– Dallas Jackson, NationalHSFootball.com
It is a system that has been refined with the addition of a regional qualifying bowl, but the process of determining the best teams in California is still a confusing one.
The state plays down to an Open Division Bowl — which is designed to match the best team from NorCal with the best of SoCal — as well as Division I, II, III, and IV Bowl Games with similar formats. Although each are based on enrollment, the participants of each are chosen equally as subjectively.
At the completion of the Sectional playoffs, there will be a committee used to determine which section winners will represent its half of the state in a regional game before the winner of that plays in the state bowl. After an uproar of unfair cat-calls, the state added the regional games this season and their results could be mixed as there will be talented teams left out of some of the bowls that may have otherwise gone.
Just getting to the point of selection could be difficult in three of the most competitive sections of the state and as each kicks off this weekend, it was appropriate to do a bracket breakdown.
Southern Section — PAC5 Division
Good luck finding the soft spot in the zone of this bracket.
The 16-team field is loaded with 13 programs that could be appropriately described as nationally relevant — seven of which have been ranked in the HSFB100 this season.
While the brackets are supposed to be seeded equally, it looks plainly clear that the bottom half of the tournament will be a much more daunting climb with all eight teams being worthy of mention and seven of which could have an argument to win.
The top of the bracket has some talented teams but the path seems pretty well paved for the nation’s No. 4-ranked team, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco to advance to the final.
In its half of the bracket is Anaheim (Calif.) Servite — which will play Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake in the first round before the winner is likely to face Mission Hills (Calif.) Alemany. While any of those three teams would be considered a nationally relevant opponent for St. John Bosco, none appears to be much of a threat entering the tournament.
Conversely, the bottom the of the bracket is loaded.
Long Beach (Calif.) Poly figures to be in a defensive struggle with Orange (Calif.) Lutheran; Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame and Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure may test the scoreboard in its game; balance could be tricky to find with Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian looking to score against a stellar defense of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, and Mission Viejo (Calif.) High hopes to not be tripped up in looking beyond Encino (Calif.) Crespi.
The longshot of the group is Crespi, but there is not an prohibitive favorite as the games appear to be balanced and match-ups change weekly.
While it is unlikely any of the teams in this group can match the cumulative team that St. John Bosco has, watching which team makes it to the final will be interesting — it will also be a lock to shake up the national rankings.
Southern Section — Inland Division
In all likelihood, the winner of the Inland Division will be playing the winner of the PAC5 in the Regional Bowl game and while the options are not as deep, the battle through this bracket will get interesting quickly.
The lone battle for the opening weekend that could knock out an immediate title contender is between Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High and Redlands (Calif.) East Valley. Rancho Cucamonga had started its season 9-0 with wins over Norco (Calif.) High as well as La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat but fell in the season ender to Upland (Calif.) High. East Valley has not been the team it was as recently as two years ago, but it is still a threat to surprise maybe more than any of the other underdogs early.
Where this bracket will get interesting is in its semifinals as most all favorites are expected to hold suit until then.
Murietta (Calif.) Vista Murietta has a trajectory to take on either Rancho Cucamonga or Norco in the semifinals of the upper part of the bracket, while Upland and Corona (Calif.) Centennial should be on cruise control until the pair meets on Nov. 29.
Sac-Joaquin Section — Division I
On the top end, this figures to be the most competitive bracket in NorCal — at least at the nationally relevant level — and it is the one that also features Folsom (Calif.) High in its tune to a showdown with Concord (Calif.) De La Salle.
Folsom has been scoring in bunches this season and is an offensive juggernaut that should pose problems for every team in this bracket. It has an interesting opening round opponent as the No. 16 seed, Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln has won four of its final five games to get into the playoffs despite losing each of its first five games.
While no team has the look of a threat to knock off Folsom, there are a few interesting options.
The winner of Merced (Calif.) High and Carmichael (Calif.) Jesuit may be the team to be a speed bump in the third round — although some are jumping on the Tracy (Calif.) High bandwagon — but marks the best first round game in the top half of the bracket.
In the lower half, there are more compelling games as four quality teams lurk.
El Dorado Hills (Calif.) Oak Ridge, Granite Bay (Calif.) High, Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove and Stockton (Calif.) Stagg make up a group that could provide for a great second round — assuming all take the next step.
The Division II battle in the Sac-Joaquin has teams like Loomis (Calif.) Del Oro, Elk Grove (Calif.) High, Rio Linda (Calif.) High and Sacramento (Calif.) Grant, but it there isn’t the national impact with that collection like there is in the Division I, even if it may be more competitive and less predictable.