A quick glance at the Pacific League shows diversity up and down, or perhaps better stated, north, south, east and west along the Golden State (5) and Foothill (210) freeways.
As league play opens Thursday evening with Hoover High hosting defending league champion Muir at Moyse Field, there is much to watch.
Muir and league runner-up Burbank enter as perhaps the teams with the best shot of winning a title, while Crescenta Valley and Burroughs are certainly in consideration, Hoover and Glendale are up-and-coming suitors and Pasadena and Arcadia welcome new coaches.
If there is a consensus league favorite, then it’s the Mustangs.
“You always have to look at Muir first when you look at the league teams. They are the league champs, so you have to respect that,” Burbank Coach Hector Valencia said, “but we aren’t going to shy away from them and we welcome the competition.”
After wining five of their first seven contests of 2012, the Bulldogs finished 2-2 in the final portion of the season, with one of those defeats a 24-17 setback at Muir on Oct. 19 in what was the de facto league title game.
Yet, in some regards, this year’s Burbank squad is well ahead of last year’s group, as the Bulldogs may have looked more impressive than other Pacific League team during nonleague play.
Burbank has trounced Bell Gardens, Canoga Park and Inglewood by a combined score of 148-33.
While much focus has been gazed upon junior running back James Williams (29 carries for 230 yards and five touchdowns this season), the Bulldogs have a more polished signal-caller in junior Ryan Meredith (32 for 54 for 528 yards and five touchdowns) a and solid receiver in transfer Oharjee Brown (eight catches for 187 yards) and a defense that has produced eight sacks, 20 tackles for a loss and 10 turnovers this season.
Burbank opens at Arcadia (2-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. with circle-your-calendar games versus Muir (2-1) at Memorial Field on Oct. 18 and at Burroughs on Nov. 8 in the annual “Big Game” rivalry contest.
Burbank is hoping for its first league title since 2009.
While Burbank’s success may have been expected, perhaps nobody quite anticipated the bounce back from Crescenta Valley High, which, like Burbank, also owns a 3-0 mark.
Perhaps that’s why there is cautious optimism over at Falcons camp, even after the team completed an undefeated nonleague run with a 42-14 whipping of Foothill rival La Cañada last Friday.
“I don’t know, I felt better before the game, but we’re 3-0 and going into Pasadena,” Falcons Coach Paul Schilling said. “Hey, everybody’s 0-0 and we’re ready. We’re going to get everybody healthy and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Falcons host a young squad from Pasadena (0-3).
One reason for the Falcons’ turnaround has been a high-flying offense, orchestrated by junior Brian Gadsby, who leads all area quarterbacks with 13 touchdowns versus no interceptions, while having already tossed for 744 yards on 49-of-84 passing
Yet, while Gadsby is certainly at the center of a scoring revival, what makes the Falcons both exciting and dangerous has been the team diversity, as 10 players have at least contributed one touchdown on an offense that has put up 54 points at Verdugo Hills, 56 points at San Marino and 42 points at La Cañada.
If there’s an area of concern, perhaps it’s the flip side of the scoreboard, where the Falcons have averaged allowing 29 points per game.
After Pasadena, Crescenta Valley has a telling two-game trial versus the Burbank schools. The Falcons’ annual rivalry game with Arcadia (2-1) is also set for Nov. 7 at Moyse Field.
The Falcons are pining for the program’s first Pacific League crown since 2001.
While Muir may be the defending league champion, Burroughs certainly knows something about league titles.
Since the current configuration of the Pacific League came to fruition in 2006, the Indians are tied with the Mustangs for the most league titles, having won outright or shared three crowns, with the last coming in 2011.
If there was one coach who has a feel for the Pacific League more than anyone, perhaps it’s Indians veteran Keith Knoop.
“From what I’ve seen so far with the preseason stuff, Muir has played well and they held their own against a good team in Alemany. Glendale, who we play this week, really hasn’t played anyone,” Knoop said.
“Burbank looks incredibly strong, but I’m not sure about the teams that they’ve played. Pasadena has been struggling and CV looks good, but I don’t think they’ve played anybody. Monrovia played Arcadia and they beat them up pretty [well].”
As for Burroughs (1-2), perhaps the Indians have done as well as could be expected, having taken their lumps in 45-14 and 48-14 losses versus solid programs in Paraclete and Camarillo, respectively.
In between the beatings, the Indians dispensed their own whipping, 30-7, at North Hollywood on Sept. 12 that ended the program’s 11-game nonleague losing streak.
Perhaps it’s these peaks and valleys that has Knoop wondering.
Despite having surrendered 40-point-plus efforts in two of three losses, the Indians defense has proven opportunistic in coming up with three defensive touchdowns.
Burroughs may boast the league’s top defensive line tandem, as well, in Illinois transfer Hawkins Mann and Brad Peppmuller, who racked up three sacks versus formidable Camarillo.
On offense, the Indians post a true threat in 6-foot-5 playmaking wide receiver Conor Joyce, who is coming off a five-catch, 139-yard effort against the Scorpions.
Burroughs opens at Glendale (2-1) on Friday before an intriguing matchup with Crescenta Valley the following week.
As for those Nitros, there is a sense of excitement for the squad as it heads into the league opener versus Burroughs.
“While I can’t say we’re playing very well, we’ve done enough to be 2-1,” Glendale Coach John Tuttle said. “To make the playoffs, you have to finish in the top four and right now I’m not sure where some of those wins are going to come from, but we look forward to the challenge.”
Glendale has posted a 41-3 victory over San Gabriel and a 23-7 win over South Pasadena, two teams that have combined for a 2-5 record this season.
The team’s lone loss was a 27-20 setback versus 2-1 La Cañada.
Maybe no team’s success relies more heavily on one player than does Glendale’s fortunes rest on the shoulders of all-everything junior Daniel Jung.
The running back/defensive back has rushed 43 times for 399 yards (9.3 yards per carry) and six touchdowns, while also adding a receiving touchdown.
In the team’s victory over South Pasadena, Jung proved just as integral on defense, coming up with both an interception and fumble recovery.
Perhaps the most important game on the Nitros’ schedule is on Nov. 8, when the team hosts archrival Hoover.
Hoover is one of the area’s biggest question marks as no one is quite sure if the team’s record is 1-2 or 2-1.
Reports that Hoover nonleague opponent Sotomayor had forfeited its 39-26 victory over the Tornadoes on Sept. 6 have left the team up in the air.
“As for right now, I’ve haven’t received any paperwork from either [Sotomayor] or my athletic director about the forfeit,” Hoover Coach Matt Andersen said on Tuesday. “To be honest, it was a nonleague game a few weeks back and we’ve already moved on”
Hoover needs all its attention for Thursday’s 7 p.m. game against a Muir team that won last year’s contest 63-0.
“One of our goals from the get-go is we want to be a physical team up front. Going into league, it’s about us earning respect,” Andersen said. “With wins and losses, I have not set any expectations. I’m more worried about our team and who we are playing.”
If the Tornadoes are successful in 2013, it will be because of a running game that is averaging 188 yards per contest, highlighted by running back Kenneth Tranquena (35 carries for 254 yards and five touchdowns) and fleet-footed quarterback Se Jun Kim (23 carries for 113 yards and two scores).
Defensively, Hoover has forced three turnovers per game, led by two interceptions and one fumble recovery from defensive back Pierre Dimidjian.