Scott Kennedy: Top 20 teams in CIF-SS, Week 0

The 2012 season was the definition of a roller coaster ride as Long Beach Poly hit bottom at 1-3 before rebounding to win the Pac-5 and Corona Centennial lost its first game before knocking off Vista Murrieta for the Inland Division crown.

Serra and St. John Bosco return so much talent that their practice fields have looked like college coaching conventions, and the Southern Section is chock full of big time quarterbacks capable of leading their teams to Division Championships.

Here is an early look at the top teams in the Southern Section as we approach our first week of games on Aug. 30.

No. 1 St. John Bosco gets the top spot in Week 0. The Braves return virtually everyone from a team that was 13-1 on the field last year before falling to a red hot Long Beach Poly team in the Pac-5 playoffs. Gone is leading rusher Darren Walker and offensive tackle Nico Falah is off to USC, but Bosco brings back massive Damien Mama (6foot-4/370 pounds) at offensive tackle, and he’s more than capable of opening up holes, or at least moving the entire line of scrimmage forward for returning backs Lonell Woodhouse and Jaleel Wadood. Junior Josh Rosen is the nation’s No. 2 quarterback in the Class of 2015, and with a year of experience under his belt, he’ll be even more dangerous stretching defenses. Bosco will get the chance to earn the No. 1 spot with a schedule that features Chandler (Ariz.), Clovis North and the usual Trinity League gauntlet. Bosco should cruise this week against Dominguez.

No. 2 Serra is a worthy No. 1, but Bosco is a bit stronger on the offensive line and the loss of junior running back Malik Roberson was a tough blow, but every position on the defense is occupied by a future collegian. Do it all athlete Adoree Jackson is arguably the top player in the Southern Section because of his ability to win games in all three aspects at receiver, cornerback and return man. Junior John Houston and senior Dwight Williams make up one of the best linebacker tandems in the nation. Quarterback Jalen Greene (Boise State) is back after throwing for nearly 2,500 yards and rushing for over 1,000. Serra will be tested early with an out of state matchup with a solid Desert Ridge team out of Arizona.

No. 3 Long Beach Poly was the best story in the Southern Section in 2012. Left for dead after Narbonne and Bakersfield dropped the Jackrabbits to 1-3 by a combined score of 85-6, all Poly did was regroup during its league schedule and tear off 10 straight wins including a Pac-5 Championship against Mater Dei. Poly loses nearly its entire rushing attack including two headed monster Gerard Wicks and Manny Luuga who combined for nearly 2,800 yards. But the Jackrabbits are strong along the lines of scrimmage, return a steady leader at quarterback in Tie Tiedemann. But the star power for the Jackrabbits is in the defensive backfield with athlete JuJu Smith and cornerback Iman Marshall. Marshall is a five-star cornerback in the Class of 2015, and JuJu Smith rivals Adoree Jackson as the most exciting three-way threat in California. Poly’s league schedule isn’t much of a challenge again, but their out of league schedule includes No. 4 Corona Centennial, a return date with Bakersfield, and an opener this week against City Section power Crenshaw.

No. 4 Corona Centennial coach Matt Logan finds himself in a strange position; he returns his quarterback and leading rusher. After having to replace both the past two seasons Centennial brings back ultra-productive Robert Webber at quarterback and Tre Watson at running back. All Webber did in 2012 was throw for nearly 4,000 yards while rushing for nearly 800. The offense will have to carry a young defense, but that side of the ball is not without talent as senior ends Austin Maloata (6-3/245, USC) and Jaylen Johnson (6-3/235) anchor the line while defensive back John Plattenberg patrols the secondary. Centennial has dropped its opening game against St. Bonaventure two years in a row while breaking in new starters at quarterback and running back. This year the Huskies return starters at those positions, and they have scheduled a game before their matchup with St. Bonaventure this year. The Seraphs and No. 3 Long Beach Poly (Sept. 13) will be two of the best early matchups of the season.

No. 5 Mater Dei somehow feels overlooked this year. The Monarchs are Pac-5 runner-ups and return 15 starters. That’s a combination that usually makes for a plethora of early season hype, but it says more about the strength of the teams ahead of Mater Dei, because the Monarchs are certainly capable of making another Pac-5 run. Athlete Jonathan Lockett continues the trend of mulit-threat athletes in the Southern Section this year as he lines up at corner, receiver and is one of the most dangerous return men in the West. Quarterback Chase Forrest took the reins full time midway through the 2012 season and Mater Dei took off with him. Forrest lost his top target in Thomas Duarte (UCLA), but he brings back Lockett among others. Mater Dei gets an early test against No. 10 Upland to kick off Week 0.

No. 6 Vista Murrieta had a terrific team in 2012 but fell short against Centennial in the Inland Division playoffs. The loss of Su’a Cravens and quarterback Nick Stevens loom large. So large that it feels as if the Broncos are in rebuilding mode, but in reality, they’re returning 13 starters including eight on offense. Maybe the most important player on offense isn’t even a returning starter. Quarterback Coltin Gerhart arrives from Norco after running and throwing for over 1,000 yards. He should put up terrific numbers in Vista Murrieta’s attack. Kishawn Holmes carried the load at running back last year to the tune of 1,100 yards, and he should see more touches this year. The Broncos open next week against Downey, and they should be favored in every regular season game this year.

No. 7 Mission Viejo is loaded with offensive skill. The Diablos averaged a whopping 46 points per game in 2012 and with its leading passer and rusher returning, along with one of its top receivers, Mission Viejo should at least match those numbers in 2013. Quarterback Ian Fieber will find receiver Sean Modster early and often, and running back Alex Suchesk will have a monster season. With only three starters returning on defense, Mission Viejo may find itself in a few shoot-outs this season. The Diablos open in Hawaii against Baldwin this week, and a return date with East Coast power Don Bosco Prep (Sept. 14) is one of the Southern Sections most intriguing interstate matchup.

No. 8 St. Bonaventure lost its coach over the summer and its leading rusher and team leader to graduation. So how do the Seraphs still make the Top 10? Junior quarterback Ricky Town is one of the big reasons. He’s ranked the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2015 but, and he showed an amazing amount of poise and leadership at a high profile program in his first year of starting last year. Town played like a 5th year senior in college, not a sophomore in high school last year for St. Bonaventure. Having superstar tight end Bryce Dixon back and healthy this year will also help. St. Bonaventure gets a good test against Garfield this week before its showdown with No. 4 Centennial next week.

No. 9 Chaminade knows about losses. First came the controversial loss to Serra in the playoffs, but more important for the 2013 season was the loss of Southern Section MVP Terrell Newby to graduation. All Newby did in 2012 was rush for 2300 yards and 45 touchdowns while watching a lot of second halves with big leads. But Chaminade is bringing back senior quarterback Brad Kaaya (Miami). Kaaya split time early in the 2012 season, but when he took over full time, Chaminade and Newby exploded. Kaaya’s passing helped open up running lanes for the wickedly fast Newby. More of the offensive load will fall to Kaaya in 2013, and here’s betting that he’s up to the task. Chaminade opens with Venice this week before taking on a very good Hart team on Sept. 6th.

No. 10 Upland suffered major losses at quarterback, defensive line and defensive back, so how do the Scots make the Top 10? Call this one a hunch. Upland lost more off of its 2011 squad and still reeled off a 12-1 record in 2012. Quarterback Nate Romine is off to Air Force, but The Scots imported junior transfer Tyler Hilinski. Hilinski will offer a different look to the offense than Romine as he’s a much better passer, but not nearly the runner. With opening games against No. 5 Mater Dei (on PrepZone) and Oaks Christian (Sept. 6), we won’t have to wait long to see how good the 2013 Upland version is.