The regular season and the playoff preliminaries are over. It's time to get down to serious business in the Central Section, and you'll see many, many of the teams listed below collide in the next three weeks. That means many seasons will end — but that doesn't mean they fall out of the rankings. A first-round loser in Division I might have been a finalist in Division III, so we'll continue to rank all of the teams even if they're done playing.
But for the most part, the teams below are all still playing. The fun is about to begin in earnest.
It's a big week in the Central Section outside of football, too. Stay tuned for postseason action from volleyball (section semifinals Tuesday, championships Thursday) and cross country (section finals Thursday in Fresno) as we gear up for quarterfinal Friday.
Here's the landscape heading in:
1. Clovis (9-1, Division I, last week: 1) — I'm pretty confident in saying Clovis would have rather played Buchanan, a team it had seen before and beat 14-0, than Liberty and its balanced attack and very solid defense. In fact, in a lot of ways the Cougars and Patriots are the same type of team. Clovis has just been a little better in every facet.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 8 Liberty
2. Clovis North (9-1, Division I, last week: 2) — Likewise, I think Clovis North ended up with a tougher task facing Bullard than it would have with Stockdale, which has struggled mightily when it runs into top teams. The young Knights are healthy and surging. Still, it's tough to see the Broncos' run ending this early.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 13 Fresno-Bullard
3. Frontier (7-3, Division I, last week: 3) — It's still fair to question Frontier as a serious threat for the Division I crown, simply because in the two games we've seen the Titans after Triton Douglas was lost for the season, they pulled away from Stockdale and then struggled to do the same against Division III Independence. Stockdale was exposed quite a bit last week by Bullard, so can Frontier do it without Douglas against a good team? We're about to find out.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 9 Fresno-Edison
4. Bakersfield (9-2, Division I, last week: 4) — No one doubted the Drillers as a contender, but we didn't exactly learn anything from a beatdown of Clovis East other than BHS was obviously sharp. The real tests begin this week: First Central, then either No. 1 Clovis or a rematch with Liberty if the Drillers get by the Grizzlies. This is still a team that will have a chance to win any game if it holds onto the ball on offense.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Clovis East, 63-7. THIS WEEK: at No. 6 Fresno-Central
5. Garces (9-1, Division II, last week: 5) — The Division II playoffs, which I've seen as the Garces Invitational for some time, actually should be pretty interesting. The Rams have a tough road and are by no means a shoo-in. First comes Kingsburg, a three-time defending section champion (albeit in Divisions IV and III), then possibly El Diamante, a D-I team for the past two years, and then the final. Garces is dynamite, but that's not easy.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. Kingsburg
6. Fresno-Central (9-2, Division I, last week: 6) — It took Central a while to get going last week against Tulare Union, but after that, every time I checked the Grizzlies had scored another touchdown. By the end of the third quarter, it was a blowout, and Central eased on to a much-anticipated quarterfinal with Bakersfield. The Grizzlies have had a recent history of really talented teams that couldn't win big playoff games; in Year 1 under Justin Garza, they'll try to reverse that trend.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Tulare Union, 55-15. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 4 Bakersfield
7. Ridgeview (8-2, Division III, last week: 7) — When Dennis Manning took over the Ridgeview program, a lot of us saw the potential with that kind of coaching staff and that kind of talent. The Wolf Pack went to the semifinals and lost a heartbreaker to Porterville in 2010, went one step further last year before losing another nail-biter, to Kingsburg in the D-III championship. Now, Ridgeview would like to finish the job before an inevitable move up to Division II.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. Delano
8. Liberty (7-4, Division I, last week: 9) — A workmanlike effort for the Patriots in dispatching Buchanan in the always-interesting 8/9 game. Like Central, Liberty has had issues getting big playoff wins in Division I, particularly on the road. This is another chance to break through against a No. 1 seed, and I'm sure the Patriots will relish it. Whether they can win? That's another story, but I certainly don't think it's impossible.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 23 Clovis-Buchanan, 28-3. THIS WEEK: at No. 1 Clovis
9. Fresno-Edison (8-3, Division I, last week: 10) — I bumped Edison up here not because I was super impressed with the Tigers' beatdown of Clovis West but because I think I've been too harsh on Edison for an earlier loss to Sanger. At this point, that's really no worse than Liberty's loss to Stockdale. The Tigers clearly haven't played a team as good as Frontier yet, however, with the possible exception of Carson, which Edison beat on a Hail Mary early in the season. Hmm...
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 24 Clovis West, 41-15. THIS WEEK: at No. 3 Frontier
10. Wasco (10-0, Division IV, last week: 8) — Bump back down for the Tigers through no fault of their own; just two Division I teams looking very impressive. Wasco is still the heavy favorite in Division IV, starting this week with a rematch against Arvin — the only team that really put any kind of scare in the Tigers in 10 regular-season games.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. Arvin
11. Visalia-El Diamante (7-3, Division II, last week: 12) — A small worry for the Miners as they begin their playoff run in the D-II quarters this week: At quarterback, it appears Mitchell Boswell has taken over for Jacob Valdez, who hasn't played since Oct. 11. Boswell has been fine, but his efficiency hasn't matched what Valdez was able to do in the season's first half. Three interceptions cost the Miners in a loss to Lemoore.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. Fresno-Sunnyside
12. Visalia-Mt. Whitney (8-2, Division III, last week: 13) — It took a Blake Aguilar field goal in the final minute for Mt. Whitney to outlast Porterville in the season opener, 30-28. Now the teams will meet again in the D-III quarterfinals with their seasons on the line. The Pioneers' only losses have come to Division II teams, so they've got to feel pretty good about their ability to make a run.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. Porterville
13. Fresno-Bullard (8-3, Division I, last week: 18) — The mover of the week is Bullard, which waxed Stockdale on the road and moves on to the Division I quarterfinals. Even if this is where the run ends, it's pretty clear that the Knights have improved tremendously since early-season losses to Buchanan and Clovis West. That's a testament to coach Don Arax and his staff, which will have its hands full with Clovis North.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 11 Stockdale, 42-14. THIS WEEK: at No. 2 Clovis North
14. Dinuba (9-1, Division III, last week: 14) — On the long list of teams looking for playoff redemption — which includes just about anyone who didn't win it all last year — near the top sit the Emperors, who rolled into the D-III playoffs 10-0 last year and fell flat against Kingsburg in the semifinals. This year, Dinuba has enjoyed much less fanfare as it cruised to the No. 2 seed. That very well could be a good thing.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. Madera
15. Sanger (8-2, Division II, last week: 15) — Interesting that the Apaches have played four one-possession games and won them all. That's either a team that has been somewhat lucky, clutch or both. Either way, Sanger won't be scared when it gets into its first fourth-quarter battle in the playoffs, which very well could be this week against Redwood.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 21 Visalia-Redwood
16. Tulare-Mission Oak (8-2, Division IV, last week: 16)
17. Stockdale (5-6, Division I, last week: 11)
18. Independence (5-5, Division III, last week: 19)
19. Lemoore (7-3, Division II, last week: 20)
20. Centennial (2-8, Division I, last week: 21)
21. Visalia-Redwood (9-2, Division II, last week: 22)
22. Tehachapi (8-3, Division II, last week: 17)
23. Bakersfield Christian (8-2, Division IV, last week: 25)
24. Clovis-Buchanan (4-7, Division I, last week: 23)
25. Clovis West (2-9, Division I, last week: 24)
Dropped out: none