The start of the 2021 high school football season is less than a week away.
Here are four questions about the upcoming season.
1. How will the coronavirus pandemic affect the season?
The impact already is being felt. A handful of area teams have had players test positive for COVID-19, which led to quarantining or the temporary suspension of all football activities. A few Week 0 games already have been canceled, and there are more in jeopardy of not happening as scheduled. Some teams have been scrambling to find new opponents after scrimmages were called off.
Each team will be impacted differently based on district protocols on testing and vaccination levels of players and coaches, but there could be more positive cases with students, teachers and staff having returned to campus. The clichés of taking things one game, one week and one day a time definitely will be in play again this season, but teams already have shown the ability to work quickly to fill any holes on the schedule.
2. What will the CIF Southern Section playoffs look like this season?
Teams traditionally have been grouped into playoff divisions based on the program’s performance over the previous two seasons. The CIF Southern Section will be implementing a new system based on the results of the current season, something many coaches have been championing in recent seasons.
However, the teams will not know which division they are competing in until the final ratings are released at the end of the regular season. Teams still have to qualify for the playoffs based on their league finish — the top two teams in leagues with four or five teams automatically qualify; the top three teams in leagues with six to eight teams are in. The remaining spots will be filled by the top-rated teams that did not earn automatic spots.
The new system should lead to more parity throughout the playoffs, as teams with similar ratings will be grouped together. Of course, there probably still will be gripes with this new playoff system. For example, there will be teams who could have been a top seed in one division but instead will be a lower seed in a higher division.
3. Which Inland leagues will produce the most exciting championship races?
The Baseline and Southwestern leagues could provide the most drama on a weekly basis. The Baseline League appears to have four teams with a realistic chance of capturing the title — Damien, Etiwanda, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga. The Southwestern League also could be interesting, with Vista Murrieta, Murrieta Valley, Chaparral and Temecula Valley being the top contenders for the crown this season.
4. Which first-year coach will have the biggest impact on his new program?
There are 20 Inland programs that experienced a coaching change during the offseason, and it will be interesting to see which coaches will be able to make an immediate impact.
Brian Hildebrand did a tremendous job in the spring in his first head coaching assignment at Temescal Canyon and will look to do the same as he takes over at Rancho Cucamonga. Andre Smith, who was the offensive coordinator at Murrieta Valley in recent years, should keep Heritage among the better programs in the Inland area.
The most intriguing move of the offseason was Banning’s hire of the well-traveled and highly respected John Tyree. Banning returns several starters from the spring season, and the 82-year-old’s experience and mastery of the triple-option offense are invaluable additions to the program.