With the football regular season about to end in every section of the state except two (CIF Central Coast Section & CIF Northern Section), we’re going to take our first shot at breaking down all of the possibilities for this year’s CIF NorCal & SoCal regional bowl game matchups. Keep in mind that any team playing in a CIF regional bowl game has to win a CIF section championship first.
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Note: These are matchups based on projected winners and rankings of teams according to their various placements into CIF section playoffs. We’re going to go by our own state rankings system to project matchups, and they’ve proven over the years to be just as accurate and sometimes show more attractive matchups than the computer. Consider each team listed as a placeholder for that particular section playoff division, which also is indicated. The biggest change in the format this year is the addition of another division at the bottom of the lineup. This was done, according to Ron Nocetti of the CIF, because there is no longer going to be any play-in games in the north. And one of the main reasons for that is that the CIF didn’t want the annual San Francisco Section Turkey Day game to be impacted by the earlier schedule on the calendar. With SF keeping its tradition, it wouldn’t be able to be in any play-in games. The addition of another division at the bottom also enabled the CIF to let both of the CIF L.A. City Section lower division champions into the field. Previously, only one of the L.A. City’s D2 or D3 champions was involved.
CIF NORCAL BOWL BOARD NO. 1
De La Salle (Concord) 9-0
The Spartans have been the NorCal Open Division team for the last nine consecutive seasons and have won seven CIF state titles in the 12 years of the CIF state bowl games. They have wins over Folsom and Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas to give them a better vibe heading into the CIF North Coast Section Open Division playoffs than in the last two seasons.
Folsom 8-1 vs. Central (Fresno) 9-0
Sac-Joaquin Sec D1 & CIF Central Sec D1. The Bulldogs have been great as expected after their loss to De La Salle in the season opener and they won the D1-AA state title last season. Central & projected NCS Open runner-up Liberty of Brentwood are right next to each other in our state rankings and this could flip if the Lions were to do well in possible NCS title game vs. De La Salle. Central traveled to Folsom for last year’s matchup in this division so the very real possibility if these two play again is that this year the game will be in Fresno.
Liberty (Brentwood) 9-0 vs. St. Francis (Mountain View) 7-1
NCS Open runner-up & CIF Central Coast Section Open 2. The Lions just beat Pittsburg in a much-hyped game and should be the No. 2 seed for the NCS Open playoffs. St. Francis won the D2-A state title last year but this season may be playing in a higher state division with one of the state’s top defensive units.
Del Oro (Loomis) 9-0 vs. Wilcox (Santa Clara) 8-0
SJS D2 & CCS Open 1. This matchup assumes Del Oro is going to lose to Folsom on Friday and not win the Sierra Foothill League title, thus sending the Golden Eagles to the SJS D2 bracket. State No. 28 Central Catholic of Modesto (8-1) and unbeaten Inderkum of Sacramento (9-0) also should help make the SJS D2 bracket quite loaded. Wilcox needs two more wins for a 10-0 regular season and then should be top seed for the CCS Open 1 playoffs. That isn’t the same as CCS Open 2 or CCS Open 3. Watch out for Menlo-Atherton (6-2) in that bracket as well.
Valley Christian (San Jose) 6-2 vs. Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 8-1
CCS Open 2 runner-up & NCS D3. Valley Christian’s recent win over San Mateo Serra pushed it upward in our State Top 50 and the Warriors only lost to St. Francis by four points. As in previous years, both of the projected top two finishers in the WCAL will be CCS D2 Open. The Cardinals, who have lost their only game to Liberty of Brentwood, represent an NCS playoff division that also includes unbeaten Las Lomas of Walnut Creek and unbeaten Eureka.
Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 7-2 vs. Capital Christian (Sacramento) 9-0
NCS D2 & SJS D3. O’Dowd has losses to De La Salle and Stockton St. Mary’s with a win against Monte Vista of Danville. The Dragons have moved up to D2 in the NCS, which makes that division much stronger than last season. Capital Christian’s best win has been against Grant of Sacramento. The Cougars are listed here from an SJS D3 bracket that by no means has a favorite. Placer of Auburn (9-0) may be the best and has a lot of returning players from last season’s team that reached the CIF D4-AA final. Merced (9-0) also looks very good projecting into that SJS D3 lineup.
Tulare 9-0 vs. Menlo-Atherton (Atherton)
Central Sec D2 & CCS Open 1 runner-up. The Tribe has continued to roll without record-breaking Kazmeir Allen at running back and has a monster showdown on Friday with city rival Tulare Western (also 9-0). We don’t think, however, that Tulare will be as high on the board as last season. It’s always tricky forecasting runner-up teams from the CCS (last year it was Milpitas from Open 1 and St. Francis from Open 2), but most scenarios show that the D1 Open and D2 Open runner-ups are most likely. M-A probably would have been the preseason pick for CCS Open 1 and not Wilcox and has played well recently with a new quarterback. Palo Alto (7-1) could also be a factor for CCS Open 1.
McClymonds (Oakland) 6-2 vs. Oakdale 7-2
Oakland Section & SJS D4. Mack has won two CIF state titles in a row (last year in D5AA) and will definitely be moving up. Its two losses this year are to Liberty (Brentwood) and Palo Alto but is now dominating in the Oakland Section at a laughable level (including last week’s win of 94-0 over Skyline). Oakdale has fallen in enrollment and would now be D4 in the SJS. The Mustangs are playing Central Catholic this Friday in an attempt to create a three-way tie for the Valley Oak League title. They’ve already lost to Manteca and Manteca has lost to Central Catholic.
Carmel 8-0 vs. Pleasant Valley (Chico) 6-2
CCS Open 3 & Northern Sec D2. The Padres won early in the season over Salinas and haven’t looked back. Aptos (8-0) is another possible CCS Open D3 team but still has Palma (Salinas) and Salinas to play to end its regular season. The other issue with Carmel is that the school has to declare its intentions to be in the CCS Open mix and that may not happen. It may want to try to win one of the CCS divisional titles that doesn’t send its teams to the CIF bowl games and shoot for a perfect record. The Northern Section doesn’t have a team like Shasta of Redding last year (which was in D3-AA) and PV still has to play its rivals from Chico. Still, we’re listing the Vikings since their losses are to Valley Christian (SJ) and 8-1 Rancho Cotate (NCS D2).
Modesto Christian 9-0 vs. West Valley (Cottonwood) 7-1
SJS D5 & Northern Sec D3. MC still has a tough game this Friday vs. 8-1 Ripon and the SJS D5 also has a great team from Colfax (9-0) looking to get the top seed. The Northern Sec D3 is usually dominated by Sutter and the Huskies (6-2) still could be the best at the end. We’re just going off of West Valley having a quality win over Paradise.
Moreau Catholic (Hayward) 9-0 vs. Ripon Christian 9-0
NCS D4 & SJS D6. Kennedy of Richmond (8-1) is another to watch from NCS D4 with a win over Deer Valley of Antioch and a loss to El Cerrito. Moreau has just been very impressive in recent weeks. Ripon Christian looks solid in SJS D6. One possibility for that bracket, though, would be if Escalon (7-2) was in it. The Cougars are from the same league as Modesto Christian, Ripon, etc.
East Nicolaus (Nicolaus) 8-0 vs. Lincoln (San Francisco) 7-0
Northern Sec D4 & San Francisco Sec. It’s by no means a shoe-in that East Nicolaus is going to win its section title again. Winters (8-0 and with a big win over Rio Vista) is another strong contender. Lincoln already has a 52-18 win against 2017 CIF D6-A champion Galileo and may have one of its best teams in recent years.
Kelseyville 8-1 vs. Fall River (McArthur) 8-0
NCS D5 & Northern Sec D5. Kelseyville would be the favorite for that smallest NCS division, which produced St. Patrick-St. Vincent of Vallejo the last two seasons. Fall River still has to play Chester, which is the team that won the Northern Sec D5 title last season but opted out of the CIF bowl games.
Big Valley Christian (Modesto) 8-1 vs. TBD
As explained by the CIF, the lowest division could have a CIF Central Section on either the north or south side of the board. And if there was another team like Chester last year that decides it doesn’t want to play, there could be a bye or also just two teams that will be matched together for a state title game that don’t have to play a regional game first. We put Big Valley Christian at the bottom for having the lowest computer ranking among any of the teams that we used as projected section playoff winners in the north.
CIF SOCAL BOWL BOARD NO. 1
St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 9-0
Head coach Jason Negro’s powerhouse team, which may be even deeper and more talented across the board than squads he had in 2013 and 2016 that won CIF Open Division state titles, is obviously the one we’d list as being the projected winner from the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. The Braves probably will have to get past either league rival Mater Dei (8-1*) or Corona Centennial (9-0) in the final and also may have to play Oaks Christian of Westlake Village (9-0) in the semis.
Torrey Pines (San Diego) 8-0 vs. Narbonne (Harbor City) 6-3
San Diego Open Division & L.A. City Open Division. Torrey Pines and Cathedral Catholic (7-1*) have emerged as the favorites in San Diego’s top division, but defending champion Helix (6-3) is lurking. It’s just that the Highlanders have a 42-3 loss to Cajon in their first game so if they get through they would be much lower on the board. Narbonne is the D1-A state champ from last season and has left its early-season struggles behind with several players becoming eligible, including promising sophomore QB Jake Garcia.
Calabasas 7-2 vs. Villa Park 7-1
SS D2 & SS D4. Rancho Verde (9-0) has been the top-ranked CIFSS D2 team in recent weeks but hasn’t played Heritage (7-2) yet and will face the Patriots on Friday. We have Calabasas ranked higher from that group with a win over Lawndale and losses to Oaks Christian and JSerra. The recent loss to Oaks also was close (21-13). We also have Villa Park ranked highest from teams in CIFSS D4 due to having a win over a Trinity League team (Servite). Camarillo (9-0) is that division’s expected top seed. We also have Villa Park higher ranked than any team from the CIFSS D3 playoff grouping and we’re sticking with that until proven otherwise.
Cajon (San Bernardino) 8-1 vs. Lawndale 7-2
CIFSS D3 & CIFSS D5. The Cowboys were in the CIF D2-AA state final last season and lost to Serra (San Mateo). They were looking like a higher placement on the board early in the season but then lost a game to Heritage (Menifee). Sierra Canyon (6-3) and Citrus Hill of Perris (9-0) are others who should get high seeds in CIFSS D3 bracket. Lawndale is from CIFSS D5 and has lost only to Narbonne and Calabasas and has a win over Sierra Canyon. To us, that should place the Cardinals as the highest seed for that grouping, but Apple Valley (9-0) and Aquinas of San Bernardino (8-1) have been ranked higher by the CIFSS.
Eastlake (Chula Vista) 8-1 vs. South Hills (West Covina) 9-0
San Diego D1 & CIFSS D6. One big change in the San Diego Section is its Open Division bracket being sliced from eight teams to four. That means the projected D1 champion should be higher on the SoCal board than D1 champion El Camino (Oceanside) was last year. We think Eastlake and Helix should both be in the SD Open Division, but it looks like Helix will be in while Eastlake won’t. That would put the Titans (only loss to Torrey Pines) as the top team for D1. South Hills, meanwhile, was ahead of even Bishop Amat in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune rankings until just last week. St. Margaret’s of SJ Capistrano (8-1) is another CIFSS D6 team to watch.
San Joaquin Memorial (Fresno) 9-0 vs. Northview (Covina) 9-0
CIF Central Sec D3 & CIFSS 7. SJM is probably one of the top five or six teams period in the Central Section, but doesn’t have a high strength of schedule ranking. If the CIF really wanted to match Northview and South Hills in a SoCal playoff game, which would generate huge interest in the SGV, it might not be a reach to put SJM even one division higher. For the purposes of this week’s board, we just went along with our own rankings since we have both Eastlake and South Hills in our State Top 50 and have yet to put in SJM that high.
Katella (Anaheim) 9-0 vs. Granite Hills (El Cajon) 8-1
CIFSS D8 & San Diego D2. Katella has moved up in its CIFSS division from 11 to 8 after winning that section title one year ago and then losing to Fortuna in the D5-A state final. Granite Hills just lost its first game 56-21 but it was to Helix and a lot of others at this level of the board would do the same. The Eagles also have wins over Poway and Steele Canyon. Watch out for Kaiser of Fontana (8-1) in the CIFSS D8 playoffs, especially the way RB Christian Hunter has been piling up the yards in recent weeks.
Palm Desert 9-0 vs. Highland (Lancaster) 9-0
CIFSS D9 & CIFSS D10. Since Highland beat Antelope Valley after Antelope Valley had that first game win over Sierra Canyon, that’s a team that has been on our radar. We could definitely see the Bulldogs in a higher division (perhaps higher than Katella or even Northview) but for now decided to pretty much keep them in line with the other projected CIFSS divisional winners. Palm Desert is actually in the next highest division than Highland. Eisenhower of Rialto (9-0), especially with its football history, would be an intriguing team for the CIFSS D10 bracket as well.
San Fernando 7-2 vs. Central Valley Christian (Visalia) 8-0
L.A. City Open runner-up & Central Sec D4. Which team eventually will be the runner-up to Narbonne in the L.A. City seems to be a wide open proposition. We’ll go with the Tigers for that right now, but others could emerge. Bottom line is that the second L.A. City team probably isn’t going to be as strong as Crenshaw, which won the CIFD4-AA state title last year. CVC also is not as strong as a favorite in its Central Section division as others from that section. Porterville (7-2) could make some noise there.
Central (El Centro) 9-0 vs. Western (Anaheim) 8-1
San Diego Sec D3 vs. CIFSS D11. The Imperial Valley had Southwest of El Centro last year (lost in D4-A state final to Milpitas) and this year it’s Central that may get there. To win the SD Sec D3 title, however, may require a win over Monte Vista of Spring Valley (8-1), which was in D5-A SoCal game last year and still has UCLA-bound RB Jahmon McClendon. Western has had one of the most prolific offenses in SoCal with QB Anthony Munoz and WR Caine Savage.
Shafter 9-0 vs. Linfield Christian (Temecula) 8-1
Central Sec D5 & CIFSS D12. With QB Alex Aguilar, Shafter has been great the last two years and just last week won an 8-0 vs. 8-0 matchup with Kennedy of Delano. Linfield’s only loss is to 8-1 Aquinas of San Bernardino (CIFSS D5) and one of its wins has been 85-12 against Ontario Christian.
El Monte 8-1 vs. San Diego 6-2
CIFSS D13 & San Diego D4. We’d have these two old schools going up against each other in this division. El Monte has a 38-14 win over Arroyo (El Monte) that stands out and is helped by others from the CIFSS in D13 last year that have moved up. San Diego High just won a showdown game against previously unbeaten Kearny. The two could play again in the SD Sec D4 bracket.
Strathmore 8-1 vs. Franklin (Los Angeles 8-1
Central Sec D6 & L.A. City D2. Strathmore won the D6-A state title last season and finished 16-0. The Spartans don’t seem to be as strong this year, but are still in the same Central Section playoff division and may win again. That’s why they can still be in the same state division. Franklin just lost its first game in a rout to Eagle Rock, but unfortunately for Eagle Rock it’s going to be in LA City Open/D1 playoffs. Franklin still has the best record of any of the LA City D2 teams.
Orange Glen (Escondido) 6-2 vs. Santee (Los Angeles) 8-1
SD Sec D5 & L.A. City D3. We put these two at the bottom of the SoCal board and against each other for having the two lowest computer rankings among all SoCal teams on this board. Since we have Shafter and Strathmore as projected winners in the CIF Central Section, we also put both in the south (Bakersfield area), which also filled out the south board through 7-AA while there was an open spot in the north.