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.
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.
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.
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.