FB: All-Time Preseason No. 1s

We’re continuing our preseason football coverage for the 2017 season with a look back at the Cal-Hi Sports preseason overall No. 1 ranked teams and how they fared dating back to 1985. Mater Dei of Santa Ana is this year’s preseason No. 1 team in the state, the third Orange County program to earn top billing since we began a weekly and final Top 20 format over 30 years ago.

RELATED: Preseason Teams No. 1-15 | Preseason Teams No. 16-30 | Preseason Teams No. 31-50

Coach Bruce Rollinson’s team at Mater Dei of Santa Ana is the first Orange County team to earn the state’s top billing since 2005. That’s when Mission Viejo had enough returning talent off its fabulous 2004 team to start off at No. 1. It stayed there until it lost against Hart of Newhall on a rainy evening on the road in the CIF Southern Section D2 semifinals.

Mission Viejo’s head coach Bob Johnson. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Hart also upset Mission Viejo in the 2003 D2 final, 25-7, to snap the Diablos’ 41-game winning streak. Had Mission Viejo entered the 2004 season with a 42-game winning streak, it might have even edged national power De La Salle of Concord as the state’s No. 1 team. Even though De La Salle was riding a 151-game winning streak, Mission Viejo coach Bob Johnson had that much talent at his disposal and the Spartans had to completely rebuild after 2003.

Those results also illustrate the point that what happens in the past, especially the previous season, can often dictate preseason rankings for the current season. It was easy to pencil in De La Salle as the state’s preseason No. 1 team during the second half of its national record 151-game winning streak. In fact, in the last few years of The Streak, it wasn’t hard to pencil them in at No. 1 in the nation, either. From 1998-2003, the Spartans were that good. We knew at least two years prior that the 2004 Spartans, under then coach Bob Ladouceur, didn’t have the senior crop it did in previous years and could drop off a bit from a national and statewide perspective. On the other hand, they hadn’t lost since the 1991 season and we usually give No. 1 teams, CIF bowl game champions and major division section title clubs the opportunity to retain a lofty ranking until someone actually beats them on the field.

De La Salle opened up No. 2 in the FAB 50 national rankings and Mission Viejo opened up No. 3 and in retrospect it was too high of a mark even for a club with a 151-game winning streak. It wasn’t shocking to see the Spartans lose in their opener to Bellevue, Washington to end the streak, but it was to see them drop out of the top 20 the week of October 25, 2004 after a tie with Clayton Valley of Concord left them with a 2-3-2 record. The last time the Spartans had been out of the state top 20 was the week of October 3, 1989 when the Spartans sat at 2-2 after a 14-13 loss to El Cerrito.

Ironically, the 1989 season was the first time De La Salle earned preseason No. 1 status as its schedule began to match its talent level and it entered the season winning 57 of its last 58 games. Similar to 2004 when the Spartans bounced back to finish No. 7 in the state with a 8-3-2 mark, the 1989 team finished strong at No. 8 in the state.

With Mater Dei beginning at No. 1 and St. John Bosco at No. 2, it’s interesting to look back to see two teams from the same league being No. 1 and No. 2 in the state. It happened in both 1987 and 1988 with Crespi of Encino and Loyola of Los Angeles in the Del Rey League.

Those Crespi teams were led by super back Russell White, who was the state player of the year as a sophomore in 1986, while Loyola always had one of the state’s best defenses under then coach Steve Grady. As a junior, White was being touted as the best high school running back in the country and perhaps the best in many years. He certainly was one of the most publicized ever from California and the Celts, top-ranked in the state (and nation), opened on the road at Redlands. Crespi settled for a 17-17 tie after White left the game with a hip pointer in the second quarter. Crespi eventually lost the league crown to Loyola, 15-8, and in the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals to the team that did finish ranked No. 1 in the state and nation: Fontana.

The roles were reversed in 1988, as Loyola opened up No. 1 in the state and Crespi No. 2. Loyola rose to No. 1 in the nation by the time it met Crespi and held White to 19 yards on 10 carries in a 17-6 victory. Loyola’ season came to an end at 12-1 when it lost to Bishop Amat of La Puente, 16-0, in the CIFSS D1 semifinals. As for preseason No. 2 Crespi, White and some of his teammates on offense battled injury all season long and finished at 6-6. Although White graduated as the state’s all-time leading rusher (5,998 yards), he never had more than 96 yards in three games versus Loyola, going for 28 yards on 14 carries in the 1987 game before over 11,000 fans.  You can bet this year’s Mater Dei-St. John Bosco Trinity League showdown will have similar hype.

Only two preseason No. 1 teams since 1986 (when we began with a preseason and final overall state Top 20) have finished outside the top 10 and only one completely didn’t come close to meeting expectations. In 1990, Fontana lost in a Citrus Belt League showdown to Eisenhower of Rialto, 16-7, and to eventual CIFSS D1 champ Loyola, 10-7, in a CIFSS D1 quarterfinal game. Eisenhower opened up the 1991 season No. 1 in the nation before it lost in the CIFSS D1 final to Mater Dei.

The following season Carson opened up No. 2 in the country.  The Colts had a talent-level similar to some of the powerhouse teams they had in the 1970s and 1980s under the late Gene Vollnogle. Unfortunately, Vollnogle retired after the 1990 season and the Colts were quite undisciplined in 1991 and 1992. Carson tied Mt. Carmel of San Diego, 7-7, in its opener and never really recovered playing a tough schedule, fell out of the rankings and did not get back in the Top 20 for the final edition.

In the early years of our rankings (pre-1986), we had some scenarios that we vowed to not repeat and it helped us get better as rankings compilers. In 1979, Cordova was our No. 1 team throughout the season, but we flipped the top spot at the end with two-loss Edison of Huntington Beach earning State Team of the Year honors. It wasn’t a popular decision in NorCal and we would never drop the No. 1 team now after winning its last game. The next year, we didn’t think Edison was quite as good, even though it didn’t lose, and at the end we thought Banning of Wilmington was a better club. We wanted to flip the teams for many weeks but waited too long to do so.

The next season, Cordova, led my All-American back Kevin Willhite, was a strong team but when Willhite got banged up, the Lancers squeaked by 1-2 Pinole Valley of Pinole, 13-12, and fell from the top spot. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come because two weeks later the Lancers were shocked by  Christian Brothers of Sacramento, 24-6, and fell from the rankings. The next week, Cordova fell to Capital (Boise, Idaho), 14-0.

In 1983, we didn’t have an overwhelming favorite to start at No. 1, so we went with Edison of Huntington Beach. The Chargers got off to a bad start, losing their first game to Damien of La Verne, 27-7. Two weeks later, we knew this team wasn’t anywhere near what we forecasted in the preseason when Banning of Wilmington downed the proud program, 33-0. The following week, Edison tied Santa Maria, 14-14, and also ended its season with a 0-0 tie with Marina of Huntington Beach and failed to make the CIFSS Big-Five Conference playoffs.

Cal-Hi Sports Preseason No. 1 Ranked Teams
(Listed with final overall record and final ranking)

1979 : Cordova of Rancho Cordova (13-0) No. 2
1980 : Edison of Huntington Beach (14-0) No. 2
1981 : Cordova of Rancho Cordova (8-2) NR
1982 : Banning of Wilmington (9-1-1) No. 9
1983 : Edison of Huntington Beach (4-4-2) NR
1984 : St. Francis of Mountain View (10-2-1) No. 2
1985 : Long Beach Poly (11-1-1) No. 4
1986 : Carson (11-1) No. 5
1987 : Crespi of Encino (10-2-1) No. 4
1988 : Loyola of Los Angeles (12-1) No. 5
1989 : De La Salle of Concord (11-2) No. 8
1990 : Fontana (10-2) No. 13
1991 : Eisenhower of Rialto (13-1) No. 2
1992 : Carson (9-4-1) NR
1993 : Bishop Amat of La Puente (11-1) No. 8
1994 : Bishop Amat of La Puente (13-1) No. 3
1995 : Los Alamitos (11-2) No. 8
1996 : De La Salle of Concord (12-0) No. 1
1997 : De La Salle of Concord (12-0) No. 1
1998 : De La Salle of Concord (12-0) No. 1
1999 : De La Salle of Concord (12-0) No. 1
2000 : De La Salle of Concord (13-0) No. 1
2001 : De La Salle of Concord (12-0) No. 1
2002 : De La Salle of Concord (13-0) No. 1
2003 : De La Salle of Concord (13-0) No. 1
2004 : De La Salle of Concord (8-3-2) No. 7
2005 : Mission Viejo (12-1) No. 5
2006 : De La Salle of Concord (13-1) No. 4
2007 : St. Bonaventure of Ventura (14-1) No. 7
2008 : De La Salle of Concord (12-2) No. 5
2009 : Oaks Christian of Westlake Village (13-1) No. 7
2010 : Grant of Sacramento (13-1) No. 4
2011 : De La Salle of Concord (13-1) No. 1
2012 : De La Salle of Concord (15-0) No. 1
2013 : De La Salle of Concord (14-1) No. 2
2014 : St. John Bosco of Bellflower (12-2) No. 4
2015 : De La Salle of Concord (13-1) No. 1
2016 : De La Salle of Concord (11-2) No. 4
2017 : Mater Dei of Santa Ana (15-0) No. 1
2018 : Mater Dei of Santa Ana (14-1*) No. 1
2019 : Mater Dei of Santa Ana (12-1) No. 2
2020 : St. John Bosco of Bellflower (5-1) No. 2
2021 : Mater Dei of Santa Ana (12-0) No. 1
2022 : Mater Dei of Santa Ana

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