The playoffs are here with plenty of intrigue as we move toward section finals, regional and state bowl games. We take a look at all of the brackets as well as highlight the best first round action and pick the winners.
North Coast Section
The Division I field has a deep group of contenders who could make a likely section final against De La Salle. California earned the No. 2 seed and a first round bye over one loss Logan. The Colts are ranked higher in the NCP Top 20. Monte Vista-Pittsburg looks like the top first round game. Go with the Spartans over Freedom in the title game. The Falcons defense has played well down the stretch to go with an explosive offense.
Division II in the NCS is wide open with Clayton Valley nabbing the top seed over undefeated Rancho Cotate. Northgate and Casa Grande also received first round byes as the section balanced out East Bay and North Bay schools on both sides of the bracket. Clayton Valley and Rancho Cotate make it a chalk final with Rancho Cotate taking it two straight years for the North Bay region in this division. Rancho Cotate made the finals in 2010 before losing to Concord.
As it was last year, Division III is the most anticipated bracket in the NCS. Any combination of Marin Catholic, El Cerrito, Cardinal Newman and Campolindo can win this bracket with the winner likely securing a regional bowl bid. Two out of the past three section winners have made it to the state bowl game. Acalanes and Bishop O'Dowd is an intriguing 8-9 matchup this week with O'Dowd talented enough to be a tough out, but have been inconsistent. I'll go with Marin Catholic over El Cerrito.
Division IV doesn't carry much regional bowl weight unless pieces fall into place for Valley Christian-Dublin in Division IV. Valley Christian is the No. 2 seed behind Justin-Siena, which has a first round bye. Don't forget about Salesian, the defending champion and No. 3 seed, after a regular season ending loss to Valley Christian. The Pride bounce back to avenge loss and beat Justin-Siena in the final.
With Ferndale in Division V, this bracket will generate more interest as the No. 2 team in the Division IV bowl rankings behind Central Catholic. The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed and the overwhelming favorite, which puts them in play for a regional bowl game after usually opting up to a more competitive NCS Division IV field. Ferndale's only loss is to undefeated Argonaut and own two wins over No. 4 seed St. Bernard's. Ferndale wins the section against St. Vincent.
The opening weekend will be defined by tests for the top two seeds. Franklin-Elk Grove takes on Nevada Union out of the Sierra Foothill League and Burbank will face Grant on Saturday afternoon after the Titans beat the Pacers in the non-league. Don't be surprised if Grant can pull the seeding upset. Also look for Pleasant Grove to beat No. 7 Stagg. A team to watch outside of the top four seeds is defending champion Granite Bay at No. 5. The team which plays the best run defense has long won this section. With a likely regional bowl bid on the line, Franklin beats Pleasant Grove.
Three of the past four winners of Division II have moved onto the state bowl game (Grant, Rocklin, Folsom) with Vacaville in 2011 being the one not selected. It is a deep field again led by Folsom with the top seed. Headlines from the first week will center on low seed SFL teams (Del Oro at No. 15 and Rocklin No. 13) going on the road to play league champions Yuba City and Antelope respective. Both SFL programs have good chances to advance. It is tough to see a team slowing down Folsom's passing attack, but go with Elk Grove to meet them in the finals. Folsom beat the Thundering Herd in the semi-finals last season.
Division III doesn't have two-time defending champion Del Oro this year and saw Placer bumped down to Division IV. Oakdale is the top seed after being runner-up the last two years. One potential matchup for next week is Cosumnes Oaks-American Canyon in one of the better games for top prospects in the area. Inderkum is a dangerous No. 6 seed with a win over Pleasant Grove and losses to Rocklin and Yuba City. The Tigers' athleticism could propel them to a section title. Oakdale is still the favorite though and will beat Inderkum in the finals and receive a likely regional bowl bid.
Placer is now the favorite in Division IV, especially with a season opening win over Central Catholic. However, the Hillmen haven't been dominant down the stretch and the field is deep with three undefeated teams and three teams with just one loss. Many expect this bracket to end with a Placer-Central Catholic rematch, but don't be surprised if it is unpredictable with a team like Escalon maybe reaching the semi-finals. Look for Central Catholic to avenge its loss and reaching the Division IV regional bowl game.
Division V (Le Grand in 2011) and Division VI (Brookside Christian in 2010) have produced back-to-back state bowl representatives, but these divisions don't look to be in the mix this year. Le Grand will repeat Division V despite not receiving a first round bye while Foresthill beats Brookside Christian in Division VI.
With four teams having three losses, regional bowl bids are a long shot. Can Paradise win its third straight section title after a late season stumble? The Bobcats, Foothill-Palo Cedro, Enterprise and Chico have been mostly evenly ranked throughout the year, but Enterprise beats Paradise because of home field advantage.
Division II features Sutter, which could make a regional bowl game if Placer is unable to win its section. All signs point to a final against West Valley with Sutter prevailing. The Huskies have a non-league win over Division I top seed Enterprise. They are outscoring opponents by an average of 36 points per game.
Pierce is the top seed in Division III and is ranked in the Division IV bowl rankings. The seeds hold true with Pierce beating No. 2 Hamilton.
Chester beat Portola in the regular season finale to grab the top seed in Division IV. Portola has been ranked in the Division IV rankings for much of the year and has a win over Hamilton. The Tigers overcome the late season slip up to beat Chester in the finals.
Central Coast Section
Mitty and St. Ignatius meet in the West Catholic Athletic League finale with CCS Open Division seeding on the line. St. Ignatius will look to avoid a third straight loss to end the regular season. Oak Grove has a chance for a perfect regular season if it can beat Leland and secure a top seed in the Open Division.
The best chances for the CCS to send teams to the regional bowl games are the Open Division winner and if Seaside wins Division IV to make them eligible for the Division III regional bowl game.
McClymonds is ranked No. 4 in the Division IV rankings and faces fellow Oakland Athletic League unbeaten Oakland Tech on Friday. Oakland Tech is 7-2 and the toughest test Mack has faced since Oak Grove on September 21. A loss would be damaging to the Warriors' regional bowl chances.
Lincoln posted a key win over Mission last week 42-14 to remain undefeated in the AAA. Lincoln needs to beat 4-4 Lowell on Friday to secure the outright league title. Lincoln's only loss is in the season opener to Riordan.