This week’s matchup in Santa Ana between Mater Dei and St. John Bosco brings up a lot of history since the first one in U.S. prep football history involving No. 1 vs. No. 2 ranked teams also was between two California teams.
That one took place in 2001 and had beginnings in the 2000 season as De La Salle of Concord and Long Beach Poly both had teams loaded with underclass standouts. At that point of De La Salle’s eventual national record 151-game win streak, the Spartans had already defeated Mater Dei three times to prove they truly were an elite national-level program. But the projected Jackrabbit team for 2001 was going to be packed with major college prospects. If the two could set up a game in 2001, how big would that be?
Also at the time, which was before MaxPreps and other current media entities crowding the national rankings picture even existed, there was USA Today, of course, and there also was the FOX FAB 50. Those rankings were directed by yours truly along with longtime national rankings expert Doug Huff of Wheeling, W. Va., who also helped start college recruiting coverage in the 1970s with his articles in the old Street & Smith’s preseason annuals. Once the Long Beach Poly-De La Salle matchup was set for the third week of the season in 2001, there was a lot of discussion between Doug, myself and others from the old Student Sports Magazine and we thought it was the perfect time to start out both of those teams in the No. 1 and No. 2 positions in the FAB 50. USA Today did the same, with the difference that it put Poly first and DLS second.
This game lived up to the hype and was memorable mostly for the manner in which De La Salle “hid” what it had in junior running back Maurice Drew leading into it. Maurice, later known as Maurice Jones-Drew when he led the NFL in rushing, scored four times to lead the Spartans to a 29-15 win. Both teams also later went on to roll to wins in the rest of its games, including the Jackrabbits winning their third top divisional title in the CIF Southern Section.
Since those two teams were not going to play again following that matchup, that’s the reason it would have to be regarded as “bigger” than this week’s Mater Dei-Bosco clash. Those two teams are also No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation and like in 2001 there are different national polls that have different teams in the top position. With the development of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoff bracket, however, the Mater Dei-Bosco games in the regular season in recent years have been followed up by a rematch in the playoffs. And it’s the winner of the second game that goes on to the CIF Open Division state final with the loser going home.
Setting up preseason national rankings and purposefully looking for possible No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups as the various seasons unfold has become more common in national polls in all sports. They work because who can really argue about a team from Florida being second and a team from Texas being third when there’s a game between two great teams on the horizon. They generate even more media hype than a No. 1 vs. No. 5 matchup would bring and the winner of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 then becomes a more legitimate No. 1 national team. In the case of MD and Bosco, the complication would be if they split. Is the winner of the second game automatically No. 1 in the nation even with a loss in the first game? That then depends on what happens in other states.