By Steve Ramirez
The 2016 season may go down as one of the most successful campaigns in area football history.
It featured eight area teams reaching at least the semifinals and three earn title-game trips topped by Arroyo winning its first CIF Southern Section crown in three decades.
The area, due to the second-year of the section’s new playoff format, might be able to match that effort in 2017. But like every other season, questions fill the air.
And here are five burning questions that the area’s inquiring minds would like to know:
Will Bishop Amat be more like last season, or can they make a deep run in the Division 1 playoffs?
The Lancers probably likely fall somewhere in the middle.
There doesn’t seem to be the same amount of talent that catapulted Bishop Amat to back-to-back league titles and consecutive trips to the Pac-5 semifinals in 2014 and ‘15.
But the cupboard is hardly bare, either.
Defensive tackle Aaron Maldonado, a UCLA commit who might be the area’s best player, leads a return list that also features quarterback Blake Archuleta and running back Dominic Barrera.
The schedule, which opens with Division 1 stalwart Mater Dei, is again challenging, as is the Mission League, led by favorite Serra. Amat took second last season and most see the Lancers as a third-place team this season. Amat usually rises to the occasion when most least expect it, but it looks like the best expectation should end with a second-round appearance.
Can La Mirada continue to contend for a division title with Mike Moschetti no longer in charge?
The answer appears simple and to the point: No.
No area team appears to have fallen more since last December than the Matadores, who in recent seasons have had elite players fall in their lap. But not for 2017, where they must find replacement for nine starters who keyed the run to consecutive divisional title games. Also gone is lineman Tyler Casados, who recently transferred to La Habra.
The Matadores do appear to have enough in the cupboard to continue their reign in the Suburban League, but their string of consecutive title game appearances looks to be over as it enters Division 2 competition.
Which will be the most intriguing playoff division for area teams?
Division 3 fits the bill.
It only features three area teams. But they are all heavyweights: Charter Oak, St. Francis and La Serna.
Can we dream of all three making the final four?
It could happen, although Sierra Canyon, which won section and state titles last season, is the favorite.
But the trio should definitely challenge.
Charter Oak, which made the Central Division final in 2015 and the Division 4 semifinals last season, could field one of its better teams.
La Serna, after having its string of six consecutive trips to the semifinals end last season, looks more than capable of beginning another streak.
Then there is St. Francis, which with coach Jim Bonds, is always in the title hunt and that won’t change this season. They likely field one of the better offensive juggernauts in the division.
What’s the area’s best hope for a CIF-SS title?
Look no further than the lone area team to win a title last season: Arroyo.
The Knights, who return highly-touted quarterback Ernesto Camacho, won the Division 12 title last season and despite a move up to Division 11, could repeat.
Others who could be in the hunt are Charter Oak in Division 3, St. Paul in Division 6, Northview in Division 8 and Montebello in Division 10.
Charter Oak, St. Paul and Montebello all made their respective semifinals last season and could make similar runs in November and December. Northview looks strong with senior quarterback Steven Comstock, who recently committed to Fresno State.
Which new coach will enjoy the best season?
There might not be an easy answer here, but West Covina’s Corey Tello might fit the bill.
The Bulldogs have one of the better talent bases in the area and Tello, the team’s defensive coordinator the previous three seasons, is expected offer a smooth transition from the departed Mike Maggiore.
West Covina will be in the hunt in the Hacienda League and in Division 6.
Others who will likely succeed in their first year are Hector Spathias at Los Altos and Jason Sarceda at La Canada. Both also land in good spots to succeed, although Spathias, who did well at Bassett and as Montebello’s line coach last season, is faced with a rebuild at Los Altos.
Whittier Daily News, Pasadena Star-News and San Gabriel Valley Tribune pre-season all-area football team
QB: Steven Comstock, Northview, Sr.
QB: Warren Bryan, Damien, Sr.
RB: Sal Tovar, South El Monte, Sr.
RB: Jahlique Stephens, Muir, Jr.
WR: Jermaine Braddock, Charter Oak, Sr.
WR: Lance Babb II, Schurr, Sr.
WR: Michael Washington, Monrovia, Sr.
OL: Matt Barriga, St. Francis, Sr.
OL: Victor Arteaga, Glendora, Sr.
OL: Nate Aceves, Charter Oak, Sr.
OL: Tyler Casados, La Habra, Jr.
OL: Edgar Pelayo, Montebello, Sr.
PK: Jesse Ortiz, Arroyo, Sr.
DL: Gabriel Grbavac, St. Francis, Sr.
DL: Mario Mora, Charter Oak, Sr.
DL: Aaron Maldonado, Bishop Amat, Sr.
LB: Joseph Troncoza, St. Paul, Jr.
LB: Kobah Fuamatu, La Habra, So.
LB: Abraham Shalash, La Serna, Jr.
LB: Gil Vasquez, Los Altos, Sr.
DB: Noah Guzman, Bishop Amat, Sr.
DB: Rolandiss Whitner, Arcadia, Jr.
DB: Nick Larivierie, South Hills, Sr.
DB: Alec Flanagan, Diamond Ranch, Sr.
P: Jared Arellano, Walnut, Jr.
— All Area team compiled by Aram Tolegian