San Diego -- None of the top-ranked teams are playing due to first-round byes, so the pickings here are slim. It will be interesting, though, to see how San Diego High standout junior Marcus Hollingsworth, a quarterback who can run and pass, fares against the defense of Herb Meyer-coached Oceanside El Camino. Also, the passing game of Bonita Vista and QB Alex Palacio sees how it can do against La Costa Canyon, which comes from perhaps the section's top league. Vista (8-2) is playing the best football in the section, and last week gave up its first points in five games, a first quarter field goal, as the Panthers rolled over another opponent, Rancho Buena Vista, by 51-3. Vista will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Div. I and will await the winner of the first round contest between Poway and Valhalla.
Southern -- The Division I field, as usual, offers strong matchups from the get go, although it would be a surprise if any of the league champions falters. The only game involving two state-ranked teams is Mater Dei at Long Beach Jordan. Long Beach Poly plays Fountain Valley (6-3-1) for the third straight year in the first-round and then plays either Loyola of Los Angeles or Eisenhower of Rialto. Loyola is known for turning it up a notch in the playoffs. From a historical standpoint, an upset vs. Ike and a test vs. Poly would not be that much of a surprise. The No. 4 seed in Division II, Rancho Cucamonga, could be an upset candidate, too. The Cougars host a San Clemente team that is 6-4 but one loss was to national power Honolulu St. Louis and another was by just 21-18 to top seed Mission Viejo. In Division III, Saugus (6-4), fresh off a strong showing against state No. 4 Hart, will provide a strong first-round test for unbeaten Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach. There's not much in the other CIFSS divisions for the first round, except to see how Inglewood (8-2) fares in a long trip up to Atascadero in Div. X after being upset last week by El Segundo and in Div. XI the matchup between Oak Park and Nordhoff should be hard-fought and decided at the wire.
L.A. City -- Birmingham of Van Nuys (9-0) got the top seed, but its first game is against a San Pedro team that was good enough a few weeks ago to knock off Carson (which at the time was in the state top 20). If Birmingham loses, all the San Fernando Valley bashers will have a field day. Also, will Fremont (7-2) be able to bounce back against Franklin after recent losses -- one by forfeit and one on the field? And will it be Taft's high octane passing game, led by Cary Dove and possibly Steve Smith (who's injured) or Roosevelt's tough running game, led by Jody Adewale, that will prevail?
Central Coast -- Independence will take a 9-0 record into a Div. I first-rounder Friday at perennial power Oak Grove. The Div. I top seed, Mitty, better not take too much for granted against Watsonville (9-1), either. The Wildcats have knocked off top seeds before and have played tough in the first round, too. Just ask Oak Grove. St. Francis, still smarting after losing 61-7 to Mitty, gets Los Gatos (10-0) this week in a Div. III first-round game. The Wildcats have to be in the mind-set of dominating as much as Mitty did. They've been a little shaky the last two weeks against Milpitas and Saratoga and they could still get passed in the Div. III state rankings by a team like Miramonte, Brea-Olinda or La Quinta.
North Coast -- Say what you will about the Class 4A playoffs being a joke due to De La Salle's dominance, but there isn't a first-round matchup anywhere else in the state involving two 9-1 teams as James Logan of Union City will play at Pinole Valley on Saturday. In addition, the NCS Class 4A field includes San Leandro (9-0), Foothill of Pleasanton (9-0-1) and Newark Memorial (9-1). Yes, De La Salle will probably dominate again, but that's more of a reflection this year of how good the Spartans are than a reflection of weak NCS 4A playoffs. After all, DLS would likely dominate any other California opponent it would face in a playoff this year, with the exception of Long Beach Poly. One East Bay prep writer told us he'd love to see a Foothill-DLS final just to see what kind of game plan would be devised by Foothill head coach Matt Sweeney.
Sac-Joaquin -- Defending Div. I champion Lincoln of Stockton might score 70 points in its first game against Vacaville, which recently won by 64-53 in a wild one vs. Bethel of Vallejo. Elk Grove, which lost to Lincoln in last year's final, gets Bethel and might score 80. The section's best matchup is in Div. III where two-time defending champ Granite Bay plays at Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills. Oak Ridge, which just beat Div. I power Johnson and has a one-point win over Del Oro, will try to avenge its only loss of the year as Granite Bay won a nail-biter early in the season. Del Oro recently beat Granite Bay, 27-13, so it looks like any three of those Div. II teams is capable of running the table.
Northern -- Lassen of Susanville (10-0) had a bye last week and plays a Div. I semifinal this week against a Foothill of Redding team that lost to the Grizzlies by just 16-13 earlier in the season. In Div. II, Corning must get past Orland for a chance at a likely title game showdown against Sutter. Orland defeated Winters last week, 33-28, and had two running backs, Shane Anderson and Travis Breeding, go for more than 150 yards.
Note: San Francisco and Oakland sectional playoffs begin this week as well. Galileo and McClymonds are favored.