We're now just two weeks away from the point where these rankings will be essentially meaningless because they'll have been replaced by official playoff seedings (not that that's going to stop me from doing more rankings. I'm a junkie).
Until then, I'll do my level best to sort out the chaos that this 2012 season has begun. And really, it's all happened in the last three weeks. Before that, Bakersfield was the favorite, Clovis North, Central and Clovis led a long list of challengers and there was order in the world. Now, it's Clovis North, then Clovis (at least until they play this week) and then a bunch of question marks. Here goes nothing.
1. Clovis North (8-0, Division I, last week: 1) — I've had the Broncos as the highest-rated Fresno County team since early in the season, but I won't sit here and tell you I expected that beatdown over Central last Thursday. Clovis North, in its first year in Division I, is now the clear favorite — but there will be no laurel-resting here. Clovis comes calling in four days for a 1 vs. 2 showdown.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 2 Fresno-Central, 50-7. THIS WEEK: at No. 2 Clovis
2. Clovis (7-1, Division I, last week: 2) — Here's an analogy that will hit near and dear to a lot of hearts: Clovis basically is the Central Section version of the San Francisco 49ers. Dominant defense, issues at quarterback, usually score enough to win a lot of games. Now ... can the Cougars win the big game and grab the No. 1 seed? They fell to Clovis West with a chance at No. 1 late last year as a big favorite. They're not expected to win against Clovis North this week, but with that defense, don't count Clovis out.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 20 Clovis-Buchanan, 14-0. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 1 Clovis North
3. Frontier (5-3, Division I, last week: 6) — The other big game in the section this week takes place at Frontier, which is riding a four-game winning streak and has knocked off top-five teams in back-to-back weeks, first Liberty and now Bakersfield. The Titans take on Stockdale with the SWYL crown on the line — and possibly a No. 2 seed (Frontier, which lost to Clovis North, will be rooting for the Broncos, while Stockdale, which lose to Clovis, hopes the Cougars win). And if Frontier gets a lead, watch out: That bruising running game can soak up yardage and clock.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 3 Bakersfield, 28-21. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 7 Stockdale
4. Bakersfield (6-2, Division I, last week: 3) — Toughest ranking of the week. On one hand, the way the Drillers have played the past three weeks, they could lose to quite a few other teams in this top 10. On the other hand, both losses included more than a few bad breaks, few teams here have the potential for a long playoff run like the Drillers do, and their body of work outside of league play still can't be ignored. They stay in the top four, but wins against Centennial and Stockdale to end the year are a must if they're going to stay there.
LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 6 Frontier, 28-21. THIS WEEK: at No. 20 Centennial
5. Garces (7-1, Division II, last week: 5) — For the first time in league play, Garces faced a wee bit of adversity last week, falling behind 14-7 to a game Foothill team. But the Rams responded like the powerhouse they've become. The schedule the past few weeks has been pillow-soft, but remember, this team beat San Luis Obispo, Memorial (like a drum) and Stockdale (like a drum) and played Bakersfield tough. Garces is legit.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Foothill, 62-21. THIS WEEK: at East
6. Fresno-Central (6-2, Division I, last week: 4) — Woof. That's about all you can say about the Grizzlies' performance Thursday at Clovis North. I mean, in a supposed showdown, the game was out of hand by end of the first quarter. Central, like Bakersfield, has the talent to rebound and make a nice run, but I can't imagine the Drillers ever getting thumped like that. We might get a chance to compare the teams — a No. 5 Central at No. 4 Bakersfield quarterfinal is very possible.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 1 Clovis North, 50-7. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 22 Clovis West
7. Stockdale (5-3, Division I, last week: 11) — I'm finally willing to forgive Stockdale's two ugly losses to Clovis and Garces and vault them back into the top 10. That's on the strength of a four-game winning streak (vs. three Division I teams, plus surging Independence) and a D.J. Martin-led running game that can erupt for points on any play. Hard to imagine four weeks ago that Stockdale could be in the conversation for a top-three seed.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 8 Liberty, 35-17. THIS WEEK: at No. 3 Frontier
8. Ridgeview (7-2, Division III, last week: 7) — Ridgeview gets bumped down to make room for Stockdale, but no knock intended. The Wolf Pack was a bit sluggish after zooming to a big lead against West, but that's understandable after a series of easy wins. Now a well-timed bye week gives Ridgeview a chance to work out some bangs and bruises before the Wolf Pack opens as the top seed in a Division III bracket that doesn't lack for challengers.
LAST WEEK: won at West, 41-24. THIS WEEK: BYE
9. Visalia-El Diamante (6-2, Division II, last week: 9) — There's no question El Diamante is the top challenger to Garces in Division II, especially after the Miners dismantled Redwood last week. Now they'll look to wrap up the WYL title against Lemoore, another Division II challenger, and seal the No. 2 seed. Only losses, remember, are to Clovis North (by 14, the closest anyone has played CN) and to Central (and El D was missing its starting QB).
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 22 Visalia-Redwood, 34-13. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 24 Lemoore
10. Liberty (4-4, Division I, last week: 8) — Injuries have decimated Liberty's line play and running game, and good teams in Frontier and Stockdale have made the Patriots pay. Still, it's hard to understand how quickly the Pats gave away a 17-0 lead against the Mustangs. Hang on to that lead, and a top-four seed certainly is within reach. Now, the Patriots will be on the road by the quarterfinals — if they can reach the playoffs at all. They still need one more win to get to .500 and satisfy school policy for playoff entry.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 11 Stockdale, 35-17. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 19 Independence
11. Wasco (8-0, Division IV, last week: 10) — Like Ridgeview, Wasco loses a spot simply to make room for Stockdale. But the Tigers, even without their typically lightning start, still made easy work of a tough road trip to Taft. Arvin suddenly looks like it could be the Tigers' No. 1 challenger in the SSL, but at this point, it's hard to see Wasco losing before the Division IV championship game.
LAST WEEK: won at Taft, 49-10. THIS WEEK: at Arvin
12. Fresno-Edison (5-3, Division I, last week: 12) — The loss to Sanger a couple of weeks ago could haunt the Tigers, whose only other section loss was to Clovis. With all the attrition in the SWYL, Edison could have been looking a top-three or even top-two seed had it ran the table in the CMAC. Instead, they'll have to join the club of dangerous teams that will hit the road sooner rather than later in November.
LAST WEEK: won at Madera, 69-27. THIS WEEK: vs. Fresno-Memorial (Thursday)
13. Visalia-Mt. Whitney (6-2, Division III, last week: 13) — Another warmup this week for the Pioneers before a big one to finish the year against Redwood and then likely a top-three seed in Division III. There, teams will have to worry about senior Darius Armstead, who already has 951 yards and 10 touchdowns and had surpassed 100 yards in every game until Lemoore held him at bay — and, not coincidentally, beat Mt. Whitney two weeks ago.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Hanford, 48-0 (Thursday). THIS WEEK: at Visalia-Golden West
14. Tulare-Mission Oak (7-1, Division IV, last week: 14) — I can't tell whether Tulare Union took some luster off this week's matchup with the Hawks or added some after they lost 86-79 to Porterville last week, probably setting a national record for points by a losing team in the process (the record in 2006 was 74, but I can't find anything more recent). Either way, Mission Oak won't sleep on this rivalry game, and it shouldn't. Tulare Union is explosive enough to spring an upset.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Tulare Western, 54-6. THIS WEEK: at Tulare Union
15. Fresno-Bullard (6-2, Division I, last week: 16) — The Knights have righted the ship after head-scratching pre-league losses to Buchanan and Clovis West. Neither one of those games was particularly close, but Bullard also is pretty clearly better than those teams. That tells you (a) the Knights are really inconsistent and probably shouldn't be trusted for a long playoff run, and (b) they're still really, really dangerous on a week-to-week basis.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 15 Sanger, 17-7. THIS WEEK: vs. Madera (Thursday)
16. Tehachapi (7-1, Division II, last week: 18)
17. Dinuba (8-1, Division III, last week: 19)
18. Sanger (6-2, Division II, last week: 15)
19. Independence (5-3, Division III, last week: 24)
20. Centennial (2-6, Division I, last week: 17)
21. Clovis-Buchanan (3-5, Division I, last week: 20)
22. Clovis West (2-6, Division I, last week: 21)
23. Visalia-Redwood (6-2, Division II, last week: 22)
24. Lemoore (5-3, Division II, last week: 23)
25. Porterville (4-4, Division III, last week: NR)
Dropped out: No. 25 Liberty-Madera Ranchos