A good week for me last week, and I needed it, because things are about to get tough. The five leagues that contain 90 percent of Kern County's teams — the Southwest, South and Southeast Yosemite Leagues, the South Sequoia League and the High Desert League — are chock full of evenly matched teams. That's going to make for a really entertaining league season, and probably a lot of missed picks.
Oh well. I'm here for you guys, whether that's making solid predictions or being ridiculed. That's for you to decide.
Now, a look back at a great Week 5 in picks before we move on to this weekend:
The good: Good week all around, even on most margins of victory. Especially proud of Shafter over Taft on the road, Golden Valley over Foothill on the road, and finally a good week in the desert.
The bad: Some margins were indeed way off, particularly Stockdale over Buchanan. Many thought the Bears would win that game; at least I went with the Mustangs, even if I had it a lot closer than 69-26.
The ugly: Oh, Highland and Rosamond. Two schools I just can't seem to figure out were the only ones between me and a perfect week.
Friday, Oct. 5
LIBERTY (3-2, 0-0 SWYL) AT BAKERSFIELD (5-0, 0-0) — I'm afraid the Kern County "Game of the Year" might have already come and gone with the Drillers outlasting Garces in Week 2, but there will be plenty of opportunities in the SWYL to challenge that ruling. This is the first: A Patriots team that has been snakebitten twice, first by a missed extra point by in a 10-9 loss to Central, then by a poor start in falling 26-16 to Ridgeview. But Liberty is one of the most complete teams in Kern County. There isn't really a weak point on this team, and coach Tony Mills' decision to play 22 starters at 22 spots usually pays off at the end of games. Trouble is, the past couple of years, the Patriots haven't been around past halftime against the Drillers. Liberty might move the ball a bit at Griffith Field, and the defense might have its moments, too, but the bottom line will be explosive plays: Bakersfield will make quite a few more than Liberty, and that difference will be too much for the visitors to overcome. The No. 5 team in the state rolls on.
Prediction: Bakersfield 44, Liberty 21
FRONTIER (2-3, 0-0 SWYL) AT CENTENNIAL (2-3, 0-0) — The state-bowl implications obviously aren't there, but as far as the SWYL race, this is just as big as Liberty-Bakersfield. The winner is a contender for the title and can start looking ahead to its games with Stockdale, Liberty and, yes, Bakersfield as opportunities to work on playoff seeding and league positioning. The loser is back into desperation mode. If last week's game was any indication, Centennial has great potential for big plays, but it also has great potential for mistakes. Frontier is steadier — it did have the four-turnover win over Ridgeview, but since then, the Titans have ridden Triton Douglas to a consistent offense. That will probably be effective against the Golden Hawks, but expect Centennial to fight back with big plays. This will be close. My hunch is that the difference could be in special teams; both teams have had big plays in the return game. Whoever better defends the other in that department should win the field position battle and the game.
Prediction: Frontier 34, Centennial 28
INDEPENDENCE (4-1, 0-0 SWYL) AT STOCKDALE (2-3, 0-0) — Again, the winner here has a chance to feel pretty darn good about itself heading into the final four games of the season. The Falcons have proven that they can be a factor in this league, particularly with the play-making ability of Preston Hodges, whom I rank right up there with Kamari Cotton-Moya and Asauni Rufus as the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the county. I do have some reservations about Independence in run defense against D.J. Martin, Anthony Wood and Stockdale's deception offense, and I'm also unsure about the Falcons' depth. The Mustangs came through with a big perfoamance last week; now the question is whether they can do it without the fuel of desperation. I'll say they've turned enough of a corner to win this one and move on to Centennial next week.
Prediction: Stockdale 42, Independence 28
BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (4-1, 2-0 SSL) AT SHAFTER (6-0, 2-0) — This has potential to be the best game of the weekend. In fact, if I had to pick one game to go down to the wire, this would be it. The Generals passed a huge test at Taft last week, holding off the hard-charging Wildcats 21-19 to become the section's first six-win team. Can they be the first to seven against a BCHS team that also has a dynamic offense? I'm sold on Shafter, and I'm but I think it just might be time for a small letdown. The Eagles will be the best team Shafter has seen. Then again, BCHS hasn't played a team as good as Shafter since a Week 0 loss to Ontario Christian. What gives? Not sure, to be honest with you. Shafter might have learned something about itself in a close game last week, and the Generals should have the support of a big home crowd. I'll take the home team in a heart-stopper.
Prediction: Shafter 34, Bakersfield Christian 31
SOUTH (4-1, 0-0 SYL) AT WEST (2-3, 0-0) — It's hard not to think back to South's game against Arvin four weeks ago and wonder what might have been for the Rebels, who tossed a lateral into the end zone for a gifted safety and made a bunch of other mistakes in a 28-22 loss to Arvin. With a win there, South would be undefeated and gearing up for a really good seed in Division III. Instead, they're going to be caught in the undertow of a loss to a D-IV team when they're compared with a bunch of other good D-IIIs. One way to remedy that issue would be to win the SYL, and the Rebels are certainly capable. The game against Ridgeview next week will be the big one in the league chase — if South can get through this one. I think they can — West plays tough for 48 minutes, but the Rebels should have the goods on offense to pull away.
Prediction: South 35, West 21
MIRA MONTE (2-4, 0-0 SYL) AT RIDGEVIEW (4-2, 0-0) — That was a big loss to Highland for the Lions last week, who remain stuck on two wins. My feeling is still that Mira Monte is better than it was a year ago, but so is the South Yosemite League, and the Lions likely will be underdogs in all four league games and could finish 2-8 again. They're definitely in trouble against this Ridgeview team, which can run on anybody. Score a few early rushing touchdowns, and Mira Monte's offense just isn't good enough to keep up. Also look out for turnovers: The Wolf Pack's talented secondary might have a field day with Frankie Ruiz, who has thrown for quite a few yards but also has seven interceptions in the past three games.
Prediction: Ridgeview 49, Mira Monte 13
TEHACHAPI (4-1, 0-0 SEYL) AT EAST (0-5, 0-0) — The Warriors survived a tight fourth quarter at West last week and moved to 4-1. This is shaping up as a pretty vintage Tehachapi season: Get over some early hiccups, keep the record good and then roll into league play and improve as the weather gets colder. OK, so maybe the weather is never going to get colder, but the rest of it seems true. The season finale against Garces still is going to be tough for Tehachapi, but the Warriors can handle everything else in the Southeast Yosemite League without too much trouble. After what Independence did to East on the ground last week, I think Tehachapi is due for a big night on offense.
Prediction: Tehachapi 42, East 17
GARCES (4-1, 0-0 SEYL) AT HIGHLAND (2-3, 0-0) — Kudos are in order for the Scots, who found a way to win another close game last week against Mira Monte and have gotten to 2-3 despite anemic offensive performances throughout. With a really young team, a couple more wins are possible, as is a Division III playoff berth. That would be quite an accomplishment for a team that had to re-build nearly its entire roster and part of its coaching staff. This will not be the week to build momentum for Highland, though: This was a close game last year, but Garces is going to roll here, even if the Rams don't play well. It will be interesting to see how sharp Garces stays the next four weeks, leading into the season finale at Tehachapi and the D-II playoffs, because the Rams will be big-time favorites in each of the four.
Prediction: Garces 56, Highland 6
FOOTHILL (1-4, 0-0 SEYL) AT NORTH (0-5, 0-0) — The coach of every losing team in the section is going to give the "Everybody's 0-0" speech at some point this week. It's going to ring true especially at Foothill or North, where one team will be 1-0 in the SEYL after Friday night. I'm leaning heavily towards the Trojans in this one, who have lost a bunch of close games and can rely on Brandon Fanning offensively. North has lost a lot of blowouts and doesn't really have an offensive identity, though David Reyes has had a couple of nice rushing games in a row. But I feel pretty comfortable saying that at this point, Foothill is better on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Foothill 45, North 10
ARVIN (3-2, 0-1 SSL) AT CHAVEZ (3-3, 0-2) — The undercard in the SSL won't be bad, either, with both teams scuffling a bit after fast starts. Chavez has really taken a step back defensively in the past couple of weeks, though granted, that was against Bakersfield Christian and Wasco, two teams who will make you take steps back defensively. I'm still a little wary of the Titans, though, after a bad season last year. Is this a team that's learned how to win close games? Arvin is a veteran team that has proven, against Highland, Foothill and South, that it does. Give it to the Bears with another good fourth quarter.
Prediction: Arvin 21, Chavez 16
WASCO (5-0, 1-0 SSL) AT KENNEDY (2-4, 0-2) — The mismatch of the week pits two North County teams who probably don't even want to play each other but were thrown in the same league. The Tigers just want to stay sharp before their tough finishing stretch against BCHS, Taft, Arvin and Shafter. All four of those games might be tougher than anyone Wasco has played thus far, other than perhaps Golden Valley. Maybe. Kennedy's season is a success already, just for the fact that the Thunderbirds found a way to win a couple of early games. Anything else would be a bonus at this point.
Prediction: Wasco 55, Kennedy 0
TULARE WESTERN (0-5, 0-0 EYL) AT DELANO (3-2, 0-0) — Pretty stark difference for Delano in wins and losses, with the wins coming by an average of 24 points and the losses by an average of 42 points. The Tigers have yet to play a close game, and they probably won't this week. Tulare Western is a team against which Delano should rebound after falling flat against Dinuba last week. It's also an important game at home, because Delano has four very tough games to end the season after this. Lose here, and 3-7 becomes a distinct possibility; win, and .500 or better is still in play.
Prediction: Delano 34, Tulare Western 14
McFARLAND (0-5) AT RIVERDALE (0-5) — A non-league game between winless teams? Hey, you might not care, but one thing is for sure: Someone is going to be very excited to win this game. The Cougars have been the worst team in Kern County this year, losing five games by an average of 24.8 points. But the Cowboys have been the worst team in the Central Section this year, losing five games by an average of 50.8 points — against a schedule weaker than McFarland's. This is the Cougars' best chance for win No. 1.
Prediction: McFarland 30, Riverdale 14
FRAZIER MOUNTAIN (4-1, 0-0 HDL) AT KERN VALLEY (3-2, 0-0) — If you had Frazier Mountain as your preseason answer to which High Desert League team would have the best non-league record, raise your hand. Now put it down, you liar. Nobody saw this one coming. Sure, Frazier Mountain has played as tough of a schedule as some of the other HDL teams, but you can't discount the job done by Russell Heasley in year one up there. Now for league play, which means everything in the Southern Section: Only the top three teams from each league qualify for the postseason, and the winner here will go a long way towards securing one of those spots. This is going to be a tough one: The teams are fairly even, but besides home-field edge, I give this to Kern Valley: The Broncs are a program that has learned to win in the past five years. Frazier Mountain is still a team learning how to win.
Prediction: Kern Valley 23, Frazier Mountain 20
DESERT (3-2, 0-0 HDL) AT BISHOP (3-2, 0-0) — In some years past, like last year for instance, the Broncos have been head and shoulders above the rest of the High Desert League. That's not the case this year, but Bishop still might be the best team. And they still represent a really long road trip for any of the other HDL teams. Those things are going against a Desert team that has given up 50-plus to each of the two teams with winning records it has played thus far.
Prediction: Bishop 51, Desert 24
ROSAMOND (3-2, 0-0 HDL) AT CALIFORNIA CITY (2-3, 0-0) — That's not a typo; yes, four of the six teams in the HDL finished non-league play 3-2. Think this might be a balanced league? For once, that statement includes Rosamond, which is off to its best start in years under coach John Taylor Jr. Now the Roadrunners take on Cal City in what could develop into a really nice regional rivalry if both teams get and stay competitive. I've been terrible in desert games this year, and I don't have a good feel here. But I'm tired of choosing against Rosamond and having it bite me, and the Roadrunners are at home. They're the pick.
Prediction: Rosamond 18, California City 14
BARSTOW (3-2, 0-0 DSL) AT BURROUGHS (2-3, 0-0) — It's been an up and down season for the Burros, but there are a couple of positives: One, the rest of the Desert Sky League hasn't been great, either (the league has a combined 6-18 record), and three of the five teams still make the playoffs. Victorville-Silverado is 1-4 but has played a brutal schedule and might be the league favorite, but the winner here has an excellent chance to challenge that notion. The Burros have been a lot better at home than on the road, no matter the level of competition. I'll take them in a good one.
Prediction: Burroughs 27, Barstow 21
Saturday, Oct. 6
BORON (5-1, 2-0 DML) AT LANCASTER-DESERT CHRISTIAN (3-3, 1-1) — Five Saturday games in Kern County this week. That's a bunch. This is the only 11-man game of the day, and it looked to be the best game of the year in a watered-down Desert Mountain League. But then Desert Christian stumbled in the first half of the season, losing to Desert, Bishop (though this is the only team to beat Frazier Mountain) and, most shockingly, Silver Valley to open DML play. That doesn't say very much about their chances to beat Boron, which won every DML game in a rout last year, when the league was actually very solid.
Prediction: Boron 51, Desert Christian 13
NORTHWEST CHRISTIAN (4-1, 0-0 CSiL) AT RIVERDALE CHRISTIAN (1-1, 0-0) — One of the (many) different things about 8-man football is how sporadic scheduling can be. Riverdale Christian, because of budget constraints or lack of available opponents or any of several reasons, only played two non-league games, the most recent three weeks ago. Northwest Christian has five under its belt. In a matchup of two pretty even teams otherwise, that kind of game experience can make a huge difference. Plus, the Guardians are surging.
Prediction: Northwest Christian 52, Riverdale Christian 28
OJAI VALLEY (1-1) AT MARICOPA (1-3) — The Indians took a week off after making me look like a fool the week before that, beating Faith Christian 86-18 in a game I had picked Maricopa to lose. So I'm not going down that road again. In comes an Ojai Valley team that was just 0-4 last year and might not be much better in 2012. I'll take Maricopa at home for the two-game winning streak.
Prediction: Maricopa 44, Ojai Valley 20
L.A.-PILGRIM (0-3) AT IMMANUEL CHRISTIAN (0-5) — You've got to like Immanuel Christian's chances to get off that zero in the win column this week. Pilgrim has played three games and lost them all by at least 40 points against teams with a combined 1-8 record otherwise. So add Immanuel Christian to McFarland as teams I'm picking to get win No. 1 this week. That would leave North and East as the county's winless teams — and they play in Week 10.
Prediction: Immanuel Christian 47, Pilgrim 21
MOJAVE (4-1) AT VALENCIA-TRINITY CLASSICAL ACADEMY (4-1) — Mojave has played a tough schedule and fared well, but this could be the Mustangs' toughest task yet. It's also a fair approximation of what Mojave might face in the Southern Section 8-man playoffs, though Trinity Classical is Division II and Mojave is Division I. Still, tough to pick Mojave here on the road.
Prediction: Trinithy Classical Academy 45, Mojave 35
Last week: 19-2 (.905)
This year: 112-27 (.806)