During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation in the fall.
This week's team: Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, Calif.)
2011 Season: 14-0 on the field, 9-5 counting forfeit losses, CIF Southern Section Inland Division champion, No. 42 in final POWERADE FAB 50.
Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 30. With the players expected to return from last fall’s team, it’s easy to see the Broncos starting out at No. 3 in California behind three-time defending CIF Open Division state champion De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and defending CIF Division I state champion Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.). The 2011 team, which had to forfeit five games for using an ineligible player, wasn’t given the opportunity to go for a CIF state title, as it was bypassed in favor of two other teams for CIF bowl games. In 2012, however, there will be more CIF bowl slots opening up with the addition of regional games. If Vista Murrieta repeats its section title, it’s almost a guarantee that the team would earn a state bowl bid.
Team Strengths: Most teams would count a player like Vista Murrieta junior quarterback Nick Stevens as their top returnee. One of the top signal-callers in Southern California, Stevens threw for 1,692 yards and 14 touchdowns and ran for 906 yards and nine scores. But most teams don’t have a player like Broncos star junior safety Su’a Cravens, an ESPNU 150 Watch List recruit and an ESPNHS Underclass All-American. Cravens had 96 tackles, 11 sacks and three interceptions on defense and ran for 673 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught four touchdown passes on offense. Also expected back are junior linebacker Bryce Smith, who had a team-high 186 tackles, and promising sophomore defensive end Tyler Cook, who had 78 tackles and 6.5 sacks
So while coach Coley Candaele does have some holes to fill in the trenches, it’s hard to forecast any other team in the CIF Inland Division that will be better.
Another California team to watch: One of the winningest schools in U.S. history and the all-time leader in California with 727 is Bakersfield (Calif.) and the Drillers should be very strong again in 2012. Coach Paul Golla’s club went 13-0 last season after a 38-3 romp past Bullard (Fresno, Calif.) in the CIF Central Section Division I final. The Drillers lose quarterback Chris Hannible and running back Silas Nacita, but seem to have the depth to fill those slots and will return all-state sophomore wideout Kevin Hayes, leading tackler Kenneth Trueba and top kicker Parker Campbell.
After getting bypassed for a CIF bowl game (just like Vista Murrieta), the Drillers have tried to upgrade the non-league portion of their schedule and recently announced they will play Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.). The Jackrabbits are the only other school in California with 700 or more football wins.