By Kevin Askeland
For nine weeks, the CIF Bowl Game picture was getting clearer and clearer with each passing week. All it took was one Mater Dei loss to muddy things up.
The Monarchs lost to Trinity League rival Orange Lutheran 31-12 last week, thus setting up a number of possible scenarios for the Southern California entrants to the Division 1 and 2 Bowl Games. Up until last week, the Monarchs looked like the sure-fire pick for the Division 2 Bowl while Centennial, which lost to Mater Dei earlier in the year, was the Division 1 favorite.
With the Mater Dei loss, however, Birmingham, Long Beach Poly and Redlands East Valley now loom as possibilities in Division 1 and Lutheran, Servite, Oceanside and Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks join Mater Dei as potential Division 2 picks.
The majority of the schools in the state play their final regular season games this week while the Central and Northern Sections begin playoffs this week. Here's a look at the major players for this year's CIF Bowl Games. Remember that only section champions are chosen for the bowl games.
Division 1 - Southern California
Centennial of Corona - Ranked No. 1 in the CalPreps Southern California Division 1 rankings, Centennial is the likely choice if it can run the table and win the Inland Division. A division championship will mean that Centennial will have edged out Redlands East Valley and Vista Murietta, a pair of unbeaten teams, for the championship. Why choose Centennial? - Has wins over Crespi, Dominguez, and Clovis West and will come out of a solid Inland Division. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Must get past REV and Vista Murietta.
Birmingham - After an early season loss to Crespi, Birmingham has played extremely well, piling up wins over Long Beach Poly and Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks. Ranked No. 2 in the CalPreps rankings, Birmingham probably needs a Centennial loss in division play in order to move up to No. 1 due to its loss to Crespi and Centennial's win over the Celts. Why choose Birmingham? - Has impressive wins over Long Beach Poly and Notre Dame. Biggest osbstacles to Bowl - An Los Angeles City Section championship likely won't be viewed as impressive as winning the Inland Division or Pac-5 Division in the Southern Section considering that Birmingham is the only City team ranked in the top 24 in the Southern California Division 1 rankings by CalPreps.
Long Beach Poly - The Jackrabbits will have to win the Pac-5 Division, which will be no easy feat, considering the presence of Lutheran, Mater Dei, Servite, Esperanza, Mission Viejo, Crespi and Notre Dame. If Poly gets through that gauntlet, it would be hard to deny it a bowl bid, especially if a team other than Birmingham wins the Los Angeles City Section. Best case scenario, Poly beats Mater Dei for Pac-5 title and Birmingham loses the LA City Section, giving committee plenty of reason to move Poly to the top. Why choose Poly? - Plays in the toughest Southern Section division. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Plays in the toughest Southern Section division.
Redlands East Valley - Getting past Centennial in the Inland Division won't be easy, but if REV can do it, then a bowl berth could be in the works. Ranked No. 4 by CalPreps, REV would have to beat Vista Murietta, Centennial or both in order to win the division. Losses by Poly and Birmingham could then boost REV right to the top. Why choose REV? - Winning the Inland Division will make for a good resume. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Will likely need Poly and Birmingham to both lose and will need a division win over Centennial.
Saugus/Hart - The same case can be made for both Saugus and Hart. The two teams play this week and could then meet later in Northern Division play. They would both need to get past St. Bonaventure in order to win the division, which would help make an argument for their selection, despite the fact that the Seraphs are a Division 3 team. Why choose Hart/Saugus? If a team other than REV or Centennial win the Inland Division and Poly and Birmingham both lose, the Northern Division champion could get the nod. Canyon, the Division 1 champion last year, was a Northern Division champ. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - besides needing to get past the other, both Saugus and Hart would have to beat St. Bonaventure and then get some help to knock off Centennial, Birmingham, Poly and REV.
Division 2 - Southern California
Mater Dei - Despite the loss to Lutheran, Mater Dei is still the No. 1 ranked team in Division 2. Of course this week the Monarchs play Servite, which recently defeated Lutheran, so Mater Dei will have to rebound quickly from its only loss of the season. Why choose Mater Dei? If it wins the Pac-5, it deserves to be selected. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - As will be the case for many teams on this list, winning the Pac-5 is the biggest obstacle.
Lutheran - A win over Mater Dei weighs heavily in Lutheran's favor, but it will probably have to beat the Monarchs a second time in Pac-5 play in order to gain the Bowl berth. The Servite loss won't matter as long as it wins the Pac-5. Why choose Lutheran? Beating Mater Dei twice would be a good reason. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Winning the Pac-5.
Oceanside - This is where Poly can affect the Division 2 Bowl. If Poly wins the Pac-5, and Oceanside wins the San Diego Section Division 2 playoffs, then Oceanside becomes the pick here for the Division 2 bowl. Why choose Oceanside? It had a dominating win over previously unbeaten Carlsbad. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - While Oceanside is a quality team, odds favor a Division 2 team winning the Pac-5, and thus gaining a bowl berth.
Notre Dame - The Knights are ranked fourth in Division 2 by Calpreps, but they must win the Pac-5 division in order to qualify. Winning the Pac-5, along with impressive wins over Servite and Saugus will help sway the judges. Even more helpful will be a win this week over Crespi. Why choose Notre Dame? The Knights would have credentials to move ahead of Oceanside based on its division win and its league and preseason victories. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Winning the Pac-5 and moving ahead of Oceanside.
Crespi - Losses to Centennial and Canyon won't help, but Canyon had two losses last year and managed to earn a Division 1 berth. Beating Notre Dame this week and winning the Pac-5 will make Crespi eligible, but might need some help to move ahead of Oceanside. Why choose Crespi? The Celts have impressive wins over Birmingham and St. Bonaventure. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - winning the Pac-5 and beating Notre Dame this week.
Servite - The prospects for Servite aren't a whole lot different than those faced by Lutheran, Mater Dei, Notre Dame and Crespi. The Friars play Mater Dei this week, so we'll know more about Servite's chances after that game. Why choose Servite? - The Friars have a win over Lutheran and could have a win over Mater Dei. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - A loss to Notre Dame and winning the Pac-5.
Edison of Fresno - The Central Section's best chance of earning a Bowl berth is right here, but a lot has to happen. First, Edison has to win the Central Section, which means getting past Bullard, Clovis East and Clovis West. With that done, Edison needs Poly, or some other Division 1 team, to win the Pac-5. Oceanside also needs to fall in the San Diego Section. If all of those things happen, Edison could be the pick. Why choose Edison? It is the top-rated Central Section team. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Needs help from other teams in San Diego Section and the Pac-5 Division.
Division 3 - Southern California
St. Bonaventure - The Seraphs are the obvious choice here, but they must win the Northern Division to claim the berth. That won't be easy. Division 1 teams Hart and Saugus both could pull off the upset in division play, leaving St. Bonaventure in the cold. Why choose St. Bonaventure? - The Seraphs are easily the top-ranked team, with wins over Santa Margarita, Oaks Christian and Canyon. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Getting past Hart and Saugus in the Northern Division.
Morro Bay - Ranked No. 2 by CalPreps, Morro Bay is undefeated at 9-0, but will have to win the Northwest Division and have the Seraphs lose in order to have a chance. Why choose Morro Bay? Would be a good choice if it wins the Northwest Division and St. Bonaventure loses. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Not much of an argument for Morro Bay if the Seraphs also win their division.
Oaks Christian - Could Oaks Christian actually defend its Division 3 title? Despite sporting a 6-3 record, it's not out of the question. If St. Bonaventure doesn't win the Northern Division and Oaks Christian wins the Northwest Division, then Oaks Christian is the pick. The irony here is that St. Bonaventure defeated Oaks Christian during the regular season. Look for plenty of message board bickering if this scenario comes to pass. Why choose Oaks Christian? They're the defending champs. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - winning the Northwest won't be as easy this year as it was last year.
Bishop's - If it can finish section play undefeated, Bishop's might have a good argument over a team like Oaks Christian, which has three losses. However, Bishop's will need both Morro Bay and St. Bonaventure to lose in order to have a shot. Why choose Bishop's? - Could finish undefeated. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Schedule isn't nearly as impressive as Oaks Christian, Morro Bay or St. Bonaventure.
Division 1 - Northern California
De La Salle - The Spartans are the clear choice here, assuming they get through the North Coast Section playoffs unscathed, which hasn't been a problem for nearly 20 years. Hard to imagine any other team in Northern California getting the nod here, especially considering that the Spartans have a better team this year than they did when they were chosen last year for the inaugural bowl games. Why choose DeLaSalle? - Best tradition of any NorCal team, plus it has convincing wins over Serra, Mission Viejo, Palma and Loyola. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Beating Logan of Union City in the North Coast Section playoffs.
Bellarmine - The Bells are undefeated in Central Coast Section play, including a perfect mark in the West Coast Athletic League, which is generally considered the toughest league in Northern California. Bellarmine still has to play Serra this week, and a slip-up there would obviously make the Bells a much longer shot to get the berth. Still, a convincing win over Serra would give Bellarmine a very good argument over De La Salle. Why choose Bellarmine? Plays in toughest league in Northern California. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Beating Serra this week and overcoming the aura of the De La Salle program.
Logan - The only way Logan can qualify for the Division 1 bowl game is to beat De La Salle, therefore a win over the Spartans would certainly be a compelling argument to select Logan over the CCS or Sac-Joaquin Section champion. There are only four unbeaten Division 1 teams that have a legitimate shot at a berth, De La Salle, Bellarmine, Merced and Logan. Why choose Logan? If it wins the NCS, that means a win over De La Salle, and no other team in the running can make that claim. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Obviously beating De La Salle.
Vacaville/Napa/Merced - These three teams are essentially in the same boat. They all have solid credentials, but they will have to beat each other, as well as St. Mary's, the top-ranked Sac-Joaquin Section team, in order to win the SJS Division 1 title. St. Mary's has a Division 2 enrollment for the bowl games, thus a section championship by the Rams eliminates any SJS Division 1 team from bowl contention. If one of the three win the title, they would need a team other than Bellarmine to win the CCS and teams other than Logan and De La Salle and to win the NCS. The likelihood of all three of those things happening is remote. Why choose Vacaville/Napa/Merced? They are all quality teams with one or fewer losses on their resume. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - beating out St. Mary's for the section crown.
Los Gatos/Serra - This is the CCS version of the Vacaville/Napa/Merced scenario. Both teams have less sparkling records than Bellarmine, with Serra losing three games and Los Gatos tying one. If Los Gatos or Serra win the CCS Open Division, they would have to put their record up against a De La Salle or a Logan, and those teams will likely be unbeaten. Why choose Los Gatos/Serra? - They played some tough teams in CCS play and will have come through a rugged Open Division to qualify. Biggest obstacle to Bowl - Beating Bellarmine.
Division 2 - Northern California
St. Mary's - This division could be the most complicated of the six because so many potential champions will qualify. Top of the list, however, is St. Mary's, which will have the tough task of winning the SJS Division 1 title. A championship there will mean that the Rams have played some extremely good teams to win the title, including possible wins over Merced in the South division and either Vacaville or Napa in the championship. Why choose St. Mary's? - They are a Division 2 team playing in a Division 1 championship series. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Winning the SJS Division 1 title.
Del Oro - The Golden Eagles are the favorite to win the SJS Division 2 crown, but might have a tough argument over a team like St. Mary's, if it wins the Division 1 crown. St. Mary's does have a loss to Jesuit, a team Del Oro has not played. So taking advantage of St. Mary's lone loss could be difficult, especially if St. Mary's has an impressive run in the playoffs. Why choose Del Oro - the Golden Eagles will be one of only three possible unbeaten teams in contention. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Overcoming a St. Mary's win at the Division 1 level.
Valley Christian/St. Francis/Mitty - All three of these teams are playing in the Open Division of the CCS and are not currently the favorite to win the title. That being said, an Open Division win by any of these teams automatically thrusts them into the conversation, just as it did with Palo Alto last year. Why choose Valley Christian/St. Francis/Mitty - If they win the Open Division, they could be a good choice. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Winning the Open Division.
Novato/Las Lomas/Del Norte - All three of these teams are undefeated and will battle it out for the North Coast Section 2A championship. Therefore the winner could end up with an unblemished mark with wins over previously undefeated teams. That would bode well for the resume. However, each of the three would probably need St. Mary's and Del Oro to lose in the playoffs and Bellarmine to win in order to have a shot. Why choose Novato/Las Lomas/Del Norte? - The winner out of this bunch will be undefeated. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - These three teams don't play as strenuous a record as the five teams listed above.
Riordan - The Crusaders will not be playing in the Open Division, so they could win a CCS championship. However, it is hard to believe the committee would choose a team from a lower CCS division over a team like St. Mary's, Del Oro or a qualified Open Division champion. Why choose Riordan? - The Crusaders are ranked No. 6 in the bowl rankings by CalPreps. Biggest obstacles to the Bowl - Will need plenty of upsets in other divisions to have a legitimate shot.
Foothill of Palo Cedro - The Cougars are favored to win the Northern Section and would thus be undefeated at 12-0. Foothill only played Northern Section teams, however, and they only point of comparison might be Paradise's game with Las Lomas. Both Foothill and Las Lomas beat Paradise by similar scores. Why choose Foothill? - They will be undefeated, which only a few section champions can claim. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Northern Section teams don't get a lot of respect, mainly due to past performances in basketball at the NorCal level. It will be hard for Foothill to overcome this stigma.
Division 3 - Northern California
Central Catholic - The Raiders' prospects could ride with the performance of St. Mary's in the SJS Division 1 playoffs. St. Mary's handed the Raiders their only loss, so a section crown by the Rams bodes well for Central Catholic. In essence, Central Catholic's tie with Cardinal Newman could become a moot point (more on that later). The Raiders will also have some impressive wins along the way, including big wins over Patterson and Hilmar. Why choose Central Catholic? - The Raiders are annually one of the best small school teams in the state and their only loss is to a great St. Mary's team. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Having their fate tied to the performance of another team.
Sutter - The Huskies could be the only undefeated team in contention, if they do as expected and win the Northern Section Division 2 title. Sutter has already defeated the second, third, fourth and sixth seeds in the Northern Section playoffs. Why choose Sutter? - The Huskies would be undefeated. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Winning the argument between Cardinal Newman and Central Catholic if they both win section titles.
Cardinal Newman - The Cardinals will have to win the North Coast Section 3A title, which won't be easy. If they win it, however, it would make sense to have the Cardinals return to the Division 3 Bowl. If Del Oro claims the Division 2 berth, there is an even better case to select CN since its only loss was to the Golden Eagles. Why choose Cardinal Newman? - Has a tougher overall schedule and a tougher road to a section championship. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - Winning the 3A crown.
Palma - The Chieftans would be an excellent choice if they can win the Open Division championship in the CCS, but that won't be easy. A loss to Gilroy last week shows that Palma could have a tough time in the Open Division playoffs. Why choose Palma? - If they win the Open Division, they will have navigated the toughest course to qualification. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - winning the Open Division.
St. Patrick's - The Bruins could finish the season undefeated if they win the North Coast Section A championship for the second straight year. However it would be difficult to choose the Bruins over Cardinal Newman, assuming it won the 3A North Coast Section crown. Likewise, Sutter and Central Catholic both play in tougher playoff divisions than the Bruins. Why choose St. Patrick's? - They would be unbeaten with a second straight section title. Biggest obstacles to Bowl - matching strength of schedule with other Division 3 qualifiers.