Playoff seedings were released for Central Section football on a very busy Saturday. We now have the paths to championships for all of the section's 66 teams who chose to enter the postseason tournament.
What follows are the six playoff brackets (click on the link for a prettier, printable version from the Central Section website) and my initial thoughts on bracketing, along with a quick final four and championship prediction.
Note: These are my long-term forecasts, if you will. I'm reserving the right to make my weekly predictions one by one as the games come up. Hey, it's my blog, my rules.
(All games are scheduled for 7 p.m. each Friday, starting next week. The better-seeded team is at home, with the exception of High Desert League teams, which can only host one another according to CIF rules.)
(8) Clovis West
(11) Clovis East
(6) Clovis North
Quick thoughts: The committee did a pretty fair job here. Central and Clovis North at Nos. 5 and 6 seems low, but the truth is two of those teams ranked 2-6 were going to feel like they got jobbed. Central's loss to Liberty, as we've been saying since Week 2, was one of the season's defining seeding moments. Bakersfield became a clear favorite after Edison's loss to Bullard, but there are plenty of contenders. And the Drillers didn't get it easy. A rematch with a tough Stockdale team isn't a great option, but the alternative is a Clovis West team that has played the section's toughest schedule. After that, it's likely Edison or Central — a team ranked in the state top 25 all year or a Grizzlies team that might actually have the most pure talent in the section. If BHS should get through and meet Liberty in the final, it would be only the second time in section history that two Kern County teams met for the big-school championship. The other was in 1988, when Bakersfield beat West 21-10 in front of 18,000 at Memorial Stadium. But there is a lot to be decided before that. The bottom half of the draw is wide open — Liberty hasn't been overly impressive in the second half of the season and Bullard hasn't played a good schedule. Clovis, meanwhile, was outplayed by Centennial in the final three quarters the first time the teams played. Does that make Clovis North, even with that No. 6 seed, the favorite to reach its second straight D-I final? It just might.
First-glance final four: Bakersfield, Edison, Clovis North, Liberty
Championship prediction: Bakersfield d. Clovis North
(1) El Diamante
(9) San Joaquin Memorial
Quick thoughts: The big surprise, clearly, is Kingsburg over Garces for the No. 2 seed. I thought it would go the other way, simply because teams that don't play many games within their own division aren't usually given the benefit of the doubt. But on MaxPreps, the two teams' schedules were essentially even, and the Vikings did beat some very good lower-division teams like Dinuba, Washington Union and CVC. Anyway, it's not an ideal situation for the Rams; it looks like they'll have an immediate rematch with Tehachapi, which just gave them a close game, and then if they do get to the semis, they'll be on the road. Still, nobody in the entire division has a player as talented as Sheldon Croney, and that (plus a little defense and offensive balance) could take Garces a long way. El Diamante is still the big favorite, but Kingsburg and Garces have been just as consistent for most of the season. After that, Redwood and Sanger are playoff mainstays, and there are some intriguing sleepers: Lemoore, which nearly beat El D; West, which made a deep run last year; and Memorial, which was in line for a top-four seed before a Week 10 loss to Sanger.
First-glance final four: El Diamante, Redwood, Garces, Kingsburg
Championship prediction: El Diamante d. Garces
(1) Tulare Western
(8) Golden Valley
(3) Washington Union
Quick thoughts: This has been a wide-open division from the word go this season, and the playoff bracket does nothing to discourage that line of thinking. Tulare Western, from 0-10 a year ago to the top seed, is right up there with South as the section's best story. The Rebels, after losing late coach John Wren over the summer, went 8-2 and won a share of their league title for the first time since 1995. That would be a semifinal worthy of a couple thousand words for all the obstacles the players on those teams have overcome. Unfortunately for the narrative, No. 5 seed Dinuba could crash the party; the Emperors boast Oregon State-bound quarterback Marcus McMaryion and were considered the D-III favorite for the first half of the season. In the bottom half, Porterville might have the most talented team in D-III, but they'll likely have to deal with a hot Hanford team and then either defending champion Ridgeview or Washington Union. The Panthers shut out the Wolf Pack midseason, but that was before Ridgeview called up freshman phenom Jamar Moya from the JVs. That would be an interesting quarterfinal rematch. Looking for a sleeper? Don't count out No. 9 seed Independence, which plays in by far the toughest league of any team in this division. In the end, though, I think this division might return to a rematch of an early-season game we figured could be a D-III title game preview. There have been a lot of twists and turns since then, but here's saying those two teams get it together.
First-glance final four: Tulare Western, Dinuba, Ridgeview, Porterville
Championship prediction: Porterville d. Dinuba
(1) Mission Oak
(3) Bakersfield Christian
(2) Central Valley Christian
Quick thoughts: Apologies to McLane, which is another nice story, but in no other division is there such a schism as there is in Division IV between the top five and bottom seven in this bracket. Mission Oak, CVC and Bakersfield Christian should have no issues getting to the semifinals; Exeter and Wasco will be a battle. But I think we'll get a couple of dream semifinal matchups: Wasco vs. Mission Oak, which is what everyone wanted to see last year until BCHS took out the Hawks; and a Bakersfield Christian-Central Valley Christian Milk Bowl rematch from a game that went 34-33 to the Cavaliers back in Week 1. I think BCHS is playing much better now than it was then, and the Eagles should get through. Then it really comes down to what you think of Mission Oak. The Hawks are ranked No. 2 in Cal Hi Sports' Southern Cal Division III rankings, and if they win this title, they'll be sitting pretty for CIF regional bowl selection. But to do that, they might have to find a way to defend Wasco's explosive rushing attack and Bakersfield Christian's overwhelming passing attack in back-to-back weeks. That's not going to be easy, even for a great Mission Oak D. It should also make for great theater.
First-glance final four: Mission Oak, Wasco, Bakersfield Christian, CVC
Championship prediction: Mission Oak d. Bakersfield Christian (this could be the best championship game of any division; I'm really unsure about this pick, if it happens; glad I have another four weeks to think about it)
(1) Liberty-Madera Ranchos
(5) Kern Valley
(12) Immanuel (Immanuel will host)
(13) Frazier Mountain
Quick thoughts: If Division IV has a very good top five, Division V has a very good top three. But to me, the third player here is No. 4 Lindsay, not No. 3 Firebaugh. That means a rough draw for Kern Valley, first of all, and also for top seed defending champion Liberty-Madera. Lindsay owns a win over CVC, one of the Division IV contenders. Mendota, the two-time defending Division VI champ, moves up with the section's all-time leading scorer, Edgar Segura. Shafter has its own big-play quarterback, Kyle Millwee, and it is playing well; the Generals would be a real sleeper if they had an easier draw, but it's tough to see them getting by Mendota in the quarterfinals. But for all of the possible ways this could play out, it's too tempting not to look forward to a meeting between the defending champion Liberty-Madera and the two-time defending D-VI champ Mendota.
First-glance final four: Liberty-Madera Ranchos, Lindsay, Firebaugh, Mendota
Predicted championship: Liberty-Madera Ranchos d. Mendota
(4) Orange Cove
Quick thoughts: You might think Bakersfield is a big favorite in Division I, or that Mission Oak is too good to be stopped in D-IV, but I'm here to tell you the most sure thing in any division — by far — is Farmersville. When the Mendota Aztecs vacated the premises, the Farmersville Aztecs stand alone in an otherwise very weak Division VI. It's hard to see anyone here staying within 14 points of Farmersville. Having said that, the Aztecs haven't played either Strathmore or Avenal, so a final against either of those teams could be somewhat interesting.
First-glance final four: Farmersville, Laton, Avenal, Strathmore
Predicted championship: Farmersville d. Strathmore