With only five games left on the schedule (plus maybe a couple more next week, but we'll get to that), the rankings are taking on final shape. Still a chance for a few teams to move up or down, based on Friday's results, including the top spot if Clovis North should fall to Central in the Division I final. I'm sure most are more concerned with getting that Valley championship plaque anyway.
Here we go. I'll do a final set of rankings after the season's over, but this is the picture headed into Championship Week.
1. Clovis North (11-1, Division I, last week: 1) — After the Broncos escaped late-charging Edison in the semifinals, there's no doubt left that they're the section favorite, and not just because Clovis North whipped Central 50-7 the first time they played. This has been the best team in the section from start to finish, and a berth in the Division I Southern California regional bowl game likely awaits the Broncos if they finish the job.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 5 Fresno-Edison, 37-34. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 3 Fresno-Central
2. Clovis (9-2, Division I, last week: 2) — Until this week, Clovis was not only the only team to beat Clovis North, but it was the only team particularly close to doing so. But the Cougars dabbled in close games all year long, and they finally made a late mistake (two of them actually) in a loss to Liberty that cost them the title. Clovis could even slide another spot or two depending on the D-I and D-II finals go.
LAST WEEK: season over
3. Fresno-Central (11-2, Division I, last week: 4) — Don't know if it's the move of L.J. Moore to quarterback or just general improvement, but Central's coaching staff, led by Justin Garza, deserves an awful lot of credit for engineering a recovery mission of the Grizzlies season after back-to-back losses to Clovis and Clovis North early in league play. Now Central can atone for the most miserable week of its season, a 50-7 loss to the Broncos, on the section's biggest stage.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 7 Liberty, 35-14. THIS WEEK: at No. 1 Clovis North
4. Garces (11-1, Division II, last week: 3) — The Rams slip a spot based mostly on Central's continuing surge but also because they looked sloppy quite often in the first half against Sunnyside before bulldozing the Wildcats in the second half. Garces is so explosive that it can get away with many mistakes; but if this team played a full Division I schedule, that wouldn't be the case week in and week out.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Fresno-Sunnyside, 61-33. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 12 Sanger
5. Fresno-Edison (9-4, Division I, last week: 5) — I've used this line already for other teams, but the Tigers' final game really was a microcosm of the season: A slow start, some flashes of brilliance but too many ups and downs in the middle and then a strong finish that came up just short of glory. I can't shake the feeling that the Edison-Clovis North semifinal might have been for the section championship. We'll see what Central has to say about that, but that's what I'm thinking at the moment.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 1 Clovis North, 37-34. THIS WEEK: season over
6. Frontier (7-4, Division I, last week: 6) — It might make the Titans feel a little better that Edison was basically playing on equal terms with section favorite Clovis North a week after the Tigers beat up on Frontier, but probably not too much. Also good news: Evan Moore returns for a senior season in which he'll be the centerpiece of the Frontier offense.
LAST WEEK: season over
7. Liberty (8-5, Division I, last week: 7) — The Patriots had to feel pretty good about themselves in a 7-7 game at halftime against Central, considering they had out-played the Grizzlies in the second half of the teams' regular-season meeting. But the offense went south, gaining only 59 yards and committing a couple of costly turnovers, and the game turned the other way. Liberty was a talented team that had a lot of trouble sustaining success.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 4 Fresno-Central, 35-14. THIS WEEK: season over
8. Bakersfield (9-3, Division I, last week: 9) — As Long Beach-Poly continues its unbelievable blitz through the Pac-5 playoffs (the Jackrabbits have defeated unbeatens Mission Viejo and St. John Bosco, which had four forfeit losses, in the past two weeks to reach the final of the toughest playoff bracket in the state), Bakersfield's 29-6 win at Poly in September will look better and better for the Central Section. Just not for the Drillers, who started practicing for 2013 on Monday morning.
LAST WEEK: season over
9. Ridgeview (10-2, Division III, last week: 8) — Odd that a team would get knocked down a peg after winning a playoff game, but as Bakersfield's overall profile gets stronger with each Poly win (and each Central win), Ridgeview looks more and more vulnerable. Independence certainly could have, and maybe should have, defeated the Wolf Pack in the semifinals. Now comes 11-1 Dinuba in what should be a doozy of a D-III final. Ridgeview had better shore up defensively if it wants to win the school's first section title.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 16 Independence, 30-28. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 11 Dinuba
10. Wasco (12-0, Division IV, last week: 10) — Don't let all the talk about a possible regional bowl berth get in the way of this very important fact for Wasco fans: The Tigers have won only one section title, and that came back in 1953. This could be a very special week for Wasco, no matter what the CIF decides Sunday about bowl games. But if Wasco gets in and knocks off a Southern Cal small-school heavyweight, the Tigers' stock will rise even further.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Chowchilla, 63-13. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 15 Bakersfield Christian
11. Dinuba (11-1, Division III, last week: 11) — The graduation of three-year starting quarterback David Rico did nothing to slow down the Emperors, who turned to junior Marcus McMaryion. All he's done this year is throw 41 touchdown passes to ONE interception, which came in last week's semifinal win over Porterville. McMaryion has already taken a visit to Boise State; that's the kind of challenge awaiting Ridgeview this week.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Porterville, 35-21. THIS WEEK: at No. 9 Ridgeview
12. Sanger (10-2, Division II, last week: 12) — Before we give the Division II title to Garces, take a minute to realize that Sanger's defense has been almost as impressive as the Rams' offense. The Apaches haven't given up more than 17 points in a game since a 45-37 win over Madera in Week 7, and the week before that, they beat Edison. And if you can run with Edison, you can run with anybody, Garces included. It will take a really good defensive gameplan and effort, but Sanger is one team that matches up pretty well with Garces' spread.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 20 West, 41-7. THIS WEEK: at No. 4 Garces
13. Fresno-Bullard (8-4, Division I, last week: 13) — It took the Knights a few years to recover from graduation losses they suffered after reaching the 2005 section final, but after winning it all in 2009, the Knights were back in the final in 2011. After a decent-but-not-great year this season for Bullard, we flip the calendar back to an odd year. Good chance this is a team to look out for in nine months.
LAST WEEK: season over
14. Independence (6-6, Division III, last week: 16) — Kind of odd to leapfrog the Falcons over a Stockdale team that beat Independence by 40 points, but that game was the product of a bunch of turnovers, and the Falcons have been impressive enough since (beating Centennial, hanging with Liberty, nearly beating Bakersfield and Frontier and then leading Ridgeview with the ball and 19 seconds left on the clock) to merit a top-15 spot. It looks as if the Falcons have just one more year in the SWYL; they'd like to make it a noisy one.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 8 Ridgeview, 30-28. THIS WEEK: season over
15. Bakersfield Christian (10-2, Division IV, last week: NR) — For their first big-time win since Derek Carr left school in 2008, the Eagles used a stout defense to shut out Mission Oak and reach the first Division IV section final in school history. Wasco awaits, and that's going to be tough, but with the big win in Tulare, BCHS took a giant step from "good" season to "memorable" season no matter what happens Friday.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 14 Tulare-Mission Oak, 7-0. THIS WEEK: at No. 10 Wasco
16. Stockdale (5-6, Division I, last week: 15)
17. Visalia-El Diamante (7-4, Division I, last week: 17)
18. Visalia-Mt. Whitney (8-3, Division III, last week: 18)
19. Tulare-Mission Oak (9-3, Division IV, last week: 14)
20. Centennial (2-8, Division I, last week: 19)
21. Clovis-Buchanan (4-7, Division I, last week: 22)
22. Visalia-Redwood (9-3, Division II, last week: 24)
23. Porterville (6-6, Division III, last week: 23)
24. West (6-6, Division II, last week: 20)
25. Lemoore (7-4, Division II, last week: 21)
Dropped out: No. 25 Tehachapi