GAME OF THE WEEK - Tigers, Warriors Both Looking For a Fast Start

For those of you who’ve waited patiently for prep football to kick off its 2017 season, the wait is over. Starting tonight, Aug. 24, with Poly and St. Genevieve, the running, passing and tackling begin in earnest.

And if you are one of the 24 teams in the Los Angeles City Section Division I — as are (in alphabetical order) Arleta, Birmingham, Canoga Park, El Camino Real, Grant, San Fernando, Sylmar and Taft — congratulations. You’re all in the playoffs.

City Division I

City Section officials, in an effort to get more of its teams into the state playoff rotation, have created a postseason Open Division similar to what was done for boys’ and girls’ basketball, and girls’ volleyball. (Baseball and boys’ volleyball are under consideration to do the same).

Simply put, the top eight Division I teams at the end of the regular season (as designated by maxpreps.com) will be placed in the Open Division. The remaining 16 teams will form the Division I playoff bracket.

The Open Division champion is guaranteed one of the three automatic berths City teams will have in the state playoffs. All three entries will be determined following the City Division I final on Dec. 2. The next two entries will be decided after reviewing any head-to-head matchup between the Open Division runner-up and Division I champion, as well as any head-to-head result between the Division II and III champions. Section team rankings will also be reviewed. (For more information, visit the LA City website at cif-la.org.)

It will be interesting to watch how coaching staffs go about playing the season. Do their teams go all out, trying to win every game and get into the top eight even if it means a first or second round matchup with three-time defending champion (and preseason favorite) Narbonne of Harbor City? Or do they pace their teams and hopefully get hot during the postseason, even if that means playing in Division I rather than the Open Division?

Of course, injuries and eligibility will also be factors.

Birmingham Coach Jim Rose wants the Patriots to push for the top tier, even though his team has a rugged nonleague schedule with five Southern Section opponents.

“We hope to be ready for the Open Division,” Rose said. “That’s the goal, to play in that one. And I think even the Division I champ can get a berth to the state playoffs. So if you’re in Division I you’ll still have a shot. But it’s going to be competitive.”

San Fernando Coach Robert Garcia has also upped the Tigers’ strength of schedule, starting with the Aug. 25 season opener against Alemany, in an effort to have his team playoff ready. But he just wants his team playing for a title in December, something the Tigers last did in 2013.

“Wherever they put us is where they put us. We will compete to the best of our abilities,” Garcia said.

Division I has the most Valley area teams (eight). San Fernando at No. 6, has the highest City preseason ranking of the Valley teams listed in the Top 25 City teams by MaxPreps.

City Division II

There are 20 teams design-ated for City Section Division II including Chatsworth, Chavez, Cleveland, Granada Hills and Reseda — which was moved up from from Division III after reaching that division’s title game last year (losing to Franklin High of Los Angeles). Chavez was also promoted from Division III.

This division has the fewest area Valley teams listed (five). But Reseda begins the year as one of the favorites to reach the final.

Four of the 20 teams will not make the playoffs.

Last year’s Division II champion, Los Angeles High, and runner-up, Hawkins High of Los Angeles, had their first and second place designations stripped in the offseason after it was determined both teams had used ineligible players in both the regular and post season.

Both Los Angeles and Hawkins were placed on two-years probation. But each team was moved up to Division I, and will be eligible for the 2017 playoffs.

City Division III

This is the largest division in City football, with 26 teams. Seven are in the Valley — Kennedy, Monroe, North Hollywood, Panorama, Poly, Van Nuys and Verdugo Hills.

Division III may be — theoretically — the easiest division to win a City football championship. But easy doesn’t mean noncompetitive. Because many of the teams are close together in talent and roster depth, a clear cut favorite may not emerge until November.

Kennedy, Monroe, North Hollywood and Verdugo Hills all begin the season among the division’s Top Ten teams.

Southern Section

The leading division as far as Valley area teams are concerned is the Pac-5 which is in the section’s Division I. The Mission League is in the Pac-5, and will once again be a bruising affair with Alemany, Chaminade, Crespi and Notre Dame among the seven teams fighting to get into the playoffs.

Chaminade seems to have a good shot. The Eagles, ranked seventh in the preseason poll, enter the season brimming with skill players (even with the loss of running back T.J. Pledger, who transferred to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL),  and a seasoned, physically strong offensive line. But Alemany expects to be much improved under second-year head coach James Washington. Crespi has been underwhelming the past few years, and is due to rebound.

Notre Dame is in the section’s Division II — and the only Valley area team so designated — but the playoff path for the Knights is no less treacherous than the one facing the Division I teams in the Mission League.

Sierra Canyon jumped from Division X to Division IV last season, but that didn’t stop the Trailblazers from a perfect year (15-0), and the section and state Division IV titles.  

Sierra Canyon was moved again and is now into Division III (where Crespi also resides). Yet the Trailblazers begin the season as the preseason’s No.1 ranked team.

It portends to be another exciting year of local prep football.

And this is just the first week.

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