FB Preview: Eight Burning Questions

For the fourth straight season, the top of the California prep football rankings should be a tussle between national title contenders St. John Bosco of Bellflower and Mater Dei of Santa Ana. Photo: Nick Koza/sportsamp.com

We’ll have more of our preseason all-section, all-area and all-county teams to come (Orange County already done) plus preseason Top 50 team rankings, preseason all-state and more, but here’s a general overview of the upcoming 2019 California high school football season. We also have done an early preseason top 10 that has been input into our ticker at the top of our home page (which could be adjusted when the actual preseason Top 50 package is completed).

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1. Will any team approach Mater Dei or St. John Bosco atop the state pecking order?
With the way those two programs have stockpiled top college prospects and since they both have All-American returning quarterbacks — Bryce Young for the Monarchs and D.J. Uigalelei for the Braves — the answer is probably not. This would be the fourth straight year that these two have dominated the CIF Southern Section and then the winner of their CIFSS title game has gone on to win the CIF Open Division state title. There is one difference this season, though, and that’s that Mater Dei is opening its season on Aug. 23 at home vs. Corona Centennial. The Huskies are the last non-MD or non-Bosco team to win the top division of the CIFSS and they’re always dangerous. If MD rolls in that first game, then the rest of the season — other than the likely two MD-Bosco games — will be quite predictable for the No. 1 ranking in California.

2. Will the addition of the new CIF Southern Section Open Division have a big impact on the CIF state bowl games?
At least as far as the Mater Dei-St. John Bosco domination at the top it won’t. It also won’t matter much to teams like Centennial of Corona, Mission Viejo of last year or Oaks Christian of last year, who would still be in that very top division and still likely not able to come very close to the big two. The new Open Division, which is officially being called Division I and not an Open Division, however, will give teams that previously had no chance in the CIFSS D1 quarterfinals the new opportunity to win section and state titles. That’s because the CIFSS D1/Open Division will be an eight-team bracket and basically those teams that were previously seeded No. 9 or No. 10 or No. 11 in D1 will now get to be No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in CIFSS D2. Last year, this would have been teams like Bishop Amat of La Puente or Serra of Gardena. Would those teams have been superior to the Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth team that lost to Liberty of Brentwood in the CIF D1-A state bowl game? Perhaps.

The creation of new CIF Southern Section Open Division could be a big benefit for a top SoCal program like Bishop Amat of La Puente, which hasn’t been able to stay close to the big two but could win section/regional/state titles as a team that might now be just outside that Open Division. Photo: @SoCalBias/Twitter.com.

3. Are there even bigger favorites than Mater Dei or St. John Bosco in CIFSS Open or De La Salle of Concord in the CIF North Coast Section?
It could be argued that yes, Narbonne of Harbor City has become so ridiculously stronger than the rest of the CIF L.A. City Section that it should be regarded as the easiest section title favorite in the state. De La Salle, of course, still hasn’t lost in the NCS playoffs since 1991 and will again be heavily favored. And if the DLS defense can be rebuilt, the offense may be potent enough to come even closer to winning the program’s first CIF Open Division state title since 2015. Cathedral Catholic of San Diego, which lost in overtime to Folsom in last season’s CIF D1-AA state final, was loaded with underclassmen and also starts out as a big favorite in the CIF San Diego Section. It’s almost like you can pencil it in right now that it’ll be DLS vs. Mater Dei/Bosco for CIF Open, Narbonne vs. Cathedral Catholic for CIF SoCal D1-AA and then the CIFSS D2 champion vs. CIFSS D3 for CIF SoCal D1-A.

Daniyel Ngata of Folsom should be one of the best running backs in the state. Photo: Mark Tennis.

4. What’s going to happen with all of the turnover at Folsom?
Last year’s team at Folsom won its second straight CIF D1-AA state title, but was looking at the start of the season to knock off De La Salle as the NorCal kingpin. That didn’t happen with a 14-0 loss in the season-opener, and now questions swirl around the program with the departure of longtime head coach Kris Richardson and a good chunk of the coaching staff to Sacramento State to work with new Hornets’ head coach Troy Taylor. A new quarterback also will have to replace all-state Kaiden Bennett and other key players have graduated, but new head coach Paul Doherty will have big-time playmakers like running back Daniyel Ngata, receivers Elihjah Badger and C.J. Hutton plus highly-recruited defensive lineman DeShawn Lynch all back. Despite the changes, Folsom should still be regarded as the team to beat in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section until it loses to a team from that section. The Bulldogs also get to host De La Salle this year on Sept. 13, but it won’t be a season-opener. St. Mary’s of Stockton, which was the last team to beat Folsom in the SJS playoffs in 2016, could be the Bulldogs’ biggest threat in the section this season. We’re probably not going to start the team in the top 10, but in the 10-15 range.

5. What other changes at the section/state level could have a big impact on the CIF state bowl games?
With the CIF changing its rule that section runner-up teams will no longer be eligible for bowl games, the Central Coast and North Coast sections had to consider new playoff formats. In the CCS, there will be an eight-team Open Division and then additional divisions by computer ranking/power points. In the NCS, several ideas were floated around to create different divisions that could be won by teams that traditionally have no chance when in the top division with De La Salle. None were passed, so the NCS will continue with an Open Division at the top that likely will continue to be dominated by the Spartans and with a format that won’t enable a runner-up team (like Freedom of Oakley from two years ago and Liberty from last year) to keep on playing. All of this will make it much more difficult for CCS/NCS teams to win CIF state titles. Last year, for example, both Menlo-Atherton and Wilcox of Santa Clara wouldn’t have won state titles in their divisions because those teams instead would have been in the CCS Open.

Jaden Casey and the offense at Calabasas hope to be even more prolific this season. Photo: #D1Bound/Twitter.com.

6. Can Calabasas finally break through and win a CIF state title?
One of the most talent-laden squads in the state will be the Coyotes, with two of the top wide receivers in the nation (Johnny Wilson & Jermaine Burton) being targeted by the prolific Jaden Casey. Head coach Chris Claiborne has additional top players on the roster plus key transfer Elias Ricks from Mater Dei. Calabasas has had a ton of talent before, though, and hasn’t yet even reached a CIF state final. As a CIFSS D2 school, the Coyotes wouldn’t have to worry about playing either Mater Dei or St. John Bosco to win that title. They could win a D2 section crown and then would likely look at being in the D1-A or D2-AA state bowl games. We’ll find out a lot about them in an early matchup vs. JSerra of San Juan Capistrano. The Trinity League squad beat Calabasas 49-21 last season.

7. What are the best games to watch early in the season?
For teams like Mater Dei and St. John Bosco, national-level contests early on can be most important because both of them frankly are chasing mythical national titles in addition to the CIF Open Division. The Braves, in fact, don’t even play another team from California until the Trinity League starts. The Monarchs open up against Corona Centennial on August 23, but also have two other national games on their schedule. That Centennial game looks great for us, and it’s even better because on the way back north the next day on Saturday, Aug. 24, it’ll be Narbonne playing at Buchanan of Clovis. We already know both of those teams will be in our preseason top 10. Centennial also is heading down to San Diego to play Cathedral Catholic on Sept. 6. Another game that’s going to be great on Aug. 29 will be Calabasas at Rancho Cucamonga. That matchup just gained in stature after Rancho Cucamonga QB C.J. Stroud was named MVP of the Elite 11 national quarterback event held in Texas at the Dallas Cowboys’ training complex.

8. Who are the leading contenders to be Mr. Football State Player of the Year?
That’s easy because both Mater Dei and St. John Bosco have highly-regarded quarterbacks. Bosco’s D.J. Uigalelei was the State Junior of the Year and would have to be a slight favorite over Mater Dei’s Bryce Young, but if Young were to lead the Monarchs to a second straight CIF Open Division state title that could tip the scales toward him. Someone else could emerge like Tulare’s Kazmeir Allen from two years ago when he scored a national record 72 touchdowns. He couldn’t be named Mr. Football, though, since Mater Dei’s J.T. Daniels had that great season of passing, running and leadership for a consensus No. 1 team in the nation.

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. FBAddict
    Posted July 7, 2019 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Excellent questions! I’ve wondered about all theses same questions except maybe of question #8. Regarding question #5, I’m sure the new changes in CCS will reach you soon. But the CCS section will not longer use enrollment as a seeding criteria for any division. Instead, seeding will be based on their traditional powerpoint formula augmented with CalPreps ratings to place 40 playoff teams in 5 divisions. It is yet to be seen if CCS will win more or less bowl games with this new arrangement as it applies to the current SBG committee pairing practices.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted July 8, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      At least won’t have to wonder about projected runner-up teams anymore. We’ll just project the top overall Open Division team and will have to leave the other projected bowl slots blank until the CCS playoff pairings actually are done. Might actually be easier than in the past.

      • FBAddict
        Posted July 10, 2019 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        Trying to figure out the potential runner up in CCS was a nightmare. The new CCS seeding calculations should be, as you muse, much easier to estimate.

    Posted July 9, 2019 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Hey Mark. Appreciate the through preseason insights. Curious, is there any conceivable possibility that Narbonne could meet MD/Bosco in the playoffs and/or DLS?

    If not, why not? Thought the whole realignment with playoffs was supposed to improve the competitive balance and it seems like Narbonne is safely secure in a league of its own.

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted July 9, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Narbonne is in the L.A. City Section so without a SoCal Open Division game (existed for two years in 2012 and 2013) the winner of the CIFSS Open Division is going to go straight to the state game. Narbonne would have to schedule one of those two in an early season game and win for the CIF to consider choosing them. Narbonne has still never won the CIF D1-AA title (its title was in D1-A) so first things first probably for them.

    Posted July 9, 2019 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    …also, if. Calabasas wins out, is there any chance they’d be pitted against MD/Bosco in the Open Division Playoffs? (still not 100% on how the whole D1/D2 open seeding works)

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted July 9, 2019 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Looking at it closer, if Calabasas were to beat JSerra and Rancho Cucamonga and win out with the schedule it is playing, pretty sure they would be in CIFSS D1 (essentially its Open Division) and would therefore indeed have a chance to play one of the big two. The problem we have with all of these sections and the CIF bowl games is that literally every section every year has some new change to its formats/rules/process and the CIF itself does as well. Always takes extra time to dig into it all and figure it out.

  4. Jae
    Posted July 9, 2019 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I heard folsom.has some transfers incl. Qb from Washington and a db from texas..the db has some major d1 offers incl. Texas a&m…could that have a huge impact?

    • Mark Tennis
      Posted July 10, 2019 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      It’s still a new coaching staff and new linemen (except a couple on defense) so the questions will be there.

      • Jae
        Posted July 12, 2019 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        Makes sense it will be interesting…i forgot that folsom also got that DB from St Marys…so 3 big time transfers with two on defense so we shall see against dls

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