1. Which team in the Inland Empire has the best chance of beating Corona Centennial? After watching Upland defeat another quality opponent by double digits Friday night, it’s clear the Highlanders are the only Inland Division team with a legitimate chance of dethroning the Huskies. They have an experienced offensive line, a talented running back, an efficient quarterback and the one thing Centennial doesn’t have on offense: a big-play wide receiver in Arizona State-bound Kenny Lawler. Defensively, they’re balanced enough to force the Huskies to punt three or four times a game, just enough to win a shootout.
2. Which team is destined for an early-round upset? Redlands East Valley is playing as if its victory against Mission Viejo three weeks ago was its championship game. Since then, the Wildcats have scraped by against much lesser foes, A.B. Miller and Redlands. That raises another question: Was the victory against Mission Viejo less to do with REV's strengths and more about Mission Viejo's weaknesses that night? If you remember, the Diablos played REV without their top two running backs. Also, the Wildcats entered the playoffs last season as the No. 1 team out of the Citrus Belt League, only to lose in the first round to Etiwanda, the No. 3 team from the Baseline.
3. Outside of the Inland Division, which is the most anticipated playoff match up? Two years ago, Citrus Hill was riding an I.E. record 38-game winning streak when it entered the Eastern Division playoffs as the top-seeded team. But the Hawks ran into another upstart program in Summit, and the SkyHawks dumped Citrus Hill in the first round, 48-36. These teams look to be on another collision course this season, and both sides feature talented Division 1-caliber athletes. Citrus Hill running back Davien Payne has committed to Colorado and teammate Darnell Murray, a middle linebacker, has offers from New Mexico State, Utah and UTEP. Summit, meanwhile, is led by Boise State-bound wide receiver/defensive back Donte Deayon.
4. Which quarterback in the I.E. has improved the most over last season? A year ago, Justin Gheorghe of J.W. North improved as the season went along, progressing from a player who didn’t break 100 yards passing in three of his first four games to one who threw for 358 yards in a season-ending victory against Riverside King. The left-handed signal caller has taken his game to another level this season. After throwing for five touchdown passes and 12 interceptions as a junior, he has thrown 15 touchdown passes in seven games and hasn’t been intercepted, the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of any quarterback in the state.
5. Who’s the best punter in the I.E.? One bright side to King’s 0-7 season is that punter Garrett Swanson has had plenty of opportunities to perfect his skills. He leads the state with 15 kicks inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Of course, his 32 punts are also tops in California, but he does have a strong leg, averaging 45.2 yards a boot, eighth-best in the state, with a long of 75 yards. Swanson appears to be getting better as the season goes along. His averages have improved each of the last three weeks. He had five punts for a 53.2 average Friday night in a 40-10 loss to Riverside Poly.