There was no mystery as to who the top-seeded team would be. Servite is the two-time defending champion, and the Friars only loss was at nationally ranked Las Vegas Bishop Gorman on a last-minute field goal, 31-28. This is a tough division, and the thinking is that at least seven teams have a legitimate shot of winning the title. There were no at-large berths, but there were six quality teams/programs that didn't make it: Crespi, Notre Dame, Los Alamitos, Trabuco Hills, Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei. That should give you an idea of what's in store.
The seeds: 1. Servite (9-1), 2. Mission Viejo (8-2), 3. Long Beach Poly (9-1), 4. Alemany (8-2).
Best first-round matchup: St. John Bosco (7-3) at Alemany (8-2) -- Bosco finished third in the Trinity League, but its losses were by eight points to both Servite and Santa Margarita. The Braves are loaded with skill players, including receiver Bryce Treggs and quarterback Rene Medina, and running backs DaVonte Young and Royce Moore. Alemany lost its two games by a combined two points; that's how close it was to being undefeated. Seven starters are back on defense from last year's semifinal team that lost to Servite, 28-21; the offense is paced by quarterback Devon Dunn and a group of terrific receivers led by junior Steven Mitchell. There could be a lot of points scored in this game. There will be a lot of points in this game.
Toughest road: Alemany (8-2) has it pretty tough among the seeded teams. Not only does it have to get past Bosco in the first round, it's likely looking at high-scoring San Clemente (9-1) in the second. That's a heck of a price to pay for winning the Serra League title. As long as San Clemente and quarterback Travis Wilson don't have to face Mission Viejo in the finals -- the Tritons have lost 11 in a row to Mission -- they could win the whole thing.
Potential shocker: Tesoro vs. Edison at Orange Coast College, first round -- Edison won the Sunset League title behind QB Chase Favreau, and though it was within a touchdown of Servite and lost to Mater Dei on the last play, it's no lock to advance to a rematch against the Friars. Tesoro gave the game game away to second-seeded Mission Viejo two weeks ago in a 14-7 loss, and though there are 16 underclassmen starting, if this is the week they mature as players, the third-place team from the South Coast League could find itself advancing instead of the Sunset League champion.
Darkhorse: Unseeded Santa Margarita (8-2) might legitimately be the second-best team in the division behind QB Johnny Stanton and RB Ryan Wolpin, but was hurt by an uninspired Trinity League loss to Mater Dei. The Eagles closed the season with another loss, 43-42, in overtime to Servite. If they can play with Servite -- and the only difference was a two-point conversion -- they can play with anyone. A second-round game against Long Beach Poly is finals-worthy.
Final analysis: After the first round, this division is brutal from top to bottom, and for some it's brutal from the outset. Heading into the final week of the season, nine of the 16 teams that were ranked in the Cal-Hi Sports Open Bowl Division top 25 ranking.
Championship prediction: Until someone in Southern California proves it can beat Servite, it's hard to pick against the Friars. They have won the last two Pac-5 titles, and behind quarterback Cody Pittman and linebacker Butch Pauu nearly went undefeated despite playing the state's strongest schedule. Make no mistake, Servite can be beaten -- but it takes a special performance to do so. The Trinity League finale was a pretty good indication of what it will take, and even that wasn't good enough. Chances are that Santa Margarita gets a second crack with an upset of Mission Viejo in the semifinals. Servite 34, Santa Margarita 28.