Before predictions, time for a quick non-football update: The volleyball game of the regular season comes Thursday, when Clovis West travels to Liberty. The two teams have been the most impressive of any in the section at out-of-area tournaments (the Patriots won the Clovis Tournament, which CW didn't play in, and they were 10th at the Durango Classic in Las Vegas, while CW was 20th.). Teams like Centennial and Frontier will have plenty to say about Liberty winning the SWYL, but this game is, at the least, for pole position when it comes to the No. 1 seed in Division I. It'd be the equivalent of Bakersfield and Clovis playing last year when everyone knew they were the top two teams in the section in one order or the other.
Speaking of football: Another fairly mediocre record in Week 3 leaves me scrambling to get back to 80 percent after I nearly hit 82 last year. Right now, I'm living off of a 22-3 mark in Week 1. I need another one of those, and pronto.
From Week 3...
The good: I was spot on in the big Division I games, picking Bakersfield, Clovis, Clovis North and Liberty to pick up wins. Margins were fairly close on those, too, other than Clovis over Stockdale.
The bad: Had Mira Monte close over Foothill, but it was the Trojans who pulled away in the fourth quarter. Also slipped up on a few Southern Section games that cost me.
The ugly: "Slipped up" does not begin to describe my biggest miss of the night: Rio Hondo Prep absolutely hammered Boron, which I had picked to win the game easily.
Thursday, Sept. 20
DELANO (2-1) AT VISALIA-GOLDEN WEST (1-2) — Time to check back in on the Tigers, who lost big to Liberty to open the year. In retrospect, that was even more predictable than we thought, so give Delano a pass. Since then, the Tigers have won two games, over Chavez and North, with defense. No offensive player owns standout statistics, other than maybe receiver Pedro Aguirre, who has seven catches for 138 yards — nearly 20 yards a grab. But there is no Zach Perigo to rack up the yards on this team, that's for sure. Instead, it's more of a defense-and-ball control approach. That should work fine against Golden West, which gave up tons of points in losses to top-15 teams Kingsburg and Mission Oak and then staved off 0-3 Reedley last week, 7-0.
Prediction: Delano 20, Golden West 7
CALIFORNIA CITY (2-1) AT WESTMINSTER-LA QUINTA (1-2) — With school career rushing leader Greg Nolan graduated (I know the school hasn't been open long, but Nolan did have some impressive totals anyway), it appears the running back torch at Cal City has been passed to Robert Maldanado, who has 226 yards thus far on more than 8 yards a carry. Expect him to get some more carries, though the Ravens' biggest weapon might be wide receiver Antonio Day, who has 177 yards on 10 catches — four of them for touchdowns. That's big-time, and it'll be big enough to move Cal City to 3-1.
Prediction: California City 35, La Quinta 17
Friday, Sept. 21
STOCKDALE (1-2) AT GARCES (3-1) — Here's what we know: Garces is very good. No revelation there about a team that has won two blowouts, stolen a road game over a quality Southern Section opponent and hung with mighty Bakersfield for 48 minutes. So, you think, Garces should win this one easily too. But here's what we don't know: Whether Stockdale is a very good team. Last week's 37-6 loss to Clovis, while it was a complete disaster, doesn't mean we should bury the Mustangs. There is plenty of talent there, and if Stockdale avoids the turnover bug and gets a bit better play from its special teams and passing game, this is the kind of team that can beat anyone. There were open receivers on many of the 27 passes Stockdale attempted Friday night, and there were big holes for the running game at times, too. Stockdale isn't done winning, and it's not done winning big games. It wouldn't really surprise me, in fact, if the Mustangs go to Sam Tobias Field this weekend and surprise Garces. It would be an upset, but a mild one. Still, I don't think this is the week it happens. The Rams are too solid and too capable of the big play themselves to lose here. Stockdale makes fewer mistakes but still commits one too many in what should be a good one.
Prediction: Garces 34, Stockdale 28
RIDGEVIEW (2-2) AT LIBERTY (3-1) — Two teams that have scrimmaged the past few seasons get together for the real thing here in a series I'd love to see continue. In fact, if we can't get Ridgeview in the SWYL — and I think in a lot of ways the Wolf Pack are a better fit than Independence, at least right now — then the second-best thing is for Ridgeview to play plenty of SWYL teams in the non-league schedule. This will be No. 3, after the Pack split with Frontier and Independence in the season's opening weeks. Liberty has been better than either of those teams thus far, but make no mistake: Ridgeview poses a threat to the Patriots. It has athletes that rival those of Central, the only team to beat Liberty. But like Ridgeview's opponent last week, Hart, Liberty is just solid everywhere. The Patriots don't make a lot of mistakes, they make explosive plays in special teams and on offense, they don't give you anything on defense and they have one of the section's best backs in Corbin Jountti to steady them if all else fails.
Prediction: Liberty 28, Ridgeview 13
BAKERSFIELD (4-0) AT CLOVIS-BUCHANAN (2-1) — Part two of Buchanan's three-week series against the SWYL figures to be the toughest, even though it's the only one at home. Truth is, however, that under coach Mike Vogt the Bears have actually given the Drillers quite a bit of trouble. They were the last visiting team to win at Griffith Field, in 2008, and the next year Buchanan shredded the vaunted Bakersfield defense for more than 700 yards in a 56-41 victory. Those were better Buchanan teams, of course, and worse Bakersfield teams, but the schemes are the same. Can the Bears find enough holes in the defense to make things interesting? Maybe for a little while, but against a secondary that might actually be Bakersfield's most talented unit, it won't be for long.
Prediction: Bakersfield 49, Buchanan 14
CENTENNIAL (1-2) AT SANTA BARBARA (3-1) — This is one of those really tricky ones to call. Based on results, the teams appear to be pretty evenly matched — Centennial has played a tougher schedule. The Golden Hawks' victory over Redwood and battle with Clovis, which looks much better after the Cougars came down and dismantled Stockdale, makes me think the young Golden Hawks are growing up. Then again, this is still a team with a lot of guys starting only their fourth game and on the road. It takes time to learn how to do those things. Both teams will score, but I think the Dons will come up with a big play at home in the end to win it. Bryan Nixon likes it when I pick against his team, anyway, so maybe this will find its way into a motivational speech. Have at it, coach.
Prediction: Santa Barbara 31, Centennial 28
WEST (2-1) AT FRONTIER (1-3) — At long last, Frontier gets a break in the schedule. The Vikings easily should be the easiest game the Titans play, though it's no secret West under Mark Camps is a already lot better than it was last year. Playing a wing-T team is also not a whole lot of fun, though it will serve the Titans well for when they play Stockdale in Week 9. As for this one, expect Frontier's defensive line and linebackers to disrupt what West is trying to do on offense. On the other side of the ball, West has played very well on D but won't have the size and depth to slow down Triton Douglas for four quarters. Frontier should methodically turn this one into a rout.
Prediction: Frontier 42, West 7
MIRA MONTE (2-2) AT INDEPENDENCE (2-1) — The Falcons got their only win of 2011 in this game last year, which says more about Independence's schedule than anything else. Mira Monte was competitive in the game, which has been typical in the series. It's probably wise to expect the Lions to fight for every inch in this one — though hopefully not literally, after an ugly MIra Monte-Foothill brawl last week left six players ejected. That included four Lions regulars, and those ejections carry with them an automatic suspension for the following week. Independence would be favored anyway, but this really tilts the see-saw in its favor. Look for another big performance from a defense that has been nails all year long.
Prediction: Independence 28, Mira Monte 3
FOOTHILL (1-2) AT SOUTH (2-1) — The latest in a series of games between the SYL and SEYL that always seem like they go down to the wire. Foothill lost a tough one to Arvin and a lopsided one to Ridgeview before coming back with a big fourth quarter to take out Mira Monte. The common denominator has been running back Brandon Fanning, who is second in the county with 163.3 rushing yards per game. South, though, has hung its hat on defense. The Rebels shut down East after falling behind early last week, and a defensive TD ended up winning the game. That after South gave up almost nothing to Highland back in Week 1. So an interesting contrast in styles: I think South has a bit more up front and on the perimeter. Fanning will get his, but the Trojans will come up a couple of big plays short.
Prediction: South 27, Foothill 21
NORTH (0-3) AT GOLDEN VALLEY (1-3) — The loser here is in danger of taking up residence on the bottom rung of the Kern High School District ladder. Golden Valley started off fine, with a shootout victory over Taft and a shootout loss to Garces. But a head-scratcher against Highland and then a loss to Wasco in which the Bulldogs surrendered in excess of 60 points and 700 yards. Fortunately for Golden Valley, the perfect antitdote could be North, which hadn't scored a point in 11 quarters before scratching across a touchdown in a loss to Delano last week. The Stars are also operating without quarterback Austin Howard, who's out indefinitely after suffering a concussion last week. Look for North to change things up and lean more heavily on the run. That might help the Stars, but they won't keep up with the Alex Soto-Demetric Fair combination.
Prediction: Golden Valley 42, North 20
WASCO (3-0) AT EAST (0-3) — The snake-bitten existence of East High continued last week, when the Blades blew a 20-2 lead on South, then nearly came back from their own 30-20 deficit by recovering an onside kick before coming up short. That was the third straight week the Blades had led in the fourth quarter before losing three games by a total of 11 points. Ouch. Luck tends to even out, so East will have its day in the sun in a close game, but it won't be this week. Wasco is a well-oiled machine right now, and if Mira Monte and South can move the ball consistently against the Blades, plenty more big plays are in store for the Tigers.
Prediction: Wasco 56, East 17
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (2-1, 0-0 SSL) AT CHAVEZ (3-1, 0-0) — I wouldn't have bet this would be the marquee game in the first week of league play in the new SSL, but here we are. Chavez, aside from a hard-fought loss to Delano, has been rolling. Bakersfield Christian's schedule has been tougher, but since a season-opening loss to Ontario Christian and a first-half malaise against CVC, the Eagles have been really good. My sense is BCHS brings a lot more to the table offensively than the teams Chavez has faced, Delano included. Matt Smith is averaging more than 200 rushing yards a game, and Jake Thompson has enough receivers to keep defenses honest. If BCHS gets out to a lead, the conservative Chavez offense will have trouble keeping up. If not, the Titans will keep it close for four quarters.
Prediction: Bakersfield Christian 28, Chavez 17
KENNEDY (2-2, 0-0 SSL) AT SHAFTER (4-0, 0-0) — If you follow me and Fresno Bee reporter Andy Boogaard on Twitter, you might have noticed a conversation he started Tuesday night about the Central Section's policy of moving teams up or down playoff divisions based solely on competitive equity. Andy is no fan (and I'm not really, either, at least not exclusively), and he used Shafter as an example. The school has more than 1,500 students and was moved down to Division V after a series of poor seasons. That makes the Generals — by far — the biggest team in the division. Fair or not, Ricky Ishida and his charges can only play the schedule put in front of them, and they're doing a heck of a job. Derrick Barton has 11 touchdowns (8 rushing, 3 receiving), proving that moving him out from quarterback was a prescient move.
Prediction: Shafter 49, Kennedy 14
TAFT (1-3, 0-0 SSL) AT ARVIN (3-1, 0-0) — After he was a combined 7-of-42 passing in losses to Coalinga and Exeter, Wildcats quarterback Vaughn Richardson broke out in his team's first win, 34-14 over Corcoran. He was 12-of-23 for 202 yards and two TDs. Now the task gets tough again with a trip to Arvin, which has been very steady on both sides of the ball. Nothing the Bears do blows you away, but you'll be sick of Orlando Perez by the end of the night, and they won't give a game away. I'm still not sure what to make of Taft — there are two or three more wins out there, I think — but I'm not going to pick against Arvin at home here.
Prediction: Arvin 27, Taft 10
McFARLAND (0-3) AT STRATHMORE (2-2) — Since McFarland has become this year's version of Kennedy — not sure how they're going to lose, but pretty sure they're going to — I went looking for positive signs for the Cougars through three games. MaxPreps has only been updated for one game, and it was the loss to Kennedy. McFarland had 67 total yards. That's ... yikes. It's not a good sign, I'll tell you that. Strathmore lost games to Shafter and Kennedy comfortably thus far, but the Spartans shouldn't have a problem here.
Prediction: Strathmore 41, McFarland 16
FILLMORE (3-1) AT DESERT (3-1) — Based on results thus far, the Scorpions' best win was over Desert Christian. That was also their easiest win. Those two facts don't exactly mesh, which is why it's a little hard to put your finger on how good Desert is. My sense is that the Scorpions, who have 442 passing yards and 445 rushing yards on the season, are one of the three best teams in the High Desert League and should reach the Southern Section playoffs. Still, this is a tough one to call. Fillmore is better than Desert Christian but not nearly as good as Boron, the one team to beat Desert thus far. It's an admittedly shaky pick, but I'm leaning towards the Flashes, who are Frontier League favorites.
Prediction: Fillmore 24, Desert 23
FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (2-1) AT SIMI VALLEY-GRACE BRETHREN (1-2) — Speaking of that High Desert League playoff race, Frazier Mountain has announced its intentions to join the fray with a nice start to the season before dropping a 19-16 decision at Desert Christian two weeks ago. Now another tricky road game for Russell Heasley's team, but this one has a different feel to me. While Desert Christian won 10 games a year ago, Grace Brethren was 6-5, and they've already lost one close game this year. Coming off of a bye week with two weeks to prepare for this one, I think Heasley and Falcons come up with a nice gameplan and win a close game.
Prediction: Frazier Mountain 23, Grace Brethren 17
BORON (3-1, 0-0 DML) AT ACTON-VASQUEZ (0-4, 0-0) — One of Kern County's best QB-WR combinations, Austyn Fink to Jadrian Wiser, struck for a 66-yard touchdown in the opening minutes of the Bobcats' game against Rio Hondo Prep, and it looked like Boron, with a more spread-out offense this year, might be on its way to another big night. But from that point on, Fink barely reached 100 more passing yards and threw four interceptions, two of which the Kales returned for touchdowns. It might be back to the drawing board for Boron once it gets to the playoffs, but the good news is the Bobcats won't face another team anywhere close to that good until deep into the postseason. Bad enough for winless Vasquez to get Boron; worse that the Bobcats are probably not in a good humor.
Prediction: Boron 62, Vasquez 0
APPLE VALLEY (1-3) AT BURROUGHS (1-3) — This is a battle between a couple of teams that had good years last year and have fallen on rough times, albeit against good schedules, thus far in 2012. I'm not sure the Burros can finish in the top three of the Desert Sky League (hurts them that there isn't a sixth team to possibly beat up on), but I still like the idea of the athletes they throw out there. Like Burroughs, Apple Valley is no slouch despite the 1-3 record. This will be close. When in doubt, go with the home team.
Prediction: Burroughs 19, Apple Valley 16
COALING-FAITH CHRISTIAN (0-3) AT MARICOPA (0-3) — It's been a dreadful start to the year for the Indians, but over the next three weeks, the schedule offers an oasis. Two winnable games sandwiched around a bye week. But I'm still not sure I like Maricopa to win, at least in this game. Faith Christian has at least been competitive in one of its losses; Maricopa, though the margin of defeat has gotten incrementally better, can't say that.
Prediction: Faith Christian 31, Maricopa 28
Saturday, Sept. 22
NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (2-1) AT SHANDON (2-1) — It went completely under the radar, as 8-man football often does, but the Guardians sprang one of the bigger shockers this area has seen in a while two weeks ago, beating a very good Cuyama Valley program by 50 points. That's the kind of thing you might see once in a decade. Obviously, it ratchets up expectations for the rest of the season for the Guardians. Two of the teams in their Central Sierra League, Lemoore-Kings Christian and Riverdale Christian, are very good, but three weeks ago I would have told you Cuyama Valley was better than both. Does that mean Northwest Christian is the favorite now? A couple more non-league games before we find out.
Prediction: Northwest Christian 56, Shandon 24
ROSAMOND (2-1) AT BIG BEAR (4-0) — By waxing Mammoth last week, Rosamond doubled its win total from all of 2011 and confirmed that the sleeping giant of the SSL (the Roadrunners have the league's largest enrollment, and it ain't close) might finally be on the rise. But while the Huskies had to make the long trip from Mammoth Lakes last week, this week Rosamond has to travel some three hours to Big Bear — for a 1:30 p.m. game Saturday. Brutal road trips, particularly with a 4-0 team waiting on the other end.
Prediction: Big Bear 34, Rosamond 10
IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (0-3) AT SANTA MARIA-VALLEY CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (3-0) — Speaking of long Saturday morning bus rides, the Crusaders have a five-hour jaunt in front of them for a 2 p.m. game — though it's possible, for an 8-man school, that a hotel might be an option. If I'm a parent, that's the route I'm going: Make a weekend out of it. Valley Christian happens to be one of the better 8-man teams in Southern Section Division II, so the game might not be pretty, even if the scenery is.
Prediction: Valley Christian Academy 45, Immanuel Christian 7
Last week: 18-7 (.720)
This year: 74-21 (.779)