I’ll ask you again: Is this the year?
1. Bishop Amat at Charter Oak, Sept. 14 — This one needs no introduction, but nonetheless we’ll try. No comparison between programs has sparked more debate in the Valley over the past few years than this one. These two programs are rivals, although they rarely actually step on the field against each other. Pretty unique. But finally, in what should have been an annual game all along, the two teams will be on the field against each other for the first time since 2004 and the entire Valley will either be there or have one eye on their own game and one eye on this one. Is Charter Oak capable of beating a “Big Boy” opponent? Is Amat still capable of showing another SGV team what “Big Boy” ball is all about. From here, it appears that even though CO is technically a D-2 team and Amat has had precious little playoff success for a while in D-1, most people still view this as David vs. Goliath. And there’s the rub. The stakes are extremely high for both teams. If CO beats Amat, the argument is over. If Amat waxes CO, nobody will ever want to hear the argument ever again. Crowd should be electric, but we must warn you that both teams face difficult challenges before this game, so record-wise, this one may not be so sexy. Early prediction: Charter Oak 16, Amat 14.
2. Bishop Amat at Chino Hills, Aug. 31 — It’s as if Bishop Amat head coach Steve Hagerty said to me “Here Fat Man, you make the schedule.” Ahh, the Lancers ditch their pillaging ways in East L.A. for a lid lifter in the 909. Prayers are answered. Anyway, as of now, Chino Hills is what I consider to be the top-ranked team in all of the SGVN-land. The Huskies have the best QB east of the 605, but west of Vegas (OK, maybe not west of Vegas) in Matty Ice Simko.
The Huskies will be playing their SECOND game of the season while Amat will be playing its first. They’re confident out in Huskieville that last season’s solid, but overall disappointing by Chino Hills standards, showing was nothing more than a transition year after losing one of the best senior classes in school history. Amat can ease fears that having to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver will mean the ongoing in party in La Puente will be broken up by the cops. Early prediction: Chino Hills 27, Amat 20.
3. Orange Lutheran at Damien, Aug. 31 — Something special could happen on this night. It could be the night Damien turns the corner under coach Greg Gano. The last time Gano played O-Lu, he picked up the signature win of his coaching career by beating the Lancers in the 2003 Division 6 title game. Damien is one of the top teams in the area, but will be looking for bigger accolades than that. Although O-Lu isn’t quite up to previous standards, a win for Damien would still be a signature moment and could send Sparty on its way to a monster season. Early prediction: Damien 30, Lutheran 20.
4. Monrovia at St. Francis, Sept. 28 — There seems to be a lot of doubters around the SGV as to whether Monrovia can withstand a hefty quality test. The ‘Cats did themselves no favor by sounding off all last summer, then looking pooping the bed vs. Arcadia and South Hills. A win at St. Francis gives M-Town the chance to really show the Valley that it can handle a rise in class. Not only that, there’s a legit chance that Monrovia could be bowling if everything breaks right this year. Beating St. Francis would be a major resume builder and it would also give the ‘Cats any sort of added confidence they might desire for what may lay ahead in the quasi-beefed up Mid-Valley Division. For St. Francis, the Knights will pick up several new fans if they can shut up Monrovia. And beyond that, if for some reason St. Francis can show it can run around the field with M-Town’s class of athlete, then things may work out just fine in the Mission League. Early prediction: Monrovia 31, St. Francis 17.
5. Loyola at West Covina, Aug. 31 — Gotta give the Bulldogs coaching staff credit, they always take at least one swing at a “Big Boy” every nonleague season. And who knows, maybe one of these years they’ll win one. Last year, West Covina was depleted vs. Loyola after a grueling a game against Covina the week before. Although the Bulldogs are replacing several key cogs, they have plenty of experience back and ample talent waiting in the wings. After winning back-to-back Southeast Division titles, the next thing the Bulldogs need to further stamp themselves as one of SoCal’s elite programs is a win over a “Big Boy”. Interestingly, word was that Loyola was one of the programs that badly wanted the services of new WestCo QB Antonio “Noodles” Hull. Early prediction: Loyola 35, West Covina 20.
6. Mater Dei at St. Paul, Aug. 31 — Just how far have the Swordsmen come in one offseason under new head coach Elijah Asante? We’re gonna find out on this night. Imagine if Asante leads St. Paul to a win over Mater Dei, the fan base would go crazy. St. Paul has bolstered its talent level considerably this offseason via transfers. Then again, so has Mater Dei. If the Swordsmen somehow pull this off, the season will be sent on its merry way. Keep in mind, Asante proved at Carson that beating Mater Dei ain’t no thang. Early prediction: Mater Dei 21, St. Paul 20.
7. Charter Oak at Damien, Nov. 2 — As if “Farrar vs. Gano” needed any help being one of the great coaching rivalries in the Valley, last year’s 41-28 loss in Covina left an especially bitter taste in the mouth of the Spartans. There were rumblings that Charter Oak was intercepting Damien’s play calls. Players were overheard telling coaches “they know what we’re running”. And for some reason that defies understanding, Gano decided to call the game from the press box … at least for the first half … Anyway, the mere timing of this game being Week 10 and the final game of the regular season sets the stage beautifully. Something, perhaps a Sierra League title, figures to be on the line that night. Of course, Chino Hills may have something to say about that. By Week 10, the Damien offense should be humming, but wish them luck anyway against what should be an epic CO defense. Early prediction: Charter Oak 17, Damien 16.
8. Muir vs. PHS, at the Rose Bowl, Nov. 2 — Is this the year? Will PHS finally get over the Muir hump? Well, some of us (right here) thought that the combo of Bulldogs QB Brandon Cox and a Muir program in turmoil would be enough to get PHS a win last year. Didn’t happen. Not even close, in fact. Well, depending on who you listen to, things at Muir still aren’t great. The ‘stangs lost their best offensive player Darick Holmes Jr. to Oaks Christian and best defensive returner in LB Denzel Talifero to Duarte. But, other than Cox, PHS was ripped by graduation. Nonetheless, the Arizona-bound Cox is a special talent and he just might be good enough by himself to end the drought. And if he does, the kid becomes a instant legend in Bulldog Land. Not to mention, the Pacific League looks absolutely wide open this year and there’s no reason to think either Pasadena school doesn’t have as good a shot as anybody, therefore a rivalry game on the final night of the regular season could be a very special setting. Early prediction: Muir 28, PHS 21.
9. La Habra at St. Paul, Sept. 7 — I dunno, I was torn between this and Amat vs. St. Paul on Sept. 21, but ultimately I sided with this game because of its meaning to the Whittier area. St. Paul needs a win in this spot to show who’s boss in the area. La Habra, which lost a nice player to St. Paul via transfer this offseason, needs a win to derail all the Asante momentum. With Servite, Amat and Mater Dei also on the nonleague schedule, this game looks like a must-win simply because at this point St. Paul might be a slight favorite and you can’t say that too often when looking at most of the Swordsmen nonleague schedule. Conversely, after a down season by LH standards last season, the Highlanders could use a win as a major confidence builder. Even without the back story, this should be an excellent game between two quality teams. Early prediction: St. Paul 24, La Habra 14.
10. Arroyo at El Monte, Oct. 5 — When was the last time anybody beside Arroyo or Rosemead won the Mission Valley League? Eh, it was South El Monte in 2007. OK, that wasn’t so dramatic. But so what, it feels like a thousand years ago and you could still win some bar room trivia by asking that question at a watering hole at the end of the Santa Fe Trail … if for some reason you were at a bar at the end of the trail. Point being: to most of us, it feels like Arroyo wins it every year (maybe because they’ve won it three straight). And if for some reason they didn’t, then that was because Rosemead knocked them off. Well, this year the possible upsetter also wears the tag of preseason league favorite and that’s none other than El Monte. Led by QB Brandon “B-Mart” Martinez, the Lions have a veteran team and the league’s top offensive weapon. But what they don’t have is anybody’s confidence that mentally they can clear the hurdle that is Arroyo. This will be the league opener for both teams and you couldn’t ask for a better start. Maybe for one season the strange thought of a new era in MVL football could be upon us. Early prediction: Arroyo 27, El Monte 20.
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