Once you get past the first 20 or 25 teams in any ranking, you can go in a myriad of directions. For our top 50 for the great state of California, many of the usual schools are present, but there's a few hunch teams we've picked and because those teams generally are playing strong early-season opponents it won't take long to see if any of the hunches are correct or came from sleep deprivation.

Note No. 1: Schools listed with last year's record and last year's final ranking. We go 50 deep for the preseason and at the end of the season, but our weekly overall rankings during the season will only be carried down to the 20th team.

Note No. 2: We hope you enjoy this feature being brought to you free-of-charge and not as part of our total access premium subscription. Once the regular weekly rankings start coming out in mid-September, however, our top 20 overall state rankings, including commentary and highlights for each team, will become part of the total access web site subscription. Please follow the prompts above to join the network as a premium subscriber and do it through the site so we get credit for the subscription and not one of the many college-oriented sites.

We are beginning our 25th year covering California high school sports. We suspect that some people running internet sites that self-proclaim themselves to be No. 1, or the best place anywhere to find prep information from our state, weren't even born yet when we were already looking up state records, choosing state teams of the year or releasing state rankings.

1. (1) De La Salle (Concord) 13-0

Assuming Kevin Lopina is the starting quarterback and does at least as good a job as Britt Cecil did last year, the Spartans have fewer concerns heading into a season than they've had recently. The skill position players -- guys like WR Cameron Colvin, DB Willie Glasper, RB Jackie Bates, RB Mike Dominguez and WR Alex Stroud -- are quite simply among the best in the country and when you throw in the addional speed of LBs Parker Hanks and Terrence Kelly, then add in hard-nosed interior players like Kyle Balough, Mike Pittore and Matt Drazba, little dropoff is foreseen at De La Salle. Coach Bob Ladouceur's bunch, No. 1 in every national ranking we've seen, will go for its 139th straight win on Sept. 12 in the opening game vs. Mitty of San Jose. A stronger test looks likely against the Week 2 foe, Palma of Salinas. The Spartans have been No. 1 in the state since 1994 and are going for their 12th consecutive undefeated season.

2. (2) Los Alamitos 13-0-1

If De La Salle doesn't have the best secondary in the nation, that's only because Los Al's is even better. Randy Estes comes back to headline that unit and is a leading candidate to be Mr. Football State Player of the Year. How well Jimmy Barnes (son of head coach John Barnes) does as the new quarterback for graduated standout Jeff Kline appears to be the major questionmark. The CIF Southern Section Div. I champs begin their season on Sept. 12 with a monster matchup vs. No. 4 Hart, two teams that played to a memorable 21-21 tie a year ago.

3. (3) Mission Viejo 14-0

In ratings that we helped compile for the StudentSports/Sporting News High School Football annual, we had the Diablos lower because when we did those ratings way back in May it had not yet been determined that transfer QB Mark Sanchez would be on this year's team. Sanchez then showed in the summer he was one of the top juniors in the nation, which means Marty Tadman can be mostly utilized as a DB-WR and puts the pieces more together for another CIFSS Div. II championship run. Coach Bob Johnson's squad starts the year with a 28-game winning streak and has both Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly on its preleague schedule.

4. (4) Hart (Newhall) 13-1

QB Sean Norton, LB Brian Elledge, WR-DB Kevin Ciccone, RB Dan Howell, OL Kevin Bell and junior WR-Db Ryan Wolfe headline another strong unit for coach Mike Herrington. Norton threw for more than 4,000 yards and 35 TDs as a junior. In addition to a first-game showdown vs. Los Al, the Indians' preleague schedule also includes tough games vs. St. Bonaventure, Westlake, Birmingham and Loyola. That gets our vote as the toughest preleague schedule being played this year among all schools in the state.

5. (12) Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 10-4

Monarchs got snubbed in USA Today's preseason rankings, which doesn't make sense because they beat Long Beach Poly last year and they have more returning strength than do the Jackrabbits. QB Jason Forcier, OL-DL Brandon Nicolas, LB Raymond Andong, junior OL Tyler Perkins, DL Jason Bovard and junior FB James Brunt are the team's most outstanding returnees.

6. (5) Poly (Long Beach) 10-1-1

Last year marked the first time in five seasons that the Jackrabbits didn't make it all the way to the CIFSS Div. I title game. The game-breaking speed is still there with WR Derrick Jones, DB Rodney Van, LB Marlin Simmons and jr. RB Larenzo Bursey. The problem for coach Raul Lara could be the quarterback position and how so many standout linemen from last year can be replaced and replaced effectively. First game is Sept. 12 vs. Mayfair of Lakewood.

7. (29) J.W. North (Riverside) 10-4

We like the Huskies just a little bit more than Corona Centennial to start the season among CIFSS Div. V teams. Who will ever forget the triple-overtime thriller in last year's final won by Centennial? J.W. North's roster of returnees includes QB-DB Dion Morton, WR-DB Damon Morton, RB Josh Barnett and DL Duke DeLao. Preleague schedule includes Sept. 11 opener vs. Rancho Verde and matchup vs. Mater Dei two weeks later.

8. (37) Westlake (Westlake Village) 11-3

After starting the season vs. Santa Paula on Sept. 12, the Warriors have a tough back-to-back pair vs. Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks and Hart. Transfers Rudy Carpenter (QB) and Ryan Sorensen (OL) from Newbury Park realistically pushed coach Jim Benkert's squad from a top 15 to a top 10 ranking. DEs Jimmy Miller and Michael Stuart last year combined for 31 sacks and both are all-state candidates.

9. (17) Centennial (Corona) 13-1

Terrell Jackson scored eight of his 50 TDs in that overtime classic vs. J.W. North and returns as a leading State Player of the Year candidate. Coach Matt Logan also has been able to find multiple weapons on offense in recent years and there's no reason to think that won't happen again. On defense, Centennial's rock is all-state LB Ryan Phipps. Watch out for week three game vs. Clovis West of Fresno.

10. (7) Jesuit (Carmichael) 13-0

A good-looking group of players showed up from Jesuit at the Stanford Nike Camp last spring, good enough that the defending CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Div. I champs should be in the position of having to lose to have the section's No. 1 rating go to someone else. QB C.J. Bacher is one of the best in the state and linemen Dominic Green and Josh Catapano make things happen, too.

11. (8) Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks) 14-0

Replacing do-it-all QB Marcel Marquez is going to be a chore, but the Knights have many of the rest of the folks back who stormed to the CIFSS Div. III crown. The outside speed of jr. RB-DB Cary Harris and RB-DB Brandon Clayton will be complimented by the brute strength and hitting ability from the likes of OL-DL Adam Zucker, LB K.C. Croal and OL-DL Verlondon Harris.

12. (25) Loyola (Los Angeles) 9-4

Leading a pack of 10 returning Cub starters are Univ. of Virginia recruit Scott Deke at QB and three-year starter Mark Gray at OT. Loyola also has an upcoming group of sophomores who were 10-0 last season. A sixth trip to the CIFSS Div. I final since 1990 seems unlikely, but given the way coach Steve Grady's teams seem to peak in the playoffs no one would be surprised if Loyola goes to the semis for the 11th time in 16 years.

13. (24) Grant (Sacramento) 9-2

If the Pacers find a quarterback and coach Mike Alberghini doesn't have to improvise with such moves as putting the amazing Worrell Williams back there, the Sac-Joaquin Section had better watch out. Grant really has better returning talent than No. 10 Jesuit and the upcoming juniors might be even better than the seniors. Worrell's brother, Gerwin, will star at LB and RB and Syd Thompson, one of those juniors, is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands. Comparisons of Thompson to Onterrio Smith are not coming from left field.

14. (nr) Clovis West (Fresno) 6-6-1

Sixteen starters are back for the Golden Eagles, which should make it easier for new head coach Jim Hartigan. Clovis West was the No. 1 preseason pick for the CIF Central Section by longtime section historian Bob Barnett as well as the Fresno Bee.

15. (13) St. Bonaventure (Ventura) 13-1

If things fall the right way for the Seraphs, such as them beating Hart and Hart beating everybody else on its schedule, they could wind up with the school's highest ranking ever. There's no Whitney Lewis or Lorenzo Booker around this year, but RB-DB Terrail Lambert comes close and QB Brian Stevens is already a 2,000-yard passer.

16. (27) Foothill (Pleasanton) 9-2-1

Coach Matt Sweeney's team starts out No. 2 in the San Francisco Bay Area behind De La Salle and could play the Spartans twice this season, first in week five of the regular season and later in the CIF North Coast Section Class 4A championship. Foothill looks so good not just because of who is back on its own roster (WR-DB-K Joey Munn, QB Kyle Barker, LB Garrett Tuggle), but also due to who is not back at both Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley.

17. (20) Valley Christian (San Jose) 12-1

Similar to Jesuit in the Sac-Joaquin, the Warriors benefitted in these preseason rankings by having several players stand out at the Stanford Nike Camp. They are the defending CIF Central Coast Section Div. I champs and DL Jeff Schweiger is among the best at his position in the nation. Two other excellent returnees are RB-DB Matt Castello and WR-DB Kevin Jurovich.

18. (11) Oceanside 11-2

It's a little murky in the San Diego Section to start the season. It looks like the San Diego Union-Tribune is going with Oceanside No. 1, so we will, too. The Pirates have a good nucleus of players back from last year's Div. II section title team and some incoming transfers seem to have shored up some of the questionmarks.

19. (nr) Palma (Salinas) 9-2

The Chieftains should get back to the form they showed in 2000 and 2001 when they won back-to-back CCS Div. I titles. Versatile Luke Lippincott and RB Ryan Hastie will lead the way and the upcoming group of juniors is supposed to be very strong. They'll take a shot at De La Salle's winning streak in week two, but a better chance at making history will probably take place in 2004 when the return engagement is played in Salinas.

20. (26) Carlsbad 10-2-1

QB Sean Canfield was one of the state's top sophomores last year and led the Lancers to the San Diego Section Div. I championship. Coach Bob McAllister has other stellar juniors to work with as well, but must find a way to replace five Div. I college scholarship players for his team to repeat.

21. (30) Lincoln (Stockton) 12-2

Eight starters on defense are back as well as QB Brian Korinek off a 2002 squad that lost in a close game to Jesuit in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Div. I final. Coach Mike Byerly's line corps looks especially good with Josh Casteel, Chris Matsuoka and Stephen Haberle leading the way.

22. (39) San Clemente 9-4

Tritons played Hart close in CIFSS Div. II playoffs last year and played Mission Viejo close the year before that in the regular season. Coach Eric Patton should have another excellent team with returnees like RB Cheyne Verhagen, QB Cole Berquist and TE Chris Wilson.

23. (nr) St. Francis (Mountain View) 7-5-1

RB-LB Will Taufouu should be one of the best two-way players in the state and gives the Lancers a good shot at knocking off Valley Christian in the West Catholic Athletic League. Also back for St. Francis are honors candidates Travis Martin (DE) and Kyle Spraker (QB). They tied Los Gatos for the CCS Div. III title a year ago, but usually opt to be in the Division I playoffs if they qualify.

24. (23) St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 9-3

UCLA-bound lineman Kenneth Lombard leads a strong group of players up front and QB Pat Cowan hopes to make the offense click. The Braves are higher in other preseason rankings, but we just can't get over that 38-8 loss to Loyola last year in the playoffs. A tough schedule also makes them a team to watch.

25. (14) Nevada Union (Grass Valley) 12-1

Graduation losses at the skill positions are heavy, but we like the linemen coming back for the Miners and the fact they get to play Grant this year on their home turf. Sean Jackson and Ian Pilcher top the list of returning linemen and junior fullback Rich Herrera comes as close to being the prep verson of Larry Czonka that we've seen in a while.

26. (nr) St. Paul (Santa Fe Springs) 7-4-1

Dwight Tardy returns as one of the state's top junior running backs while LBs Mark Parent and Eric Walker look studly for the defense. There's no word whether longtime coach Marijon Ancich is hanging it up any time soon, and this could be one of his top teams in years.

27. (42) Claremont 9-4

The Wolfpack made it to the CIFSS Div. II semifinals last year and feature two big-time Div. I college recruits among a solid cast of returnees: RB Jamal Floyd and LB Isaiah Cook.

28. (34) Los Altos (Hacienda Heights) 12-2*

The Conquerors are the defending Div. VI champs from the CIFSS and look very capable of running the table, finishing 14-0 and further establishing the program as one of the best in SoCal. Brigham Harwell returns with 47 career sacks already on his resume, Randall Brown returns with nearly 1,800 yards rushing and, speaking of returns, there's Daniel Drayton, the DB who had four kick returns for TDs as a junior.

29. (10) Skyline (Oakland) 11-0-1

What always helps the Titans so much in these preseason rankings is their excellent preleague schedule. They open with Serra of San Mateo next week and should be as quick and as powerful as ever.

30. (nr) Lutheran (Orange) 9-3

It was a breakthrough year for this program in 2002 with a close loss to Mater Dei in the opener starting it all off. We can't see putting the Lancers ahead of Los Altos in CIFSS Div. VI, but we can see putting them ahead of Div. I power Esperanza. Notre Dame-bound Anthony Vernaglia and Jon Ausmus comprise one of the best LB duos in the state and jr. Pat Roxas is another key player to watch.

31. (nr) Sanger 10-2

RB Brentt Webber rushed for 1,500 yards and is back to lead the offense. Defensively, hard-hitting Alex Guizar is the main man. All totaled, the Apaches have 10 returning starters and they should be one of the top teams in the Central Section, even if they aren't in the Yosemite Large School division.

32. (28) Clovis 11-2

The Cougars are the defending Central Section Yosemite Large School champs and have been No. 3 overall in both section-wide rankings that we've seen. The best attribute for this team may be defense and eight starters from that side of the ball are back.

33. (22) Esperanza (Anaheim) 10-2

New coach Bill Pendleton takes over for Gary Meek and should have a team that will be second in the Sunset League behind Los Alamitos. Both of the Aztecs' losses last year were to highly-ranked foes (Los Al, Mater Dei) and they absolutely clobbered Santa Margarita in a playoff game.

34. (45) Canyon (Canyon Country) 10-2

It was a turnaround season in 2002 for the Cowboys and they should be highly-ranked in CIFSS Div. II with QB Nate Longshore and LB Andrew Schantz, both all-state candidates, on the roster once again.

35. (44) Granite Bay 11-2

The Grizzlies have only lost 15 times since the school opened and now have one of the best all-time records in state history (you must check out the team records section below to see for yourself). This year's team gets the nod over Oak Ridge and Del Oro as the preseason No. 1 from the Sac-Joaquin Section in Division II. WR Sammie Stroughter headlines the team's list of returnees.

36. (35) Vista 10-3

LB Russell Allen headlines the Panthers, who've been to the San Diego Section Div. I final for two straight years with a first-place and a runner-up trophy to show for it. Watch out for junior RB Michael Wright, reportedly a sensation during the summer.

37. (nr) Venice 10-3

Starting out these guys as the first team from the L.A. City Section might look strange at first glance, given the school's lackluster football history. But look closely, the Gondoliers are a semifinalist from last year and there is no other team in the city with as many Div. I college prospects, especially after WR Ryan Graves transferred in from Muir. QB Beau Davis, WR Girard Rodriguez, RB Byron Ellis and WR James Lewis will all make the Gondoliers one of the most prolific offenses in the state. There's also been a significant schedule upgrade with Carson and Loyola comprising the first two opponents.

38. (50) Murrieta Valley (Murrieta) 11-1-1

Most observers seem to be slotting coach Wally Clark's team as a solid No. 3 in Division V of the CIFSS behind J.W. North and Corona Centennial. The team's only loss last season was by just 23-15 to J.W. North.

39. (31) Edison (Fresno) 11-2*

New coach Tim McDonald has the athletes for the Tigers to make a strong bid for their second straight Central Section Yosemite Division Small Schools championship. Brandon Breazell is a major college WR-DB and Bernard Hicks can play tough as a DB. Up front, Jason Rooters and Lawrence Ball are big, fast and menacing.

40. (nr) Carson 8-3

The Colts would have been our No. 1pick in the city if they hadn't laid such an egg in the playoffs last year to Jefferson. Other than that debacle, there was a win over Clovis West and a fairly close loss to Los Alamitos. Key returnees include OL-DL Norris Malele, DB Chet Sanders and LB-DB Elijah Mueller. Let's just say that whoever wins the first game between Carson and Venice should certainly be No. 1 in the city and may be the best team win.

41. (nr) Hayward 10-2

With San Leandro expected to go down in the CIF North Coast Section due to the loss of its coach and many star players, the Farmers could be in line to move up. All-American DL candidate Phillip Mbakagu, super-quick DB Ferrell LeBlanc and WR-DB Robert Jordan are among the team's top players.

42. (nr) Rancho Cucamonga 6-4-1

Okay, here's one of those hunch teams because we think the Cougars may have what it takes to give Claremont all it can handle in the Baseline League. Four RC players are showing up on Div. I college wish lists -- OL Brian Abraham, LB Art Drumwright, DB Patrick Chung and DL Averel Spicer -- although this also could be a team that drops off the radar screen quickly. First game is against Kaiser of Fontana (13-0-1 last year).

43. (18) Birmingham (Van Nuys) 11-3

It is a wide open race in the L.A. City Section, so why not stick the team that won it all last year into the mix as well? The Braves' top returnee is LB Luke Laologi.

44. (nr) Bakersfield 5-6

One Central Section ranking we saw had the Drillers low, another one by our man Bob Barnett had them at No. 4. We'll go more towards the middle (sounds like we're running for govermor) and place the Drillers at No. 5. We do like several of coach Jason Oliver's returnees, namely RB Matt Mason and WR Derrick Lee.

45. (nr) La Habra 13-1

We're going to have to spill a little of the beans from the preseason divisional rankings and announce that the Highlanders are going to be No. 1 for Division III. An outstanding group of returnees from last year's squad that lost only to Los Al and won the CIFSS Div. IX title does the trick. Having a QB back in Daniel Morales, who threw for 2,200 yards doesn't hurt, either.

46. (nr) Fallbrook 8-5

This CIF San Diego Section Div. I semifinalist welcomes back almost all of its linemen, including all-leaguers Sean Chambers, Steve Haskell, Danny Lee and promising junior Brent Westerhold. We've seen tape and upcoming sophomore Anthony Morrow is going to be an impact player at running back.

47. (nr) South Hills (Covina) 11-3

The Huskies are the CIFSS Div. VII defending champs and they'll be led once again by brothers Bryan and Jeremy Payton. They combined for 19 picks last season and both are all-state candidates.

48. (38) Los Gatos 12-0-1

Coach Butch Cattolico's squad starts the season with a 38-0-1 unbeaten streak and is closing in on the all-time CCS record of 47-0-1 set in 1993 by Palma of Salinas. The bad news is that almost all of last year's starters are gone. The good news is that the Wildcats are going to be huge, with two 300-pound tackles and a 6-4, 235-pound quarterback.

49. (19) Taft (Woodland Hills) 13-1

New coach Kevin Pearson moves over from L.A. Cathedral and appears to have the horses for him to run a great version of the double-wing. One of the assistant coaches guaranteed to us that returning standout Ian Bell will get 1,500 yards rushing this season.

50. (nr) Monte Vista (Spring Valley) 8-4

The Monarchs may have enough to get by Helix of La Mesa in the Grossmont South League of San Diego this time around. They've tended to get spanked by Helix recently, but WR-DB Sharrod Davis, DB Jimmy Recourt and others might get it done with all that has departed from Highlanderville.

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