Though Stanislaus District players just took the field Thursday morning to start working out in pads, a handful of teams enter with high expectations. A section title is the goal of every program, and these teams appear to have the best shot.
The teams to beat ...
Central Catholic: The Raiders are loaded with talent and speed, and a top-tier schedule will prep them for any foe in the Division 4 playoffs. Central has a record 15 section titles, but it hasnt added to the total since 2007 a four-year drought that has created plenty of anxiety in the program.
Its title hopes will be affected by the placement of Placer, a tremendously talented bubble team that will be the smallest team in D3 or the largest in D4. That wont be decided until the regular season ends.
With traditional powers Escalon and Hilmar rebuilding after playing for the 2011 section title, Placer would be the lone D4 team talented enough to deny the Raiders a crown.
Oakdale: Eight starters return on defense and quarterback Spencer Thomas is leading the attack after taking the Mustangs to the section D3 final the last two seasons. Both games ended in defeats to Del Oro, but Del Oro is now in D2.
Whether Placers D3 or not, expect Oakdale to be favored to win its second title in five years. Its schedule has an early battle at potent Oceanside, the state D1 champ in 2009, as well as Turlock and Aptos playoff teams a year ago.
If there is a potential pitfall, its going to be Inderkum. A D2 semifinalist in 2011, Inderkums shrinking enrollment could drop it to D3 it was a D3 finalist in 2009 after beating Oakdale 49-30 in the semi.
Le Grand: The two-time defending section champ got to a state bowl last year, but suffered heavy graduation losses. The Bulldogs are D5, however, which makes them a potential three-time champion.
With the sections smallest schools split in two divisions, tiny schools fall to D6, theres little competition in either of the smallest divisions. Thats why Le Grands obstacle will likely come from its league.
Teams to challenge ...
Escalon: Having just graduated the most talented class in its history, the Cougars are not going to fall far so long as Mark Loureiro is their coach. Opening at Los Banos will answer early questions, as well as looking good on a resume.
Escalon upset a more talented CC team in last years semifinals before losing to Hilmar in the D4 final. There is still size on the line (Alan Gonzalez is TVLs top lineman) and Alec Von Alvensleben could be the regions top receiver.
Before it starts to ponder another title, Escalon must find a new QB to run its Wing-T. Is there a Josh Miguel light in the program? Better hope so.
Los Banos: The question is whether the Tigers will be D3 or D4? There are too many talented, larger schools in D3 for the Tigers, who would likely be the smallest school in D3.
Declining enrollment, with Pacheco opening last fall and the city no longer a top destination for Bay Area commuters, could send Tigers into D4 with CC, Escalon, Hilmar and perhaps even mighty Placer.
So long as rookie coach Dustin Caropresso has RB James Sams The Bees Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 LB has a chance to win D4.
Competition too tough ...
Pitman: The Pride brings back its top RBs and is expected to be the areas top D1 program, but the sections southern schools dont win in D1. The last time a district team won the largest classification was 1990, when Merced won a second straight section title: Those remain the only titles won by a southern program.
The elite include Lincoln of Stockton (with an RB committed to USC), Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove, Grant and defending champ Granite Bay.
Buhach Colony: The areas top D2 team for a third consecutive year, BC made the semifinals the last two seasons before being manhandled by a Sacramento-area power. The Thunder lost some of its size, but Vacaville and Folsom teams that beat BC and won section titles the next week remain stacked with talent.
Adding to BCs challenge is that Del Oro, a two-time defending D3 champ and a State Bowl team last year, has been promoted to D2 and its going to be an instant contender.