You might be among the crowd that saw the title of this blog post and thought, "Rankings? What the heck do rankings matter when we're in the playoffs?" I know this crowd exists, because every year I'll get an email or two about it.
But, as I said yesterday, rankings are still fun, and you'll still read them. Besides, when all is said and done, this will be an attempt to measure exactly where the Division II, Division III and Division IV champs stack up among the crowded Division I field. Most of those teams don't get a chance to play one another, so I get to guess and you get to tell me how wrong I am.
1. Bakersfield (8-2, Division I, last week: 2) — One some levels, it was a brilliant finish to the regular season for the Drillers, who blasted Stockdale while Edison slipped up, ensuring Bakersfield would end up with the No. 1 seed. That's nice for winning the section, obviously, but the Edison loss actually means Bakersfield will have a harder time making the kind of statement it might need to enter the regional bowl conversation; a championship showdown with the undefeated Tigers would have provided a great place for that. In addition, one of Bakersfield's two conquerors, Oaks Christian, lost its second game of the season when Westlake blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. The result was that BHS dropped four spots to No. 19 in Cal Hi Sports' state rankings and put itself in jeopardy of missing the regional bowl game. Of course, the section has to be won first, and the Drillers seem like a solid favorite there now (and the regional bowl isn't out of the question, either; it's just going to be tougher to make a good case now).
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 12 Stockdale, 37-6. THIS WEEK: BYE
2. Fresno-Edison (9-1, Division I, last week: 1) — You won't see me agree with the various playoff seedings here, and that's because I'm going to consider margin of victory and overall resume more than the seeding committee did. That's not a knock — it's simply that the committee was working with very specific criteria to seed teams while I can afford to be more subjective. That means I still consider Edison to be a top-two team in the section. One loss isn't going to change that after a nine-game run that included wins against Clovis, Carson, Crenshaw and Clovis West. But it does mean that the gap between Bakersfield and the rest of the section might be bigger than we thought, and it means Edison will be on the road to Bakersfield in the semifinals, if the Tigers can get there in the first place.
LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 8 Fresno-Bullard, 24-14. THIS WEEK: BYE
3. Clovis North (8-2, Division I, last week: 3) — I'm still not sure what to make of the section's Nos. 2-6 teams, really, and that starts with Clovis North. The Broncos own solid victories over Clovis, Clovis West and a healthy Frontier, and they also beat Atascadero and Merced out of the section. The loss to St. John Bosco, the Pac-5 favorite, can be almost completely ignored, ugly as it was, and that leaves only the loss to Central. One bad result out of nine against a loaded schedule? I wouldn't start doubting the defending champs chances, no matter what their seed is. This might be the best No. 6 seed in Central Section history.
LAST WEEK: won at Clovis-Buchanan, 27-6. THIS WEEK: vs. Clovis East
4. Liberty (9-1, Division I, last week: 4) — Easy wins over Independence and Centennial to end the season appear to have righted Liberty's ship after the shaky three-week stretch that preceded that, and the Patriots are certainly in position to take advantage of a great regular season. But Division I is very balanced, so even as a No. 2 seed, the Patriots won't have any gimme games. The road is likely Clovis, Bullard or Clovis North, then Baekrsfield, Edison or Central. That's three top-10 opponents, unless Centennial pulls a first-round upset. One good sign is that junior running back Anthony Mariscal appears to have turned a corner from solid contributor to go-to star player. The Pats will need him to be just that if they're going to make a deep run.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 15 Centennial, 44-7. THIS WEEK: BYE
5. Fresno-Bullard (9-1, Division I, last week: 8) — The season-long mystery of the Knights is solved, and it turns out that yes, they are a championship contender. Beating the No. 1 team in the Valley rather convincingly will do that for you, and it's time to start treating the loss to Clovis West as more of a blip on the radar than anything else. Of course, Bullard faces the same task as Liberty (or Clovis, or Clovis North): After a season full of good-but-not-great opponents, can the Knights beat three top-10 opponents in a row to win a section title? The No. 3 seed is a boost, but Clovis North is not a kind No. 6.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 1 Fresno-Edison, 24-14. THIS WEEK: BYE
6. Fresno-Central (7-3, Division I, last week: 6) — Central might be the best example of how deep this Division I bracket is. The Grizzlies were preseason section favorites, and though they lost three games and a couple of key players to injury, none of the three were in any way bad losses. Now they've got a No. 5 seed that feels low ... You're telling me Edison, the No. 1 team in the section all year long, probably gets this team in the quarterfinals? And one of them will then likely play Bakersfield in something other than a section final? Nobody has an easy road in these playoffs.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Clovis East, 57-27. THIS WEEK: vs. Clovis-Buchanan
7. Tulare-Mission Oak (10-0, Division IV, last week: 7) — There aren't a lot of undefeated teams in a given year, but it's rare that the Central Section has only one before the playoffs have even started. Mission Oak's chances of staying that way aren't great, simply because if the Hawks do win the Division IV title — and they're reasonably big favorites — then they'd play a really good team in the D-III regional bowl game. In the meantime, this hard-nosed running-game-and-defense team will enjoy a week off before taking on an overmatched D-IV quarterfinal foe.
LAST WEEK: won at Delano, 39-7. THIS WEEK: BYE
8. Clovis (7-3, Division I, last week: 9) — There were some nice wins in the first nine weeks, but it took until Week 10 for Clovis to notch its signature victory of the 2013 regular season: It was a 28-0 beatdown of Clovis West. It announces that the Cougars, No. 7 seed though they might be, are still very much a factor in the Division I playoffs. They've got a tricky first-rounder with Centennial (the Golden Hawks played Clovis to the wire in the teams' first meeting) and then a trip to Liberty in store. But this has become a group accustomed to deep runs in Division I.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 5 Clovis West, 28-0. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 18 Centennial
9. Clovis West (4-6, Division I, last week: 5) — Just when it looked like Clovis West was over the hump of its 1-4 start and ready to become a section title contender again, the Golden Eagles pulled out a dud in the loss at Clovis. That looked more like the early-season team that couldn't score much against elite defenses and fell behind more and more rapidly as the game went on. Was that a blip or a sign of things to come? We'll find out Thursday, and the Golden Eagles will have to get ready for Stockdale's unique offense with just three days of practice.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 9 Clovis, 28-0. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 13 Stockdale (Thursday)
10. Visalia-El Diamante (9-1, Division II, last week: 10) — The Miners keep cruising, with DeAngelo Torres racking up a 1,000-yard season on better than 9 yards per carry, and quarterback J.C. Robles with 13 touchdown passes (six to big-play threat Joey Chica) against only four picks. This is going to be a tough team to beat in Division II, but Kingsburg, Garces, Redwood and Sanger are all worthy challengers. Should be fun, but the Miners are clearly the team to beat.
LAST WEEK: won at Visalia-Golden West, 42-6. THIS WEEK: BYE
11. Garces (8-2, Division II, last week: 11) — The computers don't like Garces as well as the humans do — Calpreps/MaxPreps has them ranked just 17th in the section, but this team clearly has improved a lot since a slow start. Sheldon Croney and an improved defense can keep the Rams in the game against just about anybody, and if they get production from the passing game, they're difficult to beat. Problem is, Garces might have to find a way to beat Tehachapi twice in a row, if the Warriors get by North this week.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Tehachapi, 24-14. THIS WEEK: BYE
12. Kingsburg (9-1, Division II, last week: 13) — The Vikings continue to inch up the rankings after completing a very nice regular season that featured wins against two top 25 teams, CVC and Exeter, plus two wins against teams I'd rank somewhere between 25-30, Dinuba and Washington Union. But now the Vikings will have to play their first Division II games of the season. First up is Lemoore or West, then likely Garces or Tehachapi. Good news for Kingsburg is that the first two tests will be at home, but these likely will be their toughest games of the season.
LAST WEEK: won at Selma, 33-14. THIS WEEK: BYE
13. Stockdale (5-5, Division I, last week: 12) — A 37-6 loss to Bakersfield actually could have been closer than that, had the Mustangs fared better in the red zone, but this is has been a season seemingly filled with ifs. Wins against Stockton-St. Mary's, Garces and Liberty were all well within reach (and imagine how much different an 8-2 Mustangs team would have been seeded), but Stockdale messed up those opportunities with small mistakes. It all needs to come together quickly for a short week and a trip to Clovis West. Win there, and the Mustangs will get a second shot at the Drillers.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 2 Bakersfield, 37-6. THIS WEEK: at No. 9 Clovis West (Thursday)
14. Sanger (7-3, Division II, last week: 22) — Lost in all of the talk about Edison-Bullard, Bakersfield-Stockdale, Garces-Tehachapi and all the seeding things that went on last week was a very significant Division II result: Sanger over Memorial. That dropped the Panthers all the way to No. 9 seed (!) and elevated the Apaches, who made the final last year, to No. 5. This is now a very strong resume that includes a 25-7 loss to Edison, a 14-12 loss to Bullard and the one wart, a 42-21 loss to Lemoore. But by the time Sanger takes on Redwood in the D-II quarterfinals, that wart will have been more than two months old. This team is rolling.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 14 Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial, 40-13. THIS WEEK: BYE
15. Visalia-Redwood (8-2, Division II, last week: 16) — If you throw out Division I, where all of the quarterfinals are going to be great, there are two games next weekend that stick out to me: Exeter-Wasco in Division IV and Sanger-Redwood in Division II. Both the Apaches and Rangers have great football history, and either is capable of giving El Diamante a good run in the semifinals. Right now, I give a slight edge to Sanger because its losses are better. The teams both have some good D-II wins.
LAST WEEK: won vs. Visalia-Mt. Whitney, 35-13. THIS WEEK: BYE
16. Bakersfield Christian (8-2, Division IV, last week: 17)
17. Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial (6-4, Division II, last week: 14)
18. Centennial (5-5, Division I, last week: 15)
19. Tulare Western (7-3, Division III, last week: 19)
20. Porterville (8-2, Division III, last week: 20)
21. Frontier (4-6, Division I, last week: 21)
22. Wasco (8-2, Division IV, last week: 23)
23. Lemoore (6-4, Division II, last week: 18)
24. Visalia-Central Valley Christian (7-3, Division IV, last week: 25)
25. Exeter (6-4, Division IV, last week: NR)
Dropped out: No. 23 Dinuba