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R-C Sports Notebook: Football preseason power rankings

by Joey Crandall

I haven’t posted the R-C Sports Notebook since the beginning of baseball season, which I sincerely apologize for.

I even tried streamlining it to help squeeze it into the schedule better but it didn’t work.

But with the onset of the fall sports season, there’s no reason not to try starting it back up. The tendency I’m trying to avoid, though, is saying something even when I don’t really have anything to say. No one really wants to read that.

So we’ll see.

Due to dwindling voter participation and the realignment of the NIAA schools in Northern Nevada, I’ve officially dissolved the Sierra Nevada Sports Media Polls.

The RGJ started posting their rankings by class, which in all reality is probably the more accurate way of doing it, so we couldn’t include their votes any more and the recession simply took a lot of our fellow sports reporters and editors away entirely.

The realignment was the death knell, though. The point of the polls all along was to provide some comparison between schools from different classes, so that there could be an honest debate where some of the smaller programs stood (Truckee football, Whittell volleyball and Incline soccer, for instance).

But now, the maximum games limit plus the increased number of “league” appointments, has left little room for crossover games, which were what really gave us voters the basis for comparison.

The fewer common opponents, the less true knowledge we can go off of in voting. Because you can beat up on 2A or 3A schools all day long, but if you can’t get three or four games against the 4A, there’s no telling how a program would really fare.

So the rankings, for the time being, are a thing of the past.

However, that won’t stop me from ranking the Northern 4A football league heading into the season.

I may include 4A Power Rankings every week in my column, but we’ll see how it’s received. I may just rank the top five during the year.

(This is based on several factors, from returning players to last season’s finish and last year’s success at the JV/freshman level. Strength of schedule plays into it, although pretty much everyone in the 4A has the toughest schedule in years.)

1. McQueen

A host of talented skill players will compliment a strong returning core on defense. Believe it or not, even after making the regional semifinals, you have to consider last year a rebuilding year.

Why they should be ranked lower: The Lancers were OK last year, but not unstoppable — nor did they presume to be. The run defense struggled at times, particularly against teams willing to line it up and power it down the field. If that hasn’t improved they could finish anywhere from 2 to 8 in the league standings, although there is no way they will miss the playoffs.

2. Reed

Why they should be ranked higher: Come on, they’re the defending regional champions. How can you argue with that? Best returning size on the line in the region, if not the state plus the defense has probably the most impressive returning unit in the area. Heading into the year, as with many years in the past five or so, it’ll be toss-up between Reed and McQueen as to who makes the regional final. Unlike past years, the newly-realigned Northern 4A format doesn’t dictate that it has to be just one or the other. The Lancers and Raiders should be considered the early-on favorites to meet up in the final.

Why they should be ranked lower: We’ll find out pretty quickly how much the losses of quarterback Tyler Pine, wide receiver Aaron Greenblatt and running back Christian Thompson will hurt. One trend that has popped up in recent years is that when Reed heads in with a second-year quarterback under center, they are nearly unstoppable on offense. When it’s a first-year starter at QB, they generally take some time to develop (with Zach Parker being the exception in 2007). This is a first-year type of year, but Brent Showalter, like Parker, has a year at the varsity level already under his belt. Expect his experience to more mirror that of Parker’s (Northern 4A Player of the Year in 2007) than of a junior. For the time being, the question marks are the only reason to consider the Raiders any lower than No. 2.

3. Manogue

Why they should be ranked higher: The returning size and skill at linebacker will be enough to cause any opposing offense fits. Add that to Cody McElroy, who has to be considered one of the top three QBs in the region heading in, and a couple of strong returning ball carriers and the Miners look pretty good.

Why they should be ranked lower: The defensive backfield loses some key components to graduation, which could be trouble against the more wide-open offenses like Reed, McQueen or Douglas.

4. Douglas

Why they should be ranked higher: The defensive front is among the biggest the school has ever had and the defensive backfield is among the most athletic. That alone should be reason to be considered higher in the rankings, because the better defenses in the league will rule the day as the season progresses. Having Zack Williams back bigger and stronger at QB doesn’t hurt. Neither does his talented group of receivers.

Why they should be ranked lower: Right now they have one running back with any varsity experience carrying the ball and only one offensive lineman with starting experience. If the group up front comes together quickly, they’ll be fine. But if they can’t successfully establish the run early on, it’ll be a real battle to get things done offensively.

5. Carson

Why they should be ranked higher: Two words: Dylan Sawyers. Unquestionably one of the most exciting players to watch in the area, he’ll be counted on to carry the offensive attack in the wake of losing a large majority of the offensive starters. But he’s talented enough to do it.

Why they should be ranked lower: There are two big questions heading in for Carson. 1) Was 2009 the start of a strong tradition or was it a payoff year from a strong group of seniors? 2) Was the Galena playoff game an anomaly or is the 4-4 defense going to be Kryptonite to the Senators’ highly-potent rushing offense? If Carson can solve that 4-4, there’s no reason they should be ranked any lower. In fact, they should only be ranked much, much higher.

6. Hug

Why they should be ranked higher: With Javon Brown carrying the ball and Aaron Serrano spreading out opposing defenses on the outside, there’s no reason to think Brown can’t win the regional rushing title. That, coupled with Hug’s always-physical defense, could be enough to rise above most others in a wide-open playoff race.

Why they should be ranked lower: What is life going to be like without Rollins Stallworth at the helm? Brad Bodine has done a fine job as an assistant in the past, but being handed the reins only weeks before the season isn’t exactly an ideal situation. If the team can’t respond on the fly, they may be pushed toward the lower end of the standings. The fact that Bodine has been in the program for years, though, may negate any hiccups from the change in leadership.

7. Galena

Why they should be ranked higher: It’s Galena. They are nothing if not a late-bloomer. The tendency, particularly in years with plenty of newcomers, is to start slow and close out like a freight train. Look at last year where they slipped in to the playoffs with a late-season upset win over Manogue and then shocked Carson in the semifinals. With an entirely new offensive backfield, this may be one of those kind of years.

Why they should be ranked lower: The offensive backfield replaces everyone. That’s a tough spot to be in. But Galena is the last of what I consider to be the legitimate regional title contenders. The foundation, not to mention the defense, is there and they know how to play in a playoff atmosphere. Any of these top 7 could jump up and claim the league or regional crown with the right breaks during the season.

8. Spanish Springs

Why they should be ranked higher: The passing game is improved and the defense is always strong. Nothing more needs to be said.

Why they should be ranked lower: Actually, I don’t see the Cougars finishing out of the playoffs. The running game is consistently strong and the defense, as mentioned above, is consistently good. The upside for this team is much higher than any potential downside.

9. North Valleys

Why they should be ranked higher: Tim Herman is probably the region’s best returning passer and he has the targets to be able to spread any defense to the max.

Why they should be ranked lower: The bad news is that of six wins last year, two came against teams no longer in the 4A and two came against the bottom two teams in this poll. The Panthers held only two teams to less than 20 points last year, and in this league, you can’t get away with that. The defense, and the ability to replace its top rusher from a ground game that struggled, will be the big question marks.

10. Reno

Why they should be ranked higher: The athletic talent is there. This is a program that has run the gamut in the last 10 years, winning state and league titles and missing the playoffs entirely. Anything is possible in any given year for the Huskies.

Why they should be ranked lower: The numbers simply aren’t there. The program seems to have hit a lull in participation and the drop in numbers resulted in a tough year last year. It appears the Huskies are in for more of the same this year, but a large incoming freshman class leaves plenty of hope for the future.

11. Damonte Ranch

Why they should be ranked higher: They are the smallest public school in the 4A (something they were even before realignment), but they are always competitive. The lack of depth generally leads to a drop off late in games, but the key players are there to pull off a couple of upsets this year.