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.
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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.
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.