Can Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton win it all again?
Jewell: The pieces are in place. They have returners at all key posiitons but will break in a new RB. Jai Johnson must replace NAU bound Zach Bauman and Michael Allen (Hargrave) but he will get to run behind the state's best OL lead by Christian Westerman (Texas) and Tyler Johnstone (Oregon). QB Kyren Poe, who has an offer from NAU, will get to throw to a good group of WRs. Malcolm Holland will get time on both sides of the ball and is a playmaker. Tanner Clay is a nice 6-3 target to throw to and keep an eye on junior Kendyl Taylor.
Defensively they will be led by DE Shaq Jenkins and LB Tyler Rutt but they might also have the best secondary in the state with Cedric Parker and Elijah White at corners and Holland and Robert Milus at safety. Junior Reggie Daniels will be the nickelback and he has shown the potential to be a D1 guy.
Can Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline four-peat?
Fetters: A very timely question, considering Kasen Williams makes his college decision Friday. Williams could be one of those rare players that finishes their high school career with four rings, as he played for the Spartans as a 9th grader, hauling down a couple of big passes to help seal the win over O'Dea. But can Williams bring home the gold without Jake Heaps? Gone is Skyline's quarterback to BYU, but the Spartans reload with sophomore signal-caller Max Browne, and early reports are that he could be a bigger version of Heaps.
The key to their season is how quickly Browne can get comfortable, and that will be a brutal task considering their first three games are against a very strong Liberty team, their former 3A nemesis Bellevue and then Lake Oswego from Oregon. That's quite the gauntlet to run for a first-year quarterback, but Williams, Michael Ford, Jordan Simone and the rest of the Skyline skill players have to help Browne acclimate quickly. If they can get through those first three tests relatively unscathed, that could set them up for the rest of the season.
The biggest concern for Skyline Head Coach Mat Taylor is his offensive line, simply because he has to replace all of them. They have to keep Browne upright and injury-free for the Spartans to have any chance at earning that vaunted four-peat.
Will a team from the Central Section make it to a CIF state title game?
Gomez: The CIF Bowl – the California state title game – is entering its fifth year, and the Central Section has yet to send a team to any of the divisional bowl games. The first two years of the CIF Bowl Game had three divisions. In 2008, the CIF added an open division and small school division. Nevertheless, the Central Section hasn't come close to landing a team in title game.
Three factors weigh against the section. First, the Central Section is part of the South and must finish higher in the bowl ratings than teams from Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. Second, a Central Section school has to load its schedule with top teams to improve its bowl ratings and cannot afford a loss in such games. Finally, no one outside the Central Section respects its archaic section title game format. Once the Central Section buckles down and hosts all six divisions CIF championship games in one venue, other sections will begin to respect the champions.
Last year, Fresno (Calif.) Bullard finished the season 13-0 and won the Central Section D1 championship. Bullard will likely not repeat last season's record, but another Fresno school has the best chance to represent the Central Section at the Home Depot Center in Carson.
Fresno Central is loaded with at least 10 D1 college prospects. Led by the Golden State's top running back Brendon Bigelow, three-star receiver B.J. Kelley, and junior quarterback Mike Baker, the Grizzlies can score on anyone. The question is can their defense stop anyone?
Schedule wise, Central plays out of section teams Paso Robles and Temecula Chaparral. Bigelow is recovering from an ACL injury and may miss both of those games. If the Grizzlies can find a way to win those out of section games and develop a decent defense, all cylinders could be running by the time TRAC league play begins. At that point, Central just may have the resume – and star power – to finish atop the bowl ratings.
Can Jon Mack restore the magic at Crespi?
Carden: The Crespi Celts are definitely on the way up with the arrival of new head coach Jon Mack, who was previously at Ventura College and St. Bonaventure before that. The Celts have had plenty of talented players the past few years, but have been inconsistent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which used to be their strength.
Mack has the school excited about football again, with 90 kids on the freshman team alone. He also has talent to work with like WR Devin Lucien, DE Reggie Coates, and recent OL transfer Jordan Simmons, who is one of the top juniors in the state.
Does Oceanside have what it takes for a third trip to Carson?
Huffman: The Pirates won the CIF State D-II title in 2007 behind now-Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn and won the CIF State D-I title in 2009 behind a stellar senior class, with several of those players staying close to home and going to San Diego State. Head coach John Carroll has a machine rolling at Oceanside, and they're 38-0-1 in their past 39 games, with the two state titles to go with six straight section titles.
But the Pirates have some holes to fill all over, with Thomas Molesi, the heart-and-soul of the line, gone and playmakers like J.J. Whitaker gone to college.
Still, Carroll has dealt with personnel losses before, like losing Wynn going into the 2009 season and going unbeaten and winning a state title, so he's more than capable of doing it again.
The Pirates will be tested earlier, facing defending D-II state champions Anaheim Servite and CIF-SS Inland Division champions Temecula Chaparral in their first two games.
Is this Arizona's best OL class of all-time?
Jewell: It is, at least in recent memory. Ten players currently have offers and there could be ten more.
Christian Westerman (Chandler Hamilton) is headed to Texas, Tyler Johnstone (Chandler Hamilton) and Andre Yruretagoyena have committed to Oregon, Jacob Arzouman (Tucson Salpointe) is committed to Arizona and Justin Addie (Mesa Skyline) is committed to Oregon State. Cyrus Hobbi (Scottsdale Saguaro) has offers from all over the country, Mo Latu (Gilbert Perry) has offers on both sides of the ball, Jake Abbott (Peoria Centennial) has four offers, Vi Teofilo (Phoenix Moon Valley) has two Pac 10 offers and Ryan Nowicki (Glendale Cactus) has 16 offers. Travis Seefeldt (Peoria Liberty), Tyler Bode (Fountain Hills) and Brennan Bowen (Avondale Westview) could be next.
There was 12 last year and the year before but the depth of this class and the schools that are recruiting them is what makes the 2011 class in AZ special.
What is the Northwest's most exciting game of the year?
Fetters: There are a ton to choose from: St. Louis-Kamehameha; Kahuku-Bingham; Bellevue-Skyline; Mission Viejo-Bothell are all games that immediately stand out as ones that should be all-timers.
But to me, there's one rivalry that's been brewing a little under the radar (because it's in the Northwest, of course!), but the last two games between Jesuit and Lake Oswego have been for the ages.
And with the Crusaders and Lakers ranked No. 1 and No. 2 pre-season, their Sept. 24th tilt at Lake Oswego should be another barn-burner, especially since L-O won in 2008 and Jesuit came back to win by a touchdown last year.
For Jesuit, their do-it-all skill guy Keanon Lowe is off to Oregon, but Jordan Talley and Nicholas Rothstein are more than capable of stepping up this year to bring in the slack. They will also have some young linemen - led by sophomore Doug Brenner - that are eager to keep the Crusaders rolling.
For L-O, Steve Coury always has his share of special players, and I know he has high hopes for this group of seniors, led by Oregon-bound Tyson Coleman. Austin Kent and Alex Matthews will probably share duties at QB, and Cole Naone is one of the best dual-threat skill guys in the state.
It should be a real battle, but I'm giving the slight edge to the Lakers this year because of their depth, as well as their experience along the lines.
Can Concord (Calif.) De La Salle repeat?
Gomez: One of the most storied programs in the Golden State has played in all four years of the CIF Bowl games. De La Salle won the Open Division title last season and the D1 title in 2007. The Spartans lost the D1 title games in 2008 and 2006. The likelihood of them returning is very high, especially with a veteran quarterback at the helm.
Junior Bart Houston returns to the lead the De La Salle offense. However, he will need to find a few offensive weapons to surround him. If the Spartans find a replacement for Terron Ward at running back, Houston is capable of taking care of the rest.
The only question remains is which CIF Bowl Game will De La Salle play in – Open Division or D1?
Can Oaks Christian and St. Bonaventure remain dominant as they move up to Marmonte League?
Carden: Oaks Christian and St. Bonaventure are still two of the most talented programs around, but they will be tested by a schedule that will include quality opponents each week. Westlake will be one of the top teams in Southern California this year and has the depth and playmakers to hang with both schools.
The Oaks Christian – Westlake game on Oct.1st will be one of the most anticipated games of the year and features Jordan Payton, Nelson Spruce, Dillon van der Wal and several other impressive prospects.
Look for Oaks and St. Bonnie to continue to have great success but they will be challenged by Westlake, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, etc… in a very strong Marmonte League.
Who Wins the Moore League?
Huffman: Last year, Lakewood rode the arm of Jesse Scroggins and a stout defense featuring Justin Utupo and Dion Bailey to the Moore League title, snapping Long Beach Poly's stranglehold on the league. Despite losing in the CIF-SS Pac-5 semifinals, the Lancers win in the Moore League was the big story.
Poly is fuming from seeing their league title streak end, and thinks they'll get revenge in 2010, and they'll be bolstered by a stellar defense paced by linebacker Corey Waller, who looked exceptional this offseason in making the move from defensive end, and in the secondary with Kameron Jackson and Dabness Atkins.
But the Lancers aren't hurting on defense either, with elite defensive tackle Todd Barr, linebacker Rahim Cassell and defensive back Rashad Wadood pacing their D and an offense that features two young stud receivers in Malik Gilmore and Darius Powe.
Mark Friday, October 8th, down on the calendar on a game televised on FSN Prime Ticket.
How may yards will KaDeem Carey rush for?
Jewell: Some have said he could be the best running back in the state's history and after last year's 2,700 yards and 43 TDs, he could make a case.
The schedule is the same and he didn't sneak up on anyone last year, he has been a varsity starter since his freshman year. He is the total package, with speed and power, and he could top 3,000 yards if he stays healthy.
Who are the Northwest region's top breakout players?
Fetters: I'm going to tackle this one by choosing one breakout player for each state.
For Washington, my choice is Jarret Finau from Juanita. He's already verbally committed to Washington, but didn't really have a monster year as a junior. His development in the off-season has been nothing short of staggering, and it was his camp appearances that really got him on the Division-1 recruiting radar. Now at Juanita, I expect Finau to flourish under Shaun Tarantola and become a real pain in the neck for opposing tackles.
In Oregon, my choice is Woodburn TE Andy Avgi. Avgi is also a standout basketball player, and a lot of Division-1 schools are very interested in him for both sport. While hoops might end up being his best sport, I think Avgi is on the verge of a real breakout season - one where it's going to be hard to ignore him as a big athlete with soft hand that can really run.
In Idaho, the guy I'm most curious about is Boise Capital QB Riley Magner. Sidelined all last year with a knee injury, his recruitment really suffered because he didn't have any film to shop around. But he did the next best thing; when he was cleared to play, he hit all the local and regional camps he could find, and the film that has come out of those experiences has been strong. It's all leading up to what could be a real breakout year for Magner, who is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and runs a 4.53 40. If someone out there needs an athletic quarterback motivated to make it back in a big way, Magner's your man.
In Utah, Manoa Pikula is my guy, and I know it may sound strange to pick a guy that Scout has as their No. 4 fullback nationally to have a breakout year, but I truly think he's a better linebacker than running back, and he'll show it this fall. Watching film, he just has a nose for the ball and a way of flying around the field that's infectious. I hope more people get a chance to see Pikula play this year, because in my opinion he's the best player on a Bingham team that's loaded to the hilt with Division-1 talent. Perhaps all the beef up front makes his job a lot easier, but Pikula plays with a relentless style and physicality that's hard to top.
And last, but not least, my breakout player in Hawaii is Kamehameha LB Kawika Stant. I would have said Chester Sua from Kaimuki or Marcus Mariota from St. Louis, but Washington State and Oregon have already claimed these standout players respectively - and Stant was thought lost for this season before it was determined he would only be out for a few weeks with a hyperextended elbow. When he comes back, I expect the senior to lead the Warriors back toward defending their 2009 state title with a vengeance. Stant has still yet to garner the offers I think he should, especially since he's the son of the head coach, David Stant. And just like I'm a sucker for linemen that play with some nasty about them, I'm also a sucker for believing in the ability of coaches' sons - because they always come prepared and ready to lead, and always end up getting the job done even if they aren't the biggest, strongest or fastest player around. The reason why? Simple - they have to. Stant is no exception, and I expect those offers will come once he follows up his 2009 all-state effort with more of the same.
How far can Cody Kessler lead Centennial?
Gomez: USC-bound Kessler is the Golden State's top rated quarterback. But it's no secret Centennial lacks the offensive weapons to showcase Kessler's arm.
As a junior last season, he led the Golden Hawks on a surprise run to the CIF Central Section championship game as the No. 8 seed. The gritty signal caller missed four games – Centennial lost three – last season with an ankle sprain. Had he stayed healthy, Centennial likely finishes better than 6-4 and with a higher seed in the playoffs.
This year, Centennial returns it's top three receivers from a year ago – Cole Hallum, Tim Martinez, and Thomas Grimes. But the Golden Hawks must replace leading rusher Myron Moore. The offensive line returns two starters but Kessler is the equalizer. He's the ultra-competitor, a gritty, veteran leader that plays beyond his years on the gridiron.
After last season's loss to Bullard in the championship game, anything less than a CIF D1 title would be a disappointment to Kessler and his teammates. The Golden Hawks only face Paso Robles outside of the section. But their game against Bakersfield could have CIF Bowl implications if the Drillers upset Long Beach Poly in the season opener next week and both teams are unbeaten.
Kessler should get his team back to the D1 championship game. However, we can only imagine what he would do if he had a few playmakers lining up out wide.
Who's the best TEAM in the Trinity League?
Carden: The battle for the best team in the Trinity League will come down to one of the best high school football rivalries there is: Mater Dei vs. Servite.
Servite will have to replace quarterback Cody Fajardo, but head coach Troy Thomas still has plenty of talent on the roster and a solid defense. The rivalry game on Oct.29th will likely determine the best team in the league. Stay tuned!
Is Norco really going to throw the ball?
Huffman: Yep, that is the plan. The Cougars have long been known to be a team that will run, run, run and pound, pound, pound, under the leadership of Todd Gerhart. It started with his son, Toby Gerhart, who ended his high school career as California's leading rusher and parlayed that into a runner up spot in the Heisman Trophy voting a year ago before taking his talents to the NFL.
Since Gerhart left, the Cougars have still ran and ran. Last year, it was Deantre Lewis, now at Arizona State, carrying the load, and he was spelled by Kelsey Young, who as a junior, ran for almost 1,800 yards as a backup. Young is back this year, and would figure to be the man in the backfield.
But there is another Gerhart for Big VIII coaches to account for in Coltin Gerhart, a 6-0, 215-pound freshman who many think could be the most talented Gerhart of them all (middle brother Garth is a starting offensive lineman at Arizona State).
Norco won the Big VIII a year ago, and teams knew that the Cougars would run, and still couldn't stop them. If the youngest Gerhart can get the offense rolling with more balance, the Cougars could win the CIF-SS title that has eluded them since 2006.
Can Bishop Gorman repeat as the Nevada state champs?
Jewell: They rolled through the competition last year, going 15-0 and scring 50 points or more in ten of those games. This year doesn't look as easy, they are bound and determined to show they can compete on a national level, facing Arizona's top team Hamilton, a game they lost 24-17 this past Saturday, and California teams Del Oro and De La Salle. Their in-state schedule is similar.
This team is loaded with talent. QB Jarrett Solomon, just a sophomore, enters his second year as a varsity starter and he will be protected by a massive offensive line, led by UTEP commit A.C. Patterson and junior OTs Ronnie Stanley (6-6 285) and Ron Scoggins (6-4 300). Junior RB Shaquille Powell looks to have a big season, he rushed for 199 yards in the opener versus Hamilton.
This team is actually young so I expect them to challenge for the title this and next year.
Scout West Recruiting Team: Jason Jewell is the Southwest Recruiting Analyst (Twitter), Chris Fetters is the Northwest Recruiting Analyst (Twitter), Mario Gomez covers Central and Northern California (Twitter), Kevin Carden covers Southern California (Twitter) and Brandon Huffman is the West Regional Manager (Twitter)