I.E.: Preseason top 10

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
4:32
PM PT
Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. ESPNLA learned the hard way last season, ranking Corona Centennial third in the Inland Empire preseason rankings, then watching as the Huskies gutted one team after another, including the two that were ranked ahead of them, Vista Murrieta and Chaparral. Well, as the song (sort of) goes, we won’t get fooled again. Until another I.E. team proves it can beat Centennial (or the Huskies get thoroughly dominated by Ventura St. Bonaventure and Mater Dei in Weeks 1 and 2), they will maintain their perch. Chaparral and Norco will get their shots at Centennial during the regular season, while Rancho Cucamonga, Vista Murrieta and a few others will have to hope for a postseason date.

1. Centennial (Big VIII League and Inland Division champion; Div. 1 state bowl finalist) -- The Huskies must break in a new quarterback this month and move Romello Goodman into a starting role at running back, but they have four returning offensive linemen and a stacked defense to make the transition much easier. First up: vs. St. Bonaventure, Sept. 9.

2. Rancho Cucamonga (Baseline League champion; Inland Division semifinalist) -- The Cougars are definitely the Rodney Dangerfield of the Inland Empire this preseason. Despite returning 14 starters from a team that lost on a goal-line stand to Vista Murrieta in double OT of an Inland Division semifinal, no other publication considers them the second-best team in the Inland Empire. We sure do. First up: vs. Silverado, Thursday, 7 p.m.

3. Norco (Big VIII third-place team; Inland Division second round) -- Here's another team that brings a wealth of experience on the offensive line, as well as a returning quarterback, a star-studded defense and a history of winning. But the Cougars are still flying under the radar a bit, likely because some pollsters don't realize they have three additional players who would've started last season as juniors, but had to sit out under transfer rules. First up: vs. L.A. Crenshaw, Sept. 9.

4. Chaparral (Southwestern League third-place team; Inland Division first round) -- New coach, new attitude, same quarterback. Those three elements should be enough wipe the slate clean after last season’s debacle, when the Pumas went from state bowl contender on Labor Day to just another turkey by Thanksgiving. Not only do they have experience in the offensive huddle, but most of their best defenders from last season also return. First up: vs. Cajon, Friday, 7 p.m.

5. Vista Murrieta (Southwestern League champion; Inland Division semifinalist) -- This season we’ll find out just how good Vista Murrieta’s lower-level teams have been the last couple of years. The Broncos are set on defense but have a lot of unknowns on the offensive side of the ball. Good thing they kept their nonleague schedule light, staying away from fellow top 25 teams until traveling to No. 11 Encino Crespi on Sept. 30. First up: vs. Etiwanda at Colony HS, Sept. 9.

6. Upland (Baseline League runner-up; Inland Division second round) -- Eight starters return on offense for the Highlanders, led by Arizona State-bound receiver Kenny Lawler. The key for Upland will be how quickly junior quarterback Nate Romine adjusts to the glare. He’s following in the shoes of Josh Nunes (Stanford) and Justin Nunes(UC Davis). First up: vs. San Bernardino, Friday.

7. Redlands East Valley (Citrus Belt League champion; Inland Division first round) -- With the return of a solid running back, a serviceable quarterback and two bruisers up front, the Wildcats should click on offense. Whether they can make the final four in the Inland Division is more suspect. REV has lost only two league games in the last six seasons but only reached the section semifinals once in that span. First up: vs. Compton Dominguez at Citrus Valley HS, Sept. 9.

8. Chino (Mt. Baldy League champion; Central Division second round) -- The Cowboys might have pulled off the biggest turnaround in I.E. history last season, finishing 11-1 after posting an 0-10 record the year before. Chino’s performance last season was more indicative of a program that won back-to-back section titles in 2000 and 2001 and has sent a handful of players to the NFL in the last 10 years. It also helps that the Cowboys return a 2,300-yard passer and 1,300-yard rusher. First up: vs. Pomona Diamond Ranch, Friday.

9. Rancho Verde (Inland Valley League champion; Central Division runner-up) -- Finding the right spot for Rancho Verde in the rankings is always a roll of the dice. To be straightforward, the Mustangs don’t play anybody. They have some notable returning talent on both sides of the ball and made an impression by winning a seven-on-seven tournament at UCLA this summer, but that might be the toughest competition they'll face this season. First up: at West Valley, Friday, 7 p.m..

10. Elsinore (Sunbelt League runner-up; Eastern Division champion) -- The Tigers tasted their first section title in the program’s 83-year history last season and somebody will need to pry it from their paws this winter. Elsinore returns four top defenders from a year ago, including the Eastern Division defensive player of the year, Nolan Peralta. First up: at Chula Vista Otay Ranch, Friday, 7 p.m.

Just missed: Etiwanda, Summit, Temecula Valley, J.W. North, Roosevelt, San Gorgonio, Cajon.

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