden Eagles with receiver-defensive back Mason Hurst. Del Oro, in all, will have seven three-year varsity starters at key positions.

But Del Oro’s title last year came in a lower division and if you look at how the two teams fared last season against Folsom, it’s no contest. The Rams lost by only 56-49 in the D1 section semifinals and had a two-touchdown lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Golden Eagles lost 31-0 in the regular season and 42-7 the year before.

It’s also maybe even more important to check the early-season schedules of teams like St. Mary’s and Del Oro to determine which one should be higher. The Rams open up on the road on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Serra of San Mateo, which is projected to be one of the top teams in the CIF Central Coast Section. Serra then plays De La Salle the following week. Plus, the Rams are playing national powerhouse St. John Bosco of Bellflower on Sept. 23. Del Oro is playing defending NorCal D1-AA champ Bellarmine of San Jose in its third game, but its early schedule doesn’t match the one by St. Mary’s.

Even if St. Mary’s loses to Bosco, if it were to beat Serra and Serra then turns around and plays rebuilding De La Salle tough, then positioning the Rams at second instead of Del Oro makes even more sense.

Doing preseason rankings really is a lot like playing chess. One should be planning moves before they happen, based on results of the games being played on the field or that are going to be played. Doing them just based on returning starters and player evaluations can cause complications later on.

Folsom isn’t the only team around the state that has earned a position in its local area of being on top until it loses. The aforementioned St. John Bosco has beaten Mater Dei of Santa Ana six straight times, most by blowout margins, but there are preseason national rankings already out that have Mater Dei higher based only on returning starters and summer passing events.

And of course even though De La Salle only has two returning starters, does anybody really expect with its coaching staff still intact that the Spartans are going to drastically fall off? And besides, even if they do, with six CIF state titles in seven years, and one loss to a California team in seven years, like Folsom in the SJS, De La Salle deserves to be No. 1 in the state until it loses. Just last week, St. John Bosco was placed No. 1 in a national ranking. Sorry, but giving up 58 points in the first half the last time a team played does not even come close to a team deserving of being No. 1 in the nation.

The real fun in preseason rankings isn’t at the top of the charts anyway. It’s more fun toward the middle and bottom when you can point to teams that have a chance to make an impact. Lincoln of Stockton could be a team locally in that category.

The Trojans (6-5 last year) have had a lot of success in summer passing events with quarterback Aaron Thomas and new head coach Anthony Martinez has some other intriguing returnees, including tight end Miquan Maxey. With their first game at highly regarded Antioch, watch for Lincoln to be higher in the preseason rankings than some might expect.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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  1. FolsomJim
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    This is why you are the man Mark! Great article and awesome rational! Most people thought Folsom would have suffered a loss or two during the regular season last year after experiencing massive losses from their graduating class, including me, but they just reloaded and almost ran the table. I think this year will be interesting since Troy Taylor departed and they will be breaking in a new quarterback who has not come up through their system. Plus they need to shore up their defense.

  2. phil60
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Mark, the way you do it makes sense to me. Every year pre-season rankings by other media have De La Salle ranked below teams in the south, and almost every year they win the open state game. These rankings people simply never learn. I won’t be surprised if DLS wins again this year, despite a “rebuilding” effort. Nobody can figure out how to deal with their blocking schemes and to match their precision. It is a truly amazing coaching accomplishment.

  3. NorCalSportsfan
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Folsom also has its QB athlete transferred from Rockland. Wondering if he sits out some? Folsom schedule also toned down some. Still will be formidable with that offense and they have some very good players on both sides of the ball, but not doiminating team like a few years ago.

  4. TinyTim
    Posted August 17, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article.
    For the most part I agree with it. Some pre-season polls are based primarily on a team’s “meat on the hoof”, even when many of those players have a “carpetbag” history of changing teams 3 or 4 times. Historically, these kinds of teams make loads of mistakes in big games.
    Your argument about Folsom being stronger than Del Oro makes a lot of sense, except for 1 factor: the Bulldogs have to play Del Oro at the Golden Eagles’ place this year. Also, Del Oro returns, I believe 15 starters, including a top notch QB, and Del Oro is certainly not a team loaded with carpetbaggers. Granite Bay and Rocklin look to be stronger this year also. Nobody may go through the SFL undefeated this year, which poses a question I have. With the relatively new rule that SJS has made is that if a team wins its league, it must play in that league’s division number for the playoffs. Does this apply to teams that tie for 1st place in their league?
    The other big issue is that team at Winton Drive in Concord. The Spartans only return 3 starters, and from what I’ve been hearing from locals, DLS is a year away from fully reloading. Most likely, Dela will win North Coast again, and probably get to the state playoff in at least D-1AA. However, this year’s schedule seems to be the softest they’ve had in years, and at this point, there are 4 (maybe 5) teams south of the 210 Freeway (but are all in SS D1) DLS doesn’t seem to match up against going into 2016. A state playoff loss to one of them would make it difficult for the Spartans to finish above the top 4 in the state, and a regular season loss would probably make it difficult to be higher than #10. Of course, if 2 or 3 of the teams on Dela’s schedule turn out to be considerably stronger than most are predicting and the Spartans beat them, than everything could be changed. I have been wrong about De La Salle in the past when the Spartans went on to win a state championship in spite of seemingly having to rebuild going in to the season.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted August 19, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      If Del Oro and Folsom or any two tie for the first in the SFL, the SJS is not going to split them up into D1 and D2. Both of those teams will be in D1. Whichever SFL team that does go down to D2 may win again too, except that Central Catholic projects to D2 this year instead of D3. I’ll ask your question, though, at next week’s SJS media day. And if DLS doesn’t lose in the regular season, then wins NCS Open title (all very possible) then they’re going to the Open Division state game. No way they’re going to look at some computer rankings strength of schedule number and stick them lower. Sure, MD, Bosco and Centennial project to be better based on players they have, but no way should Bosco be behind MD with six straight wins over the Monarchs and no way should Bosco be behind Centennial with all the points Centennial has scored on them last two years. And for that matter really no way should DLS be behind Centennial with a 4-1 record against them, two titles in a row and six of the last seven. I expect DLS could get beat early on with its new lineup but by end of season they’ll have everything cleaned up. Even at the end of 2004 (when they started 2-3-2) by the end of the season they were back to being as good as anybody.

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