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Shawn Jansen: Can Thunder be challenged?

The weather has changed drastically this week. The triple-digit heat has disappeared, replaced with rain on Wednesday.

Trees are blowing, there are clouds in the sky and a chill in the air.

In other words, we finally have football weather. Just in time for the start of the Central California Conference, too.

There's no question Buhach Colony (5-0) is the heavy favorite going in. The Thunder are looking to duplicate last fall's 10-0 regular-season start.

After BC it's anyone's guess.

Here are four questions swirling about the CCC, and my answers to them:

 1.  Will Buhach Colony run the table again?

The Thunder very likely could make it through the CCC again unscathed.

The big question coming into the season was whether their running backs and flybacks would be good enough?

Coach Kevin Swartwood has used a committee of ball carriers and to this point in the season they've been getting the job done. With that gigantic offensive line leading the way, BC has averaged more than 350 rushing yards and 45 points per game. Defensively, the Thunder are a brick wall.

 2.  Which team has the best chance to upset Buhach?

Many people might point to Pitman and its 5-0 start, but I'll stick with Merced.

The Bears were about 90 seconds away from upsetting Buhach Colony last year until the Thunder drove down and scored.

You're not going to beat BC running the ball.

Merced has a mobile quarter in Eli Gutierrez and an X-factor in Jaquari People who could be a difference maker in that matchup.

 3.  How good are the Turlock schools?

Pitman and Turlock come into CCC play with a combined 9-1 record.

However, their nonconference schedules proved soft. The Pride returned only a handful of starters from last year, but that young nucleus throttled its nonconference opponents whose combined record was 4-21. My point: Five games in and they're still untested.

The same can be said for Turlock, who have a win over the top Modesto Metro Conference team — Downey — but was blown out by Oakdale in its only other tough matchup.

Simply, nobody really knows how good these two teams are.

 4.  Will Atwater and Golden Valley be contenders?

No question both of these teams are vastly improved.

Golden Valley has switched to a spread offense and now has the ability to score with just about anyone. The question that has haunted head coach Jake Messina is can his Cougars stop anybody?

Golden Valley has given up big chunks of yards on the ground. Messina is hoping the return of some players from injury — namely middle linebacker Jonathan Salas — will help plug up those holes.

Still, four CCC wins — giving them the playoff prerequisite of six — may be too much to ask from the Cougars.

Atwater also changed its offense to a shotgun Wing-T and it has led to some big plays.

Running backs Dallas Hoofard, Shane Lambert and Javier Lopez give Atwater the punch and power its been lacking.

It wouldn't be a shock to see the Falcons back in the playoffs.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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