Even though it’s too early to look ahead, it’s never too early to look ahead.
Big schools (Class 4A and 5A) have three weeks of football left before the playoffs. Unless significant injuries or off-the-field transgression occur in the next couple weeks, two of the four classifications have formed a clear pecking order.
In 5A Division II, Chaparral is king, with Centennial next in line. In 4A-I, Tucson Canyon del Oro stands alone on top. In 4A-II, it’s a hodge-podge among the top eight. (Good luck figuring out what that bracket will look like).
That leaves 5A-I.
Two-time defending champion Hamilton sits alone on top, but the rest of Arizona’s biggest boys will be interesting to watch unfold because of its parity. It means seeding may only be important as it relates to getting a home game or avoiding Hamilton’s side of the bracket (5A-II is shaping up in a similar way with Chaparral playing the role of Hamilton).
Outside the Huskies, however, everyone appears to have a shot.
Nineteen of the 5A-I coaches from the East Valley were polled this week to offer their top 5-7 teams in 5A-I outside Hamilton. About half responded.
Most listed the same cluster of schools: Chandler, Mesquite, Basha, Glendale Mountain Ridge, Tucson Salpointe, Desert Ridge and Red Mountain.
“The next group could be switched around depending on which Friday it is,” Chandler coach Jim Ewan said.
• Chandler received a majority of votes as being the top, but the Wolves may not have quarterback Brett Hundley this week against Desert Vista, and most of those same coaches cited Hundley as the reason Chandler falls next behind Hamilton. The Wolves have also lost most of their backfield to injury, and haven’t come through against the Huskies or in late playoff games.
• Mesquite was the popular No. 2 pick, but while the Wildcats have had an excellent season thus far, they were blown out handily by Chaparral (no shame in that). For that reason and to see if his team can be consistent offensively, Mesquite coach Mike Reardon said he won’t get a real understanding of his team until next week’s battle with Basha.
• Mountain Pointe and Desert Ridge have both shown flashes of dominance, but have also stubbed their toes and fallen flat more than once this season.
• Red Mountain has the talent to make noise, but the Lions have only beaten a struggling Mesa team in the Fiesta Region thus far, and have Centennial, Hamilton and Desert Vista remaining. It will be a close race to see whether they can maintain their position to get a first-round home game.
• Mountain Ridge played Hamilton as close as anyone this season, but got hammered by Glendale Sandra Day O’Connor last week. Salpointe’s only loss was to Hamilton, and it’s a Tucson school, which means no traveling. That means no varied competition with which to pass a reasonable judgement. That said, history says the Lancers are in trouble come postseason play (0-3 vs. Valley schools since 2009).
Then there’s this nugget...
“Look for (Desert Vista) to be the sleeper if they can keep their heads,” Mesa coach Kelley Moore said. “I saw the same attitude in them that my team had last year when we made a run to the championship.”
OK. So throw the Thunder into the mix. Even Brophy, which lost its excellent starting quarterback, Tyler Bruggman, to a freaky season-ending injury late last week, could make people nervous if the Broncos (currently No. 15 in power points) stay alive in the playoff picture.
Again, a lot can and will change in the next three weeks, but given this landscape through eight weeks, anyone who doesn’t get Hamilton in the first round and stays healthy has to like their chances against whomever they’ll face, no matter the venue, no matter the seeding.