NorCal Bowl Games: Preseason Rankings

Fans at Granite Bay had much to be pumped about last season. Mark Tennis/ESPNHS

It figures to be no more than a seeding meeting when the first teams are named for the NorCal Open Division and Division I regional bowl games in December. The rest of the lineup of games, however, will be much harder to forecast as the 2012 season unfolds.

This is the third season in which the CIF state bowl games will be conducted with an open division and with no enrollment-based criteria for each division. It’s the first one, however, in which there will be Northern California and Southern California regional bowl games to determine state finalists.

The most significant changes in the north surround the allocation of which section champions are going to be considered for Division I and Division II.

In the last two seasons, the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II champion has been battling for the CIF Division II North bowl berth while the CIF Central Coast Section Division I champion has been considered for CIF Division I North.

This year, however, those two will flip with the Sac-Joaquin D2 now going up to D1 for the bowl games with the CCS D1 now going down to D2.

Moving the CCS D1 champ down into the D2 bowl field makes sense because that section conducts its own open division (won in 2010 by CIF D1 bowl champ Palo Alto and won last year by Bellarmine of San Jose).

It is therefore very likely that the four teams from the north that will be playing in the first NorCal Open Division and Division I bowl games will be the four champions from the following sections: North Coast D1 (probably De La Salle), CCS Open Division, Sac-Joaquin Division I and Sac-Joaquin Division II. The only way this scenario doesn’t happen is if a team from a lower division (like Marin Catholic in D3 North) can make a legitimate case to be in the open division.

With assistance from Harold Abend and Paul Muyskens, here is a preseason outlook plus preseason rankings for each of Northern California’s CIF bowl game divisions (remember that the two teams that ultimately are chosen to play in the first NorCal open division bowl game can come from any division; teams listed with win-loss records from 2011):


1. De La Salle (Concord) 13-1

2. Bellarmine (San Jose) 12-2

3. Del Oro (Loomis) 13-2

4. Lincoln (Stockton) 11-2

5. Elk Grove 12-1

6. San Ramon Valley (Danville) 10-4

7. Granite Bay 12-2

8. Vacaville 13-1

9. Palma (Salinas) 11-1-1

10. St. Mary’s (Stockton) 9-3

11. Serra (San Mateo) 11-2

12. Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) 12-2

13. James Logan (Union City) 10-1

14. Nevada Union (Grass Valley) 7-4

15. Grant (Sacramento) 8-4

Bubble Teams: Bethel (Vallejo) 11-2, Buhach Colony (Atwater) 12-1, Folsom 11-3, Foothill (Pleasanton) 4-6, Franklin (Elk Grove) 8-4, Freedom (Oakley) 10-2, Los Gatos 11-1-1, Monte Vista (Danville) 8-5, Palo Alto 10-3, St. Ignatius (San Francisco) 6-6-1,

Defending Champion: De La Salle has won the last three CIF Open Division state bowl games and has a good chance to make it four in a row. This is due to a majority of starters returning from one of the best defenses the school has ever had. There are concerns at quarterback, but in nearly 30 years we’ve never seen a Bob Ladouceur-coached offense that couldn’t score late in the season. It also will be tougher for the Spartans just to get to Carson because they may have to play the NorCal bowl game in Sacramento against a team that could have a definite home field/hometown advantage.

Key Early-Season Games to Watch:

•We’ll find out about De La Salle’s quarterback situation right away since the Spartans open on the road on Aug. 31 against Bellarmine at San Jose City College. The Bells also will have a new quarterback, but indications are they may not miss a beat. Junior K.J. Carta-Samuels has already committed to Vanderbilt. This also is a rematch of a memorable two-overtime game that De La Salle survived one year ago.

•In the Sac-Joaquin Section, Del Oro is playing one of the top-ranked teams in Southern California – Oaks Christian of Westlake Village – on Friday, Aug. 24 while on the same night it will be Elk Grove traveling to play at Lincoln of Stockton. If Del Oro upsets Oaks Christian, we think the Golden Eagles would then merit a top ranking for the section. If Del Oro loses, then it’s pretty obvious that the Lincoln-Elk Grove winner would then be sitting at the top.

•Lincoln and Granite Bay, which face each other on Sept. 28, are playing early-season schedules among the strongest in the state. The Trojans also are playing Pleasant Grove and St. Mary’s of Stockton in addition to Elk Grove and Granite Bay. The Grizzlies are opening at home against Westlake of Westlake Village, then go to Ventura County to meet Oaks Christian and also face Vacaville and Pittsburg. Granite Bay’s league schedule doesn’t provide relief, either.


1. Oakdale 13-1

2. Placer (Auburn) 9-3

3. Concord 10-4

4. Casa Grande (Petaluma) 8-4

5. Paradise 11-1

6. Los Banos 10-2

7. Windsor 14-0

8. Foothill (Palo Cedro) 10-2

9. Monterey 9-3

10. Las Lomas (Walnut Creek) 9-3

Bubble Teams: Casa Roble (Orangevale) 10-3, Inderkum (Sacramento) 10-2.

Defending Champion: Del Oro was the NorCal representative in the CIF Division II bowl game and lost to Helix of La Mesa. The Golden Eagles won’t be under D2 bowl consideration for two reasons this year. First, their league, the Sierra Foothill, has been reclassified as Division I by the Sac-Joaquin Section and, second, all of the Sac-Joaquin D2 teams will be ranked in Division I. In addition to Del Oro, the roster of those teams moving up includes former D2 North ranking regulars such as Elk Grove, Vacaville, Stockton St. Mary’s and Folsom.

Note about CIF Central Coast Section teams: For our bowl game rankings during the regular season, we are going to place all of the teams from every league into divisions based on the section’s league classifications. Therefore, all CCS teams from “A” or “A+” leagues will be Division I, CCS teams from “B” leagues will be Division II and CCS teams from “C” leagues will be Division III. Once the playoff brackets are announced, however, we expect several quality teams from CCS “A” leagues that are not going to be placed in the CCS Open Division to be placed in the section’s Division I or Division II brackets. At that point, those teams would then get placed into our D2 North bowl game rankings.

Key Early-Season Games To Watch

•Since Oceanside was previously placed No. 1 in D2 South to start the season and the Pirates are opening up against Oakdale on Aug. 31 at Westlake of Westlake Village, it seemed logical to place the Mustangs No. 1 to start in D2 North. Oakdale also returns 13 starters from last season’s team, led by quarterback Spencer Thomas. Plus, coach Trent Merzon’s club no longer has to deal with being in the same CIF bowl game bracket as Del Oro, Folsom and the rest.

•Placer has been one of the most talked-about teams throughout the spring and summer, mainly because of the performances of 6-foot-3, 295-pound Eddie Vanderdoes, who some rank as the best college prospect in the Sac-Joaquin Section. But Vanderdoes, who has committed to USC, is joined by a wealth of other returning starters. The Hillmen open up on Friday, Aug. 31 at Central Catholic of Modesto. Central Catholic is close to Oakdale as the top team overall in the southern part of the section and is No. 1 to start in D4 North. The tricky aspect about Placer is that the team could be in the section D3 playoffs or it could be D4. We really won’t know until a couple of weeks are left in the regular season. For now, we will rank the Hillmen in D2 for the bowl games based on them being D3 in the section playoffs (which is where they played last season).

•Paradise, which has won the last two CIF Northern Section Division I crowns, will begin its season with an ambitious matchup on Friday against Grant of Sacramento. The Bobcats will be led by returning quarterback Tom Hays. Even a competitive loss might be good for the team’s eventual D2 bowl hopes, especially because so many of those Sac-Joaquin D2 teams are now going to be considered D1 for the bowl games.


1. Marin Catholic (Kentfield) 13-1

2. Campolindo (Moraga) 14-1

3. Cardinal Newman (Santa Rosa) 11-1-1

4. Sutter 10-2

5. Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 9-3

6. Salesian (Richmond) 13-0

7. Carmel 12-1

8. Eureka 8-4

9. Hilmar 12-2

10. Escalon 13-1

Bubble Teams: Aptos 9-2, Colfax 11-1, El Cerrito 7-3-1, Encinal (Alameda) 11-2, Miramonte (Orinda) 10-2, Novato 9-3, Orland 10-1.

Defending Champion: Campolindo went to the CIF Division III bowl game from the north last season and was beaten by Washington of Easton. The Cougars have some holes to fill, but do return quarterback Brett Stephens, a UCLA baseball recruit. And although Campo got past Marin Catholic in last year’s CIF North Coast Section D3 final, the Wildcats are much more loaded with top returning players, led by Cal-bound quarterback Jared Goff.

Note about CIF Central Coast Section teams: For our bowl game rankings during the regular season, we are going to place all of the teams from every league into divisions based on the section’s league classifications. Therefore, all CCS teams from “A” or “A+” leagues will be Division I, CCS teams from “B” leagues will be Division II and CCS teams from “C” leagues will be Division III. Once the playoff brackets are announced, however, we expect several quality teams from CCS “A” leagues that are not going to be placed in the CCS Open Division to be placed in the section’s Division III bracket. At that point, those teams would then get placed into our D3 North bowl game rankings.

Key Early-Season Games to Watch:

•Marin Catholic opens up Friday against Miramonte of Orinda, but the bigger test may be Sept. 7 at Vacaville, the 2011 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II champion. Marin Catholic handed Vacaville its only loss last season 33-29 in a memorable back-and-forth contest.

•Cardinal Newman, which according to correspondent Harold Abend looked very good in a scrimmage against Marin Catholic, meets Novato on Saturday, Sept. 1. Both the Cardinals and Marin Catholic are listed in Division IV for the CIF North Coast Section and don’t have to decide about moving up to Division III for a few more weeks. Either way, it would be D3 for the bowl games. Since MC lost in such a close game to Campolindo in last year’s D3 section final, we’d expect coach Mazi Moayed and his boys would want to finish off that quest this year. And knowing how much Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin wants to play the best competition possible, it’s likely his team will move up as well.

•A team to watch from the Northern Section is Sutter. The Huskies welcome back 13 starters and could have one of the best defenses in the section regardless of division. Linebackers Phillip Robledo and Ryan Staas are among those back. Sutter’s first game Friday also is going to be no picnic with a home contest against Bethel of Vallejo, which is the same team that knocked out Sacramento Grant from last year’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

•Escalon seems to be in rebuilding mode this year after 14-0 and 13-1 seasons, including the 2010 CIF D3 state bowl title. It won’t take long to find out about the new players, either, with the first game Friday at Los Banos. Highly-regarded running back James Sams (1,872 yards as a junior) leads Los Banos, which we have started out in the D2 North rankings. The Tigers could be another team like Placer of Auburn, however, that could end up in the section’s Division IV playoffs instead of Division III. If that happens, then Los Banos would be put in the D3 bowl game rankings.


1. Central Catholic (Modesto) 10-3

2. Ferndale 11-2

3. Bradshaw Christian (Sacramento) 11-1

4. McClymonds (Oakland) 10-2

5. Willows 10-3

6. LeGrand 12-1

7. Modoc (Alturas) 10-3

8. St. Bernard (Eureka) 7-4

9. Valley Christian (Dublin) 9-3

10. Hamilton (Hamilton City) 10-3

Bubble Teams: Berean Christian (Walnut Creek) 8-4, Durham 9-3, Millenium (Tracy) 10-1.

Defending Champion: LeGrand didn’t lose last year until the D4 bowl game when the Bulldogs fell to Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth. Graduation losses for the program are heavy, but last year’s team was so dominant that it’s hard to see that much of a drop.

Key Early-Season Games to Watch:

•Central Catholic is the clear preseason choice for this division, but the Raiders once again will have to win the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title to get bowl-eligible. Their ability to do that could be just as much based on which teams they have to get past in those playoffs than their own performances. That’s because both Placer of Auburn and Los Banos could end up in the D4 section playoffs. Central plays Placer at home in its first game on Aug. 31. The Raiders will play Los Banos in a league game. If Placer and Los Banos are in the D3 section playoffs, Central looks like a strong favorite in D4 and would then look like a very tough team to beat as well in both the D4 regional and state bowl games.

•Ferndale, with its enrollment of under 200, is playing one of its toughest early-season schedules. The biggest challenge may be getting by host Eureka on Sept. 22. The Wildcats also are playing Del Norte of Cresecent City and Fortuna. They have a solid cast of nine starters back, led by running backs Kadon Zanone and Justin Lang. Ferndale also has tended to move up into the North Coast Section Division IV playoffs (instead of likely dominating in Division V) since the advent of the bowl games, but has not been competitive recently in playoff games against Salesian of Richmond. This year, with a regional bowl game as well, Ferndale may not be as tempted to move up for its section playoffs. We certainly don’t think it would make any sense at all for Ferndale to move up if Marin Catholic and/or Cardinal Newman were in those D4 playoffs.

Note: Check later this week for the Cal-Hi Sports preseason all-state team. If you check back and do not see Cal-Hi Sports content, check our twitter page @CalHiSports or go to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/CalHiSportscom/162897664162 for updates.