Kennedy: Top 20 teams in CIF-SS, final rankings

In maybe the most parity-filled year in ages, trying to rank the Top 20 teams in the CIF Southern Section was more difficult than ever.  Rematches in the playoffs only helped to add to the chaos as several division winners claimed championships after losing their league championships and getting revenge to even the season series with a rival.

Results of early season matchups can be misleading by not accounting for teams improving through the season. Is Alemany better than Centennial right now? Alemany won the head-to-head over Centennial, four months ago. Serra and Edison beat the brakes off of Chaminade and Huntington Beach, respectively earlier this season, and both teams watched the others raise the Championship plaque last weekend.

While the Top 20 as a the whole may be extremely suspect in trying to determine who exactly is the best team, there was no doubt about one spot … No. 1.

No. 1 St. John Bosco began the season four months ago, and if anything, it were under ranked. Having it sit at the top of the chart doesn’t do justice to just how far it separated itself from the rest of the pack. I can make a compelling argument for why No. 2 Centennial should be as low as No. 10 Alemany, but there is no such credible argument on why any team other than the Braves should be No. 1. St. John Bosco decimated its schedule this year. The Braves laid waste to their Trinity League schedule in a year that the Trinity League was potent. Bosco had a virtual pass into the Pac-5 semifinals, but even the upgrade in competition didn’t change the results. Bosco blew out Alemany and Mater Dei in the same manner it blew out Augora and Tesoro. How many quarters does it take Mater Dei’s offense to score on St. John Bosco? Trick question, no one knows. Eight quarters wasn’t enough this year. St. John Bosco isn’t just the best team in the Southern Section this year, it’s as good as any team the Southern Section has produced in the last five.

No. 2 Corona Centennial is no stranger to the top of these rankings, having been crowned the No. 1 team in the Southern Section last year by FOX Sports West. But the Huskies began the season slowly this year, despite bringing back roughly 8,000 yards of offense in quarterback Robert Webber and running back Tre Watson. The defense failed to gel early as the Huskies gave up 42 to a bad Liberty (Nev.) team and 55 to St. Bonaventure before losing to Long Beach Poly and Alemany. Centennial used the rest of the season to work out the kinks on defense, and 56 points to Upland notwithstanding in the semifinals, the Huskies were a complete team come playoff time. The Huskies have a stout front seven and held a powerful Vista Murrieta rushing attack to just 12 points in the Inland Final. Webber and Watson were dazzling as the Huskies claimed another Inland Division Championship.
 
No. 3 Mater Dei was in the second spot for much of the 2013 season, but the Monarchs lost their way a bit toward the end of the season including a loss to a 4-6 Santa Margarita team. Once the Monarchs committed themselves to being a power running team, Mater Dei thrived, including playoff wins over Oaks Christian, powerful Mission Viejo and Poly squads. The Mater Dei defense was one of the best in the Southern Section, and getting dominated twice by St. John Bosco said more about the Braves than it did the Monarchs.
 
No. 4 Chaminade holds a spot in the rankings that could be held by half a dozen teams. The Eagles split the season series with Serra, but are they really the better overall team? It was considered an upset for a reason when they knocked off Serra in the Western Division Finals. But it wasn’t nearly as surprising a victory as the blowout loss to Serra was in October. The Chaminade team we saw in the playoffs, including crushing Lompoc was the team that we knew they could be and Serra may not have been expecting. The Eagles and Cavaliers have played four times in the last 14 months. They’ve split the four games 2-2. I think it’s time for Game 5 at a neutral location.
 
No. 5 Serra didn’t look like the No. 2 team in the Southern Section two weeks ago against St. Francis, but it was playing with Adoree Jackson at half speed and looked understandably lackadaisical in an outclassed Western Division. While Chaminade was getting its confidence back in the week’s final season, Serra may have been getting complacent. At its best, Serra may be the only team in the Southern Section who could challenge Bosco, but it wasn’t at its best the first month of the season when the Cavaliers were fortunate to remain unscathed or against Chaminade when it mattered most.
 
No. 6 Long Beach Poly had a bombshell dropped on it the week of the division finals in that long-time coach Raul Lara was resigning. Lara has been synonymous with Long Beach Poly for the better part of the last three decades. As private schools around Long Beach have been able to aggregate talent, Poly has been one of the last holdouts fielding talent-laden teams year in and year out. How much will that change under a new staff? The 2013 Jackrabbit team was a bit one dimensional. They were all defense. The offense never truly got on track against tougher teams, and the Jackrabbits fell flat against Mater Dei in the Pac-5 semifinals. The Jackrabbits should contend for the Top 5 again in 2014, but there’s a period of transition that Poly hasn’t had to deal with in years.

No. 7 Vista Murrieta had the personnel on defense to slow down Corona Centennial, but who could guess that the Broncos would only score 12 points against a Husky team that gave up 56 to Upland the week prior? In hindsight, it made sense that Centennial would fare better against the Broncos running attack. The Husky defense has its most talented players in the front seven, which gave the Bronco ground game fits. The Broncos could look like a very different team next year. They’re losing nearly everyone on defense, and their top returning players on offense are skill guys, including two receivers. The ball may be in the air much more often in 2014.
 
No. 8 Mission Viejo had the personnel in place to make a run at the Pac-5 Championship but failed once again to make it out of the second round. The Diablos will lose the bulk of their offensive and defensive playmakers to graduation, but Mission Viejo always seems to rebuild despite the attrition. More concerning is Mission Diablos’ continued shortcomings in the playoffs. A stronger out-of-league schedule could help. Mission Viejo ran the table in the regular season, but with the South Coast League being down, the Diablos entered the playoffs undefeated, but relatively untested.
 
No. 9 Hart‘s season looked a lot like Mater Dei’s. The Indians had a lull at the end of the regular season and lost consecutive games to league rivals. Like Mater Dei, Hart played its best once the playoffs started. Unlike Mater Dei, Hart was the best team in its Division as the Indians took the Northern Division Championship in a rematch with Valencia. Hart is going to be a handful next year as well. While the Indians lose the heart (no pun intended) and soul of their team in senior Connor Wingenroth, Hart brings back the lethal tandem of Brady White at quarterback and Trent Irwin at receiver.

No. 10 Alemany was another team who fell victim to St. John Bosco in the playoffs. The Warriors were strong enough to knock off Corona Centennial early in the season, and getting dominated by Bosco puts them on a list of teams that is long but distinguished. Alemany will have a rebuilding effort to remain in the Top 10 next season not only with dynamic quarterback Alif Grayes, but also unexpectedly needing to replace junior playmaker Desean Holmes, who transferred to Muir after the season.

FINAL: CIF-SS: Top 20

1. (1) St. John Bosco (14-0)
2. (6) Corona Centennial (12-2)
3. (4) Mater Dei (11-3)
4. (9) Chaminade (12-2)
5. (2) Serra (13-1)
6. (5) Long Beach Poly (11-2)
7. (3) Vista Murrieta (12-2)
8. (7) Mission Viejo (11-1)
9. (12) Hart (12-2)
10. (8) Alemany (10-3)
11. (11) Orange Lutheran (7-4)
12. (10) Valencia (11-3)
13. (13) Upland (9-4)
14. (14) Norco (9-4)
15. (15) Rancho Cucamonga (10-2)
16. (20) Huntington Beach (9-5)
17. (16) Servite (6-6)
18. (19) La Serna (12-2)
19. (18) Corona Del Mar (14-0)
20. (17) Westlake (8-3)