Our preseason Top-25 football rankings:
1. Fresno-Central (Division I. Last season: 12-2, won D-I championship) - The Grizzlies got that big monkey off their backs with the program’s first Central Section Division I title last season and played toe-to-toe with Northern California powerhouse Folsom in the D-IAA regional championships. Back this season for Central is strong-armed quarterback Trent Tompkins (3,624 yards, 37 TDs), reliable receivers Jeremiah Hunter and Tyrell Grayson, and a host of transfers. The Grizzlies are primed for a shot at consecutive section crowns. Rickey Corriera is a 6-4, 300 pound mammouth of a defensive tackle. This team is scary good and have a chance to run the table in the regular season, even with a huge non-league showdown with NorCal powerhouse Sacramento-Grant on Aug. 24.
2. Bakersfield High (Division I. Last season: 6-6, lost in D-I semifinals) - Drillers coach Paul Golla says when BHS is at its best, it’s because of senior leadership. And there is plenty to go around this season. Led by Cameron Williams (a verbal commit to Washington), Carl Jones (verbal commit to Colorado), Isaiah Jernagin (WR/DB national recruit), Ceyontay Bell (RB/LB), Adrian Moreno (LB), Antwon Thompson (OL/NG) and Jacob Zeitmet (LB), there is plenty of leadership and talent on the roster. The Drillers finally have a a full season back at Griffith Field since 2016 and a non-league schedule that isn’t as daunting as its been the past four years. All that adds up to a shot at section title No. 38.
3. Clovis-Buchanan (Division I. Last season: 10-3, lost D-I championship) - The Bears are back. Residing in the lower portion of the TRAC standings for years, Buchanan’s berth to the D-I title game in 2017 proved head coach and alum Matt Giordano has the ball rolling in the right direction. The focus of the offense will be around Kendall Milton (1,514 rush yards, 23 TD), who is one of the top junior running backs in the country. Carson Bailey saw a decent amount of reps at quarterback last season and will have a new weapon to throw to in senior Jalen Cropper, a Utah verbal commit who is one of the top defensive backs in California.
4. Liberty (Division I. Last season: 6-5, lost in D-I quarterfinals) - The addition of quarterback Hector Gonzalez (Visalia-Redwood) and wide receiver Ramon Henderson (Independence) makes up for the loss of Isaiah Hill and Seth Krauss. Add in the fact that Liberty has one of the top offensive lines in the section behind Daniel Viveros, Brycen Lindsey and a strong defensive line with Viveros, Sloan Simpson and Ben Olinger, and the Patriots will win a lot of games in the trenches. Once again a strong non-league schedule against Mission Viejo, Ridgeview, Clovis West, Buchanan and Clovis will set the Patriots up for a glimpse of what’s to come in what should be a bounce-back postseason.
5. Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial (Division III. Last season: 11-3, won D-III championship) - Quietly, Alex Trujillo turned in quite possibly the top performance for a section quarterback last season with 3,755 yards and 40 touchdowns. Also returning is senior running back Leonard Glass (1,308 yards, 20 TD) and junior receiver Jalen McMillan (1,810, 21 TD). That alone will strike fear in opponents. The program also added a ton of a ton of talent, led by Tobin Phillips, a 6-4, 280-pound defensive lineman transfer from Clovis North. The strength of schedule for Memorial is nowhere near the D-I teams higher on this list. But if the blowouts begin adding up, watch the Panthers move up the rankings in a hurry.
6. Clovis West (Division I. Last season: 9-3, lost in D-I semifinals) - There is plenty of success to build off following the D-I semifinal appearance for the Golden Eagles last season. Returning is quarterback Dante Chachere (3,462 yards, 22 TD), but the senior signal caller will need some help at the skill positions from newcomers. Regardless, a strong offensive line will help the learning curve early on and Clovis West will be in the mix once again for a TRAC title.
7. Arroyo Grande (Division I. Last season: 7-4, lost in Southern Section D-II first round) - And here we are with the first of the new central coastal schools in the Top-25. The Eagles have been a Southern Section contender for years and now will make things much more interesting in the Central Section. Arroyo Grande annually has a solid run game, and this year is no different. Back is the team's top-four rushers, led by senior James Gilmet, who had 1,102 yards and 13 scores in 2017. There is a need to fill holes on the defense to get through games against Fresno-Bullard and Independence in non-league action.
8. Tulare Union (Division II. Last season: 13-1, won D-II championship) - Gone is all-world running back Kazmier Allen, who set a national record with 72 touchdowns last season for The Tribe. That loss — along with receiver Emoryie Edwards (freshman at Fresno State) — hurts the offense, but Tulare Union brings back plenty to compete once again in D-II. Senior defensive back Randy Jordan, Jr. recently committed to Fresno State. All eight Tribe interceptions in 2017 are by returning starters, giving the defense a leg up after losing a player like Allen, who produced one of the greatest offensive individual seasons in section history.
9. Ridgeview (Division I. Last season: 6-5, lost in D-I first round) - Tahj Wright makes a world of difference for the Wolf Pack. But so does a large roster of returning starters that learned on the fly during a 6-5 campaign a year ago. The transfer from BHS will be a lockdown cornerback on defense and will be the focal point on offense at quarterback, running back and receiver. Along with standout running back Alijah Alexander-Williams, big-bodied receiver Daelin Degraffenreid and returning starting quarterback Justin Hinzo, the Wolf Pack have strong offensive weapons returning behind a seasoned line.
10. Bakersfield Christian (Division III. Last season: 10-2, lost in D-III semifinals) - Yes, losing Braden Wingle is key. The now-Bakersfield College signal caller threw for more than 7,000 yards the last two seasons. If Jacob Maran can be competitive throwing the ball, the offense can hum again with Myran Randle, Alex Wallace, Ben Yurosek, Devyon Miller and Chris Gutierrez at the skill positions. Add in defensive standouts Keonte Glinton, Tate Eenigenburg and Donovan Foster to the fold, and the Eagles could be playing on Thanksgiving weekend.
11. Dinuba (Division II. Last season: 11-2, lost D-II championship)
12. Tulare Western (Division III. Last season: 11-2, lost D-III championship)
13. Garces (Division II. Last season: 5-7, lost in D-II semifinals)
14. Fresno-Bullard (Division I. Last season: 6-6, lost in D-I quarterfinals)
15. Clovis (Division I. Last season: 7-5, lost in D-I quarterfinals)
16. Fresno-Edison (Division I. Last season: 7-5, lost in D-I quarterfinals)
17. Visalia-Central Valley Christian (Division IV. Last season: 10-3, lost D-IV championship)
18. Visalia-El Diamante (Division II. Last season: 8-4, lost in D-II semifinals)
19. Santa Maria-Righetti (Division II. Last season: 5-6, lost in Southern Section D-VIII first round)
20. Fresno-Sunnyside (Division II. Last season: 7-4, lost in D-II quarterfinals)
21. Paso Robles (Division I. Last season: 5-5, lost in first round of Southern Section D-IV playoffs)
22. Santa Maria-St. Joseph (Division I. Last season: 7-5, lost in Southern Section D-V quarterfinals)
23. Sanger (Division I. Last season: 8-3, lost in D-I first round)
24. Selma (Division IV. Last season: 8-3, lost in D-IV quarterfinals)
25. Visalia-Golden West (Division IV. Last season:12-3, won D-IV championship)
Next five: Frontier, Independence, Kerman, Strathmore, Clovis North