Just winning football games is enough to guarantee a team a playoff berth. Win by a few or win by 20, it's all the same there are no extra points awarded for style.
The rules are changing, though, as teams jockey for a berth in one of the five Northern California bowls. As crucial as it is to win this week, it's just as important that you're impressive doing it.
It's part football and part beauty contest, and winning by 42-21 is so much better than winning 35-21. Teams that have a chance to score a late touchdown need to go for it. A 14-point victory can make it look as if you were lucky, but a late TD will make it convincing.
The bigger the win, the bigger the impact on the 10 section commissioners who will select 10 teams to play in regional bowls. They will be making their picks based on scores, reputation, difficulty of schedule, and word of mouth.
Perhaps one or two, if any, commissioners will have seen any Stanislaus District teams prior to the meeting. Most NorCal teams are in a similar situation, and they also are trying to impress.
Some teams don't have to worry about wowing voters, so long as they win a section title that's a requirement to be in a regional bowl. No one at Folsom, Placer, Elk Grove, Central Catholic or Franklin of Elk Grove has to worry about sweating out a vote.
Oakdale, though, tops the list of teams that must make every play count the next three weeks. The Mustangs are favored in Division 3, but that has the potential to hurt them as much as it helps.
Placer was expected to be a D3 team, giving Oakdale a chance to score a significant win over an unbeaten power. When Placer fell to D4, though, it left the Mustangs without a power program to play.
Sierra, Cosumnes Oaks, Vista del Lago and Inderkum are among the top threats in D3, but there's not one among them that is going to impress the commissioners. If Oakdale is on the board when the vote goes down, the Mustangs run the risk of losing the vote to North Coast and Central Coast schools.
Oakdale's not alone, either.
While Central Catholic is a lock to advance if it wins the section, district peers Ripon, Los Banos and Argonaut could be the odd team out if they win the section D4 crown. CalHiSports has Marin Catholic (10-1), Sutter (11-0) and Seaside (11-0) ranked ahead of any district team in the small-school division, and as we know, those CalHi rankings have been used in the past to help select bowl teams.
The CalHi rankings are an easy out for commissioner who watch little football in the fall. More than one commissioner has gone into a bowl meeting with CalHi's rankings in their pocket.
Oakdale learned it the hard way when Devin Combs carried it to a 12-1 record and a section title in 2007. With no regional bowls at the time, commissioners selected one team for the State Bowl and North Coast champ Novato (13-0 at the time) won the vote.
Influencing that vote was Oakdale struggling to beat 11-1 Whitney by a score of 34-27 in its section final, while Novato beat 12-0 Los Lomas, 34-21. A slightly better foe, based on records, and an additional TD were crucial to Novato moving on.
More importantly, CalHi ranked Novato ahead of Oakdale in its regional poll. Oakdale sits No. 3 in CalHi's rankings right now, so it's at risk of being left out yet again.
Before anyone can worry about a regional bowl, they need to first raise a championship banner. The first of those will be earned next week, when the champions will be determined for divisions 5 and 6.
Football's all about numbers, so we'll be watching Downey QB Aaron Zwahlen and a couple of potent runners, Sierra's Anthony and Escalon's Nathan Chunn.
Zwahlen has 46 TD passes, he's second in the state, and four more gives him 50. Gotta love a round number like that! He's thrown for 3,488 yards, so he likely needs to win Friday to get a shot at 4,000.
Cota and Chunn, meanwhile, are racing to become the region's first back to hit 2,000 yards. Cota needs 124 yards, while Chunn needs 142.
Orestimba's Steven Machado still tops all district rushers with 1,927 yards, but his Warriors didn't get in the playoffs and he's likely to be overtaken by Cota and Chunn.
Should Sierra and Escalon keep winning, Cota and Chunn will be in the mix for the section rushing title. American Canyon's Jomon Dotson (1,946) and Center's D'juan Bellaire (1,041) rank 1-2, and both could be in the district next week.
If American Canyon wins its D3 quarterfinal, it will visit Oakdale the following week so long as Oakdale's alive. If Center wins its D4 quarterfinal, it will be at Ripon or Central Catholic in a semifinal.
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at (209) 578-2300 or email@example.com.