With the 2011 high school football season set to kick off on Friday, it’s tempting to wonder if San Mateo County programs can possibly match their fantastic showing of a year ago.
Terra Nova (Division III) and Sacred Heart Prep (Division IV) won Central Coast Section championships last fall, and Sequoia was the runner-up in Division II. Meanwhile, fellow Peninsula Athletic League members Jefferson and Half Moon Bay lost in semifinal thrillers.
Another outstanding postseason performance this year – particularly if it includes a deep Open Division run by West Catholic Athletic League power Serra – would no doubt signal that San Mateo County football is in a golden age.
As the journey begins for many programs with Zero Week games, the following is Patch’s preseason ranking of the top-15 teams in the county. Included are the best and worst case scenarios for each team.
1. SERRA: Best Case: A young but speedy defense blossoms, and the Padres streak to the WCAL crown and their first-ever berth in the CCS Open Division title game. Worst Case: The top opponents stop a run-heavy offense and batter an inexperienced defense, Serra finishes with a sub-.500 league record and narrowly misses an Open bid.
2. TERRA NOVA: Best Case: An Open Division berth is within range if the Tigers go 9-1 in the regular season, but they’d prefer to defend their Division III title. Worst Case: Terra Nova sees its two-year reign atop the PAL Bay end, but still makes the playoffs.
3. SACRED HEART: Best Case: A revamped unit gels and the Gators knock off Terra Nova to win their first PAL Bay championship. Worst Case: SHP loses the Valparaiso Bowl to Menlo, and then suffers an early CCS exit at the hands of its rival.
4. JEFFERSON: Best Case: The Indians validate their promotion to the PAL Bay by challenging for the championship behind a fierce defense. Worst Case: Jeff isn’t ready for the big boys, and the program’s progression stalls with a possible drop back to the PAL Ocean.
5. MENLO-ATHERTON: Best Case: A seasoned offensive backfield leads the Bears to a deep run in the CCS Division I playoffs. Worst Case: M-A starts slow like last year, but this time can’t recover and misses the postseason for the second time in three years.
6. BURLINGAME: Best Case: All the fresh faces gain confidence in the first half of the season, and the Panthers claim one of the PAL Bay’s four CCS bids. Worst Case: The loaded Bay proves too much, the Panthers go 1-4 or 0-5 and risk a demotion to the PAL Ocean.
7. MENLO: Best Case: A game-changing defense puts the Knights over the top; they win the PAL Ocean and challenge for the CCS Division IV title. Worst Case: A repeat of the 2010 season: a team that comes up just short in the Ocean, loses to SHP and suffers a first-round CCS defeat.
8. ARAGON: Best Case: The Dons run roughshod over their new PAL Ocean foes to earn a CCS spot and a quick return to the PAL Bay. Worst Case: The program’s slide continues; Aragon goes 2-3 in league games and loses to (gasp!) Hillsdale in its regular-season finale.
9. SEQUOIA: Best Case: The PAL Ocean newcomer becomes an instant bully, rolls to the league title and makes waves in CCS for the second straight year. Worst Case: The Cherokees lose to Aragon in their league opener, never find their rhythm and take a step backward with a 2-3 or 1-5 showing.
10. SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO: Best Case: The Warriors break a string of five straight sub-.500 seasons in league games, and even enter the PAL Ocean title hunt. Worst Case: South City again struggles, and then suffers the added embarassment of losing the Bell Game to rival El Camino.
11. HALF MOON BAY: Best Case: No Dominic Sena; no problem. A switch to a more balanced attack is seamless, and the Cougars again make a run at a CCS berth. Worst Case: An inability to move the ball wears down a small roster, and HMB finishes toward the bottom of the PAL Ocean.
12. WOODSIDE: Best Case: Last year’s 1-9 flop becomes a distant memory as the Wildcats win back-to-back non-league against Carlmont and San Mateo to gain confidence for the PAL Ocean campaign. Worst Case: Woodside loses those games and the season starts spiraling downward early.
13. HILLSDALE: Best Case: An experienced QB and savvy coach pay dividends as the Knights light up the scoreboard en route to their second PAL Lake championship in three years. Worst Case: The turnover bug hits, the defense springs several leaks and a 2-3 league season follows.
14. EL CAMINO: Best Case: The second coming of the 2007 season: a talented but thin team keeps everyone healthy and the Colts roll to a league title. Worst Case: Non-league games against M-A and Jefferson prove costly as a banged-up team never finds its stride in PAL Lake play.
15. CARLMONT: Best Case: Despite widespread losses to graduation, the Scots field another solid defense that powers them into contention in the PAL Lake. Worst Case: Carlmont struggles to find its identity and can’t compete with the leaders in an up-for-grabs league.