One of the leading prognosticators in high school football has picked Oakdale to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship for a second year in a row.
The top-seeded Mustangs (12-1) will square off against Valley Oak League rival Manteca (11-2), the No. 2 seed, on Friday evening at Lincoln High's Spanos Stadium. Kickoff is at 7.
Both teams are no stranger to this stage. Oakdale is appearing in its seventh D-III final in eight years, and gunning for the program's sixth overall title. Manteca has won five of its nine finals appearances, including four titles under head coach Eric Reis.
It's the second time in three years that two VOL teams have reached the D-III section final.
In 2015, Oakdale was beaten by Central Catholic, which completed a 16-0 season with a CIF State Bowl win over San Marino. There are many that believe that Oakdale was one of the top teams in Northern California that season, despite the section final loss, but only sections champions are allowed to compete in regional and state bowls.
This time, the Mustangs are the chic pick to defend their section title and return to the regional round. Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis unveiled his regional bowl projections in a live stream on Facebook on Wednesday.
With many teams already locked into a regional bowl, Tennis did his best to fill in the blanks with his annual "CIF Bowl Board." He locked Oakdale, the Stanislaus District's season-long No. 1 large-school team, into the Division II-AA bowl against Serra High of San Mateo (10-2). Serra plays Saint Francis of Mountain View in the Central Coast Section Open Division II final.
"Keep in mind almost all of these on here haven't won their way onto the board yet," Tennis said in the video. "They all have to win this weekend to become eligible for this year's bowl games. ... Keep in mind that every team on this board is a projected winner of a section championship."
The Mustangs are the defending Division III-A State Bowl champions, but Tennis believes their body of work this season -- a victory over Central Catholic and a competitive loss to Folsom -- will move them into a more prestigious bowl game.
Oakdale is sixth in Tennis' Northern California projections behind De La Salle (10-1), Folsom (13-0), Central of Fresno (11-1), Pittsburgh (8-1) and Granite Bay (11-2), all of whom play in a section championship game this weekend.
Granite Bay is the projected Sac-Joaquin Section D-II champion. The Grizzlies play Sierra Foothill League foe Del Oro (8-5), which stunned Central Catholic last week. Tennis placed Granite Bay above Oakdale in his projections, because, in his opinion, Del Oro's win over Central Catholic diminished the value of the Mustangs' win over its chief rival in the VOL.
In the south, Tulare (13-0) of the Central Section and Cajon (12-1) of the Southern Section filled the Division II-AA bowl slots.
While Tennis is a leading voice in California high school football, his board can -- and likely will -- change with this weekend's games. Manteca will be among the underdogs looking to crash the party.
The Buffaloes qualified for a regional bowl last fall by virtue of their D-IV section title. Had Manteca remained in D-IV this fall, the Buffaloes, with a lineup that feature three third-year varsity starters, including linemen Justin Kakala and Kyle Reis, would have been an odds-on favorite to beat Placer for a second year in a row.
Instead, Placer won the D-IV crown handily and advances to a regional bowl, while Manteca was put on a much tougher path. Tennis isn't the only prognosticator picking against the Buffaloes. CalPreps.com and The Bee also sided with the Mustangs, who have won nine of the last 14 meetings and hold a 52-41-4 advantage in the all-time series.