Week 5 already, and yet still so much to learn about the teams in the Central Section. What we do know is that Edison has emerged as a favorite, with Bakersfield, Liberty, Clovis North and Central in the lead pack chasing. After that? Other divisions? Some of these races are still a bit of a mess, and it could lead to some wide-open league chases and playoff races.
This week is a slow one for many in the section, with lots of teams taking a bye week before the rigors of league play begin. But there are still games to be played and lessons to be learned
How's about some new rankings to sort through it all? There was a lot to work out around No. 8, and again in the 13-14-15 range, and then again towards the bottom of the rankings. Kingsburg takes the hit this weekend, dropping out on a bye week, mostly because the Vikings' schedule has been so watery so far. That will change, and so will these rankings, one way or the other. You can be sure of that.
1. Fresno-Edison (4-0, Division I, last week: 1) — There's no question this team has enough talent and moxy to win the section title, so seeing them as the Team of the First Half isn't that big of a surprise. But past Edison teams have had lots of talent, too, and something always seems to happen to derail the train. But this one has some serious momentum behind it. This week's game against Clovis West just got a lot more interesting with the Golden Eagles' upset of Bullard, but in reality, the Tigers have passed their toughest tests and should be 10-0 and the top seed in the playoffs.
LAST WEEK: BYE. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 9 Clovis West
2. Bakersfield (3-2, Division I, last week: 2) — There was no hangover at Griffith Field, where the Drillers pummeled Buchanan into a first-half submission a week after falling short against state power Long Beach Poly. Asauni Rufus had his best dual-threat game yet, and Bakersfield showed it's still probably a slight favorite heading to Liberty in a couple of weeks. That rivalry has never been more intense than it will be Oct. 11.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Clovis-Buchanan, 55-7. THIS WEEK: BYE
3. Clovis North (4-1, Division I, last week: 3) — For the second consecutive week, the Broncos used a huge second-half surge to put away a quality opponent, this time with a 29-0 run (that actually started in the first half) to down Merced 29-10. Liberty has a legitimate claim to this No. 3 spot, but right now, I'll stick with Clovis North based on last year's track record and the Broncos' convincing win against Frontier.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Merced, 29-10 (Thursday). THIS WEEK: BYE
4. Liberty (5-0, Division I, last week: 4) — Ridgeview's best strategy against Liberty was to prevent the Patriots from having the ball, but that only worked for a quarter. Liberty is proving to be the deadly combination of efficient and explosive on offense, and the defense has been just as good. Before the season, I wouldn't have thought a relatively young team in Bryan Nixon's first season would be ready for the Drillers by Week 6, but Liberty is looking more and more tempting as a pick to run the table. Really, really impressive non-league season.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 14 Ridgeview, 55-7. THIS WEEK: BYE
5. Fresno-Central (3-2, Division I, last week: 5) — The Grizzlies are the wild card in this equation. The losses are to a Colorado powerhouse and in triple-overtime to Liberty, and the wins include an impressive beatdown of El Diamante. Could Central be the favorite in the TRAC, particularly with Arizona-bound running back Nick Wilson healthy? That's not out of the question. The marquee game looks to be Oct. 25 when the Grizzlies host Clovis North.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Tulare Union, 56-35. THIS WEEK: BYE
6. Clovis (4-1, Division I, last week: 7) — Like Clovis North, the Cougars played a Thursday nighter last week and now get 14 full days off before beginning TRAC play with an appetizer in Clovis East. After that, things get very real very quickly, with Central and Clovis North coming up in a three-week stretch. This isn't exactly your older brother's Cougars, either: With R.J. Hartmann slinging the ball around, Clovis can light up the scoreboard in a hurry.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Atwater, 30-22. THIS WEEK: BYE
7. Frontier (3-2, Division I, last week: 8) — This is the last of the true D-I title contenders, in my eyes. The Titans bounced back nicely from the Clovis North loss by thrashing West behind a balanced attack. More important, they flashed some serious depth, shaking off injuries at a couple of key spots and rolling anyway. And, as the season goes on, keep in mind: Frontier trailed Clovis North by just a touchdown with five minutes remaining. That was a game that was closer than the 40-19 score indicates.
LAST WEEK: won at West, 44-7. THIS WEEK: BYE
8. Wasco (3-1, Division IV, last week: 9) — There's a pretty big gap in my eyes between the top 7 and the rest of the section, and I had three or four different teams in this spot before deciding on Wasco, which competed with Bakersfield before wilting with some depth issues and hasn't let anyone else touch it. Could the Tigers really beat the couple of teams listed below? Yes, I believe they could — preparing for that fast-paced double-wing offense and high-flying defense would gives most teams absolute fits.
LAST WEEK: won vs. East, 69-26. THIS WEEK: at Chavez
9. Clovis West (1-3, Division I, last week: NR) — Obviously many of us were fooled by Clovis West's three opening losses, which were all to really good teams. I asked on Twitter whether the Golden Eagles had to go ahead of Bullard based on one week. I don't think they do, but I actually think this team's body of work, complete with a dynamite strength of schedule, justifies this ranking. Now it gets even tougher with a visit to Edison.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 6 Fresno-Bullard, 27-14. THIS WEEK: at No. 1 Fresno-Edison
10. Visalia-El Diamante (4-1, Division II, last week: 10) — Here's another team I'm not sure what to do with. The Miners have some nice wins — Tulare Union, Sunnyside — and got both of them in comfortable fashion. But El Diamante didn't compete against Central, and now there just aren't many opportunities to make another statement. Redwood and Lemoore are the other West Yosemite League contenders, but sweeping that schedule isn't going to light anyone's hair on fire.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Visalia-Mt. Whitney, 49-10. THIS WEEK: vs. Hanford
11. Porterville (5-0, Division III, last week: 12) — For the fourth time in five games, the Panthers rolled up 60 points, and this time they actually needed almost all of them, as Dinuba got 52 of its own in a really fun D-III showdown. I still worry a bit about Porterville's defense, and that will keep it out of the top 10 for now. But the East Yosemite League provides a few more chances to showcase this team, and no game is more enticing than next week's battle with Mission Oak.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 12 Dinuba, 66-52. THIS WEEK: BYE
12. Fresno-Bullard (3-1, Division I, last week: 6) — Ugh. That was exactly what Bullard couldn't afford, a loss against a schedule that didn't seem all that impressive to begin with. The Knights fell behind Clovis West 20-0 before rallying, and they made a game of it in the end, but ... I'm just not ready to proclaim this a true contender in Division I at this point. The good news is, the schedule softens again until Edison comes calling in Week 10, so Bullard will have plenty of time to right its wrongs. And we've all seen it from this program before; November comes and the Knights are suddenly a force.
LAST WEEK: lost at Clovis West, 27-14. THIS WEEK: vs. Fresno-Hoover
13. Dinuba (4-1, Division III, last week: 11) — I hate to punish a team too much for losing a great game against a good team, and Dinuba certainly has all of the headliner weapons, with Oregon State-bound quarterback Marcus McMaryion and Michael Wright churning out big yardage at running back. But this resume still lacks a quality win, and I can't get that lopsided D-III title game loss to Ridgeview last year out of my head. The Central Sequoia League is really good this season, but the Emperors are still the clear favorite. They'll have to stay sharp, though.
LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 12 Porterville, 66-52. THIS WEEK: vs. Delano
14. Garces (3-2, Division II, last week: 15) — Impressive stuff from the Rams, who played in that Stockdale game like they knew they should win. They locked down defensively and got a couple of big plays to put away the Mustangs. There's no reason this team shouldn't be 7-2 when Tehachapi comes to town in Week 10, and there's no reason Garces isn't favored in that one, too. Those that counted the Rams out of the Division II title race just a couple of weeks ago might be majorly re-thinking things.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 17 Stockdale, 41-26. THIS WEEK: BYE
15. Tulare-Mission Oak (4-0, Division IV, last week: 16) — The Hawks have very quietly gone about their business this year while everybody talks about Porterville in the East Yosemite League and Wasco in Division IV. Then Mission Oak popped off a big win at Exeter this week and suddenly looks like a team that could challenge both of those presumptive favorites. Elijah Porchia is a terrific weapon at running back. We'll know much more after a game against Porterville in two weeks that certainly looks like it's for the EYL title (and a No. 1 seed in Division IV over Wasco? That Bakersfield loss could end up hurting the Tigers).
LAST WEEK: won at Exeter, 47-21. THIS WEEK: vs. Visalia-Mt. Whitney (Thursday)
16. Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial (3-1, Division II, last week: 19)
17. Ridgeview (2-3, Division III, last week: 14)
18. Centennial (2-2, Division I, last week: 20)
19. Visalia-Redwood (4-1, Division II, last week: 25)
20. Stockdale (1-3, Division I, last week: 17)
21. Lemoore (3-2, Division II, last week: 13)
22. Sanger (3-1, Division II, last week: 18)
23. Fresno-Sunnyside (2-2, Division II, last week: 21)
24. South (4-0, Division III, last week: 23)
25. Lindsay (4-0, Division V, last week: 24)
Dropped out: No. 22 Kingsburg