The first three weeks of this prep football season have been full of chaos, confusion, upsets and hot weather.
As we settle into the middle part of the season (some teams have only played once, but this Friday does begin the middle third of the season already), one thing has been settled: There are clear-cut favorites in Divisions I and II.
Those are Fresno-Central and Tulare Union, respectively, and their status became even more clear last Friday night. The Grizzlies played No. 2 Liberty and did what they seemingly do to every opponent these days: They got out to a hot start and never looked back. And Tulare continued its demolition derby against Visalia-Redwood.
Things change in high school football all the time, and so it's hardly appropriate to anoint these schools their respective division's champion. But it's not too early to frame the rest of the season around the idea that Central and Tulare Union are the teams everyone else is chasing.
1. Fresno-Central (3-0, Division I, last week: 1) — It's one thing to run roughshod over a Division II team like Sunnyside, but when Central is putting a game against the No. 2 team in the section away early in the second half, that's something else entirely. The Grizzlies did this last year, too, remember, but it was after having laid an egg against Bullard in the opener. This year, it's been nothing but dominance. We'll see how long they keep it going.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 2 Liberty, 30-3. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 18 Ridgeview
2. Bakersfield (1-1, Division I, last week: 3) — The Drillers get to be here almost by default. It's tough to keep Liberty here, given BHS beat them twice last year and the Patriots didn't perform well against Central, and Liberty beat Clovis West. Tulare Union and Sanger haven't played difficult schedules. Buchanan? Perhaps. But for now, BHS gets the benefit of the doubt and goes back up to No. 2 entering an extremely challenging two-week stretch against Chaminade and Valencia.
LAST WEEK: Bye. THIS WEEK: at West Hills-Chaminade
3. Liberty (1-1, Division I, last week: 2) — Another difficult ranking. It feels too high, but again, Liberty has the key win head-to-head against Clovis West. And the Patriots actually didn't get completely dominated by Central; they gained more than 300 yards of offense and had some opportunities to make a game of it. In the end, mistakes and efficiency turned what could have been a modest scoreline into a blowout, but this is still one of the section's better teams. But there's a very fast turnaround now facing Liberty, which must travel to Buchanan for a Thursday game this week.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 1 Fresno-Central, 30-3. THIS WEEK: at No. 6 Clovis-Buchanan (Thursday)
4. Clovis West (1-1, Division I, last week: 4) — Scoring 30 points against Liberty and Edison is mighty impressive, and that's what this Golden Eagles offense has done without injured quarterback Adrian Martinez. His replacement, Dante Chachere, hasn't been terribly efficient, completing just 48 percent of his passes, but he has five touchdown throws and no interceptions. Win a toughie against Sacramento-area power Rocklin this week, and Clovis West would be in strong position to go into its Week 8 matchup with Buchanan at 5-1 and possibly its Week 10 matchup with Central at 7-1.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 6 Fresno-Edison, 30-9. THIS WEEK: vs. Rocklin
5. Tulare Union (3-0, Division II, last week: 5) — By MaxPreps/Calpreps ranking, Redwood was Tulare Union's most difficult opponent of the season until Week 11 against crosstown rival Tulare Western. The Tribe still won 42-7, which gives you an idea of how likely it is that TU will be 9-0 by the time that season-ender comes along. That means they should be an overwhelming favorite to be the top seed in D-II and, as mentioned above, a big favorite in the playoffs.
LAST WEEK: won vs. No. 22 Visalia-Redwood, 42-7. THIS WEEK: Bye
6. Clovis-Buchanan (3-0, Division I, last week: 8) — The Bears are one of the section's biggest risers early in the season, going from No. 12 up to sixth in three short weeks. Part of that is winning while others lose, obviously, but it's also how impressive Buchanan has been in routing Hanford, Bullard and Lemoore. The ante is upped significantly Thursday when Liberty comes calling. A win here, and Buchanan has a legitimate claim at No. 2 and the top contender to Central in the section.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 23 Lemoore, 49-0. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 3 Liberty (Thursday)
7. Sanger (3-0, Division I, last week: 7) — New coach, new division, same old Sanger. The Apaches have given up 17 points in three games, and though they haven't played a very tough schedule thus far, they also should be OK when they test themselves a little more, assuming they keep playing this way. That test won't come until County-Metro Athletic Conference play, against Bullard or perhaps more likely against Edison and Memorial.
LAST WEEK: won at Clovis East, 34-7. THIS WEEK: at No. 25 Lemoore
8. Fresno-Edison (0-3, Division I, last week: 6) — Another year, another Tigers team ranked highly despite a poor record. That's what happens when you play an excellent schedule and show that you're competitive against elite teams. And you know what? By the end of the season last year, Edison was indeed a top 10-type team. That might be the case this year, too, but the Tigers still have some gelling to do under a new coach. Otherwise this ranking will go nowhere but down.
LAST WEEK: lost at No. 4 Clovis West, 30-9. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 14 Clovis North
9. Visalia-Golden West (2-0, Division IV, last week: 9) — Here's a crazy stat for you, courtesy of the Visalia Times-Delta: Nine of the 18 high school football teams in Tulare County are still undefeated. Granted, some of that is because of heat postponements, etc. (Porterville, for instance, has only played once), but it does include two 3-0 teams in Tulare Union and CVC. It also includes Golden West, which 596 yards and 11 TDs rushing in two games.
LAST WEEK: Bye. THIS WEEK: vs. Madera South (Thursday)
10. Clovis (2-1, Division I, last week: 10) — The Cougars struggled to finish off Bullard, which had lost big in the first two weeks to Central and Buchanan. Is that a sign that Clovis isn't on the same level as those two teams, or that the Knights have steadied the ship a little? Perhaps both, but Clovis is clearly no better than the fourth choice in the always-tough Tri-River Athletic Conference right now.
LAST WEEK: won at No. 25 Fresno-Bullard, 17-13. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 19 Stockdale
11. Tulare Western (2-0, Division III, last week: 13). LAST WEEK: Bye. THIS WEEK: at No. 24 Visalia-Redwood
12. Visalia-Central Valley Christian (3-0, Division IV, last week: 14). LAST WEEK: won at Lindsay, 38-0. THIS WEEK: at Chowchilla
13. Bakersfield Christian (2-1, Division III, last week: 16). LAST WEEK: won vs. Tulare-Mission Oak, 35-6. THIS WEEK: at Tehachapi
14. Clovis North (1-2, Division I, last week: 11). LAST WEEK: lost vs. Atwater-Buhach Colony, 28-21. THIS WEEK: at No. 8 Fresno-Edison
15. Selma (3-0, Division IV, last week: 15). LAST WEEK: won vs. Reedley, 33-7. THIS WEEK: at Coalinga
16. Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial (3-0, Division III, last week: 17). LAST WEEK: won at Hanford West, 55-7. THIS WEEK: vs. Garces (Saturday)
17. Frontier (2-0, Division II, last week: NR). LAST WEEK: won at No. 12 Ridgeview, 35-25. THIS WEEK: vs. Atascadero
18. Ridgeview (1-1, Division I, last week: 12). LAST WEEK: lost vs. Frontier, 35-25. THIS WEEK: at No. 1 Fresno-Central
19. Stockdale (1-1, Division II, last week: 20). LAST WEEK: won vs. Atascadero, 28-0. THIS WEEK: at No. 10 Clovis
20. Centennial (1-1, Division I, last week: 19). LAST WEEK: won at Golden Valley, 28-10. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 23 Fresno-Bullard
21. Fresno-Sunnyside (1-2, Division II, last week: 18). LAST WEEK: won at Visalia-Mt. Whitney, 39-31. THIS WEEK: vs. Clovis East
22. Dinuba (2-0, Division II, last week: 24). LAST WEEK: Bye. THIS WEEK: at Visalia-El Diamante
23. Fresno-Bullard (0-3, Division I, last week: 25). LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 10 Clovis, 17-13. THIS WEEK: at No. 20 Centennial
24. Visalia-Redwood (2-1, Division II, last week: 22). LAST WEEK: lost at No. 5 Tulare Union, 42-7. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 11 Tulare Western
25. Lemoore (1-2, Division II, last week: 23). LAST WEEK: lost vs. No. 8 Clovis-Buchanan, 49-0. THIS WEEK: vs. No. 7 Sanger
Dropped out: No. 21 Garces
Next five: Kerman, Strathmore, Tehachapi, Garces, Liberty-Madera Ranchos