By Mitch Stephens
The NFL has a two-minute warning.
Here's my two-week shakeout prior to the CIF State Football Championship Bowl Games.
The incessant chatter you hear on talk radio about the BCS and who'll be picked to play for the national collegiate championship game is much the same language and conjecture you hear on the California stage for its prep teams.
The difference is it won't be a computer selecting the squads, but 10 CIF commissioners who will pick six teams: two Section champions, one from the North and one from the South, in three separate divisions - large (Division I), medium (D-II) and small (D-III).
The selections will be picked and announced after all of the 10 sections have completed their championships, on Sunday Dec. 9 at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
It's the same location the games will be played on Dec. 15.
Mark Tennis at Cal-Hi Sports has done and does a masterful job laying it out week-to-week, as does Ned Freeman with his computer rankings at calpreps.com.
Here's a third opinion with a caveat.
I'm laying odds, not for gambling purposes please, but rather to offer a concrete number to this obviously un-exact quagmire of a system.
This is what I think will happen on the field the next two weeks and then speculate how the commissioners will pick.
Remember, no section title, no invitation.
With only three sections having completed their championships and many just at the semifinal stage, much needs to be unraveled.
I've seen many of the top teams throughout the state and been to games involving teams from nine of the 10 sections. I'm listing just those teams that have the very best chances to be considered and what must to happen for them to be selected.
DIVISION I SOUTH
Marquee wins: Crespi-Encino (41-20), Clovis West (31-24).
Blemishes: Mater Dei-Santa Ana (51-37).
National ranking: MaxPreps No. 2, USA Today No. 19, Rivals No. 23
State rankings: MaxPreps No. 1, Cal-Hi Sports No. 2.
What has to happen: If the Huskies win out and take the Southern Section's Southern Inland playoffs, it will likely come down to them and Birmingham-Lake Balboa. The one common opponent between the two is Crespi. Centennial beat Crespi while Birmingham lost 20-6.
BIRMINGHAM-LAKE BALBOA (11-1)
Marquee wins: Long Beach Poly (20-7), Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks (28-21).
Blemishes: Crespi (20-6)
National rankings: MaxPreps No. 39, USA Today No. 21, Rivals No. 28, Prep Nation No. 16.
State rankings: MaxPreps No. 5, Cal-Hi Sports No. 3.
What has to happen: Simply, if the Patriots win out and take the Los Angeles Section crown, which they're heavily favored to do, and Centennial falters, their in. The win over Poly in week 2 may prove decisive.
REDLANDS EAST VALLEY (12-0)
Marquee wins: Miller (28-27), Murrieta Valley (60-53).
National rankings: MaxPreps No. 42
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 6, Cal-Hi Sports No. 6.
What has to happen: They must beat Centennial in section final and hopes Birmingham loses. With 14-0 record and high powered offense (502 points to date), the Wildcats could still sneak in even if Birmingham wins city title.
LONG BEACH POLY (11-1)
Marquee wins: Glenville-Cleveland-Ohio (21-13), Compton (42-14), Santa Margarita (39-7).
Blemishes: Birmingham (20-7).
National rankings: MaxPreps No. 33, Rivals No. 30, Prep Nation No. 17.
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 3, Cal-Hi Sports No. 4.
What has to happen: A championship in the Southern Section's top division, the Pac-5 is a tall hurdle. First the Jackrabbits must beat Orange Lutheran today then beat the winner of Servite-Crespi. Even if Birmingham loses, either Centennial or Redlands East Valley won't, making it a tough road. Then again, some believe winning Pac-5 should guarantee a spot. Hard to disagree.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
Centennial takes care of business, wins section title and is fairly easy/objective selection based on that one common opponent.
DIVISION I NORTH
DE LA SALLE-CONCORD (11-0)
Marquee wins: Serra (40-22), Mission Viejo (35-7).
National rankings: MaxPreps No. 8, USA Today No. 3, Rivals No. 7, Prep Nation No. 3.
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 2, Cal-Hi Sports No. 1.
What has to happen: The sun needs to rise from the east and set in the west. Simply, nature's course. The Spartans haven't lost to a North Coast Section opponent since 1991 and it's not going to happen this year. This is one of De La Salle's best teams and with an absolute nails defense and a new passing wrinkle - 80 of 112 for 1,743 yards, 27 touchdowns as a team - that streak isn't ending this year.
CALIFORNIA-SAN RAMON (11-1)
Marquee wins: James Logan (27-9)
Blemishes: San Ramon Valley (10-9)
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 35.
What has to happen: If the Grizzlies, enjoying a landmark year, beat De La Salle in the Dec. 8 NCS 4A finals, they deserve a state berth. Simple as that.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Though we could bring up fine teams from Napa, Elk Grove and Oak Grove-San Jose, to name a few, there's no real discussion. The sun sets in the west. It's Duh! La Salle.
DIVISION II SOUTH
ORANGE LUTHERAN (10-1)
Marquee wins: Mater Dei (31-12), Edison (28-16).
Blemish: Servite (28-13).
National rankings: MaxPreps No. 45, Rivals No. 34.
State rankings: MaxPreps No. 7, Cal-Hi Sports No. 5.
What has to happen: If Lancers win the amazingly rugged Pac-5 tournament for a second straight year, they deserve the nod.
Marquee wins: Birmingham (20-6), St. Bonaventure-Ventura (25-9), Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks (23-3), Mater Dei-Santa Ana (48-26).
Blemishes: Centennial (41-20), Canyon (17-14).
National rankings: MaxPreps No. 35.
State rankings: MaxPreps No. 4, Cal-Hi Sports No. 7.
What has to happen: See Orange Lutheran. Just take the Pac-5 and the treasure is the Celts. Judging from some of the juggernauts they've defeated already, this would be no long shot.
Marquee wins: Edison (6-0), Orange Lutheran (28-13).
Blemishes: Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks (17-9), Mater Dei (38-13).
National ranking: MaxPreps No. 94.
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 10, Cal-Hi Sports No. 10.
What has to happen: See Orange Lutheran and Crespi. The Friars, with two of the country's top recruits, D.J. Shoemate and Matt Jakubiec, and one of the state's best young coaches Troy Thomas, are capable.
Marquee wins: Carlsbad (31-7).
Blemish: Helix (28-20).
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 9, Cal-Hi Sports No. 12.
What has to happen: The Pirates simply need to avenge their loss to Helix in the San Diego Section Division II finals, then have Long Beach Poly win the Pac-5 Division which would eliminate all of the above in this division.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
The long shot gets in. as Poly is peaking, will win the Pac-5 and Oceanside, with a great tradition (eight section titles), a terrific tailback Armani Taylor, a high-powered offense and a fast swarming hard-hitting defense, wins its section to earn the spot.
DIVISION II NORTH
ST. MARY'S-STOCKTON (11-1)
Marquee wins: Central Catholic (45-41), St. Francis-Mountain View (20-13), Merced (41-28).
Blemishes: Jesuit-Carmichael (24-13).
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 30, Cal-Hi Sports No. 15.
What has to happen: The Rams control their destiny but it won't be easy. They have to win two more tough Sac-Joaquin Section Division I games, including a tough rematch with Lincoln-Stockton on Friday. The other SJS semifinal game is Napa versus Elk Grove.
DEL ORO-LOOMIS (11-1)
Marquee wins: Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa (48-28), Nevada Union (33-21).
Blemishes: Granite Bay (21-14).
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 60, Cal-Hi Sports No. 18.
What has to happen: A win over Granite Bay in tonight's SJS D-II title game would put the Golden Eagles in excellent position not only because it would secure the title but also avenge its only loss. Then they'd just hope for a St. Mary's defeat.
FOOTHILL-PALO CEDRO (12-0)
Marquee wins: None.
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 24.
What has to happen: As Tennis put it, the Cougars are the leaders in the clubhouse. They've already won the Northern Section, which unfortunately for Foothill, gets about as much respect as the WAC by the BCS. According to our own Kevin Askeland, the Cougars have a pair of Division I athletes on defense and are considered one of the top 10 teams ever from the Northern Section. Calpreps.com has them ranked No. 1 among NorCal teams in the division. Losses by St. Mary's and Del Oro would sure help.
Marquee wins: Foothill-Pleasanton (25-22), Deer Valley-Antioch (36-20).
State ranking: MaxPreps. No. 95.
What has to happen: All this team does is win big and stay quiet about it. The Hornets have outscored foes 397-117, won 22 straight and last year outscored opponents 548-45. Last year they were edged by Palo Alto for the state berth so if they go 13-0 and beat undefeated Las Lomas-Walnut in the finals, Novato coach Travis Brackett will have to wonder what else he or his team can do.
LAS LOMAS-WALNUT CREEK (12-0)
Marquee wins: none.
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 76.
What has to happen: If they win the NCS 2A the Knights will be 14-0 and knocked off one heck of a Novato team. With all the uncertainty above, it's possible.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
This is as tough as it gets. I'm thinking St. Mary's, though beat up from a tough win over Merced last week, wins the top SJS division and gets the nod.
DIVISION III SOUTH
ST. BONAVENTURE-VENTURA (11-1)
Marquee wins: Santa Margarita (15-14), Canyon (28-17), Oaks Christian (41-33).
Blemish: Crespi (25-9).
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 15, Cal-Hi Sports No. 8.
What has to happen: It's pretty simple. The Seraphs win the Northern Division of the Southern Section and they're a lock. But first beating Saugus and then the winner of Hart-Newhall versus Newbury Park is nothing close to a sure thing. Saugus and Hart are D-I schools (by CIF bowl definition) and Newbury Park is D-II.
OAKS CHRISITIAN-WESTLAKE VILLAGE (9-3)
Marquee wins: Muir-Pasadena (36-20)
Blemishes: St. Bonaventure (41-33), Venice (41-35), Oak Park (25-20).
State rankings: MaxPreps No. 56.
What has to happen: The defending state champions in this division have a much easier road to a section title than St. Bonaventure, a team it lost to earlier. In today's Southern Northwest semifinals, the Lions host Oak Park, which beat Oaks Christian earlier and then get the winner of St. Bernard-Playa del Rey versus Nordhoff-Ojai. If St. Bonny falters, the door is wide open for the defending champs.
BISHOP'S-LA JOLLA (10-0)
Marquee wins: None.
What has to happen: As long as the Knights take care of business in the SD Section D-V playoffs, they appear a good pick if St. Bonaventure and Oaks Christian both falter. In fact, they could get the nod over Oaks Christian if the commissioners don't consider strength of schedule. The Knights have outscored opponents 448-59.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Darrell Scott, the nation's top running back recruit according to CSTV's Tom Lemming, transferred from Moorpark to St. Bonaventure for a reason. As long as fields aren't a muddy mess, Scott should be able to carry the Seraphs to the state title game.
DIVISION III NORTH
CENTRAL CATHOLIC-MODESTO (10-1-1)
Marquee wins: Patterson (35-10).
Blemishes: St. Mary's-Stockton (45-41); Cardinal Newman (35-35).
State rankings: MaxPreps No. 42.
What has to happen: Other than its blemishes, Central Catholic has outscored everyone else 542-90 and scored 49 or more in nine of the 10. The team they face in the SJS D-V finals is Patterson, a team it already beat. A win there and it should be home free.
CARDINAL NEWMAN-SANTA ROSA (10-1-1)
Marquee wins: Oakdale (42-29), Rancho Cotate (29-10).
Blemishes: Central Catholic (35-35), Del Oro (48-28).
State ranking: MaxPreps No. 80.
What has to happen: Other than the tie to Central Catholic, the Cardinals other blemish is to Del Oro. You can bet Newman is looking for a Del Oro title and St. Mary's defeat in the next two weeks. Of course, Newman has potentially two very tough foes in Rancho Cotate on Friday and potentially San Ramon Valley-Danville in the NCS 3A title game. No matter what, Newman's Paul Cronin should be up for state coach of the year considering all he had to replace.
ST. PATRICK/ST. VINCENT-VALLEJO (12-0)
Marquee wins: Ferndale (27-21).
What has to happen: If the two teams above lose, then St. Patrick just needs to beat a worthy and always tough Ferndale squad to have a good shot. I think a better one than Northern Section champion Sutter, which finished 12-0.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
My hunch, though they'd never say it, is that the Section commissioners want to spread the wealth. Translation: if two teams are close, a potential repeat participant - like Cardinal Newman - is out. With that said, Central Catholic will win Saturday making whatever Newman does obsolete.
Have an opinion? What do you think? E-mail Mitch Stephens at email@example.com.
Look for live reports from Mitch Stephens tonight in the Pac-5 semifinals at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Also catch updates from all the section semifinals and championship football games all weekend at MaxPreps.com.