The high school football season kicks off with a few intriguing matchups involving the Front Row's top large-school programs, including large-school No. 4 Oakdale hosting small-school No. 1 and longtime rival Sonora at The Corral.
No. 7 Buhach Colony also hosts No. 5 Gregori, while top-ranked Central Catholic goes into the Central Section to play Clovis West, a Division I semifinalist a season ago.
Here is the final preseason large-school poll:
1. Central Cath. (0-0): The Raiders begin a rugged nonconference schedule with a trip to Clovis West, one of the Central Section's heavyweights. An injury to running back and middle linebacker D'Angelo Bellamy may complicate matters. Bellamy was held out of the scrimmage with Turlock and Buhach Colony on Aug. 11.
2. Manteca (0-0): The Buffaloes begin a new era under first-year coach Mark Varnum and junior quarterback Ryan Ward. Manteca will face a former Valley Oak League in their opener. Lathrop was moved into the Western Athletic Conference during the latest realignment cycle.
3. Turlock (0-0): The Bulldogs' defense features stars at every level, including San Diego State commit Garret Fountain and hard-hitting linebacker Jake Dirkse. That unit will be tested by Freedom, which returns all-conference talent at the quarterback and wide receiver positions.
4. Oakdale (0-0): The Mustangs begin their season with traditional Highway 108 rival Sonora. Oakdale doesn't return a starter on defense and will completely rebuild the Wing-T around sophomore Zeke Saffar, but don't mistake that for a sign of weakness. The Mustangs have won 13 of the last 16 VOL titles for a reason.
5. Gregori (0-0): The Jaguars lost record-setting quarterback Bobby Avina and tight end Gabe Sanchez to graduation, but coach Jason McCoy will rebuild around the Longstreth twins, Marcello and Trey, and hope transfer quarterback Baker Melendez can assert himself early in their season opener at Buhach Colony.
6. Downey (0-0): The Knights have quarterback questions of their own, as the summer-long battle between junior Bryce Gouker and freshman Beau Green has carried into the opener against East Union, a team brimming with talent and athleticism.
7. Buhach Colony (0-0): Last fall, the Thunder lost a shootout with a defending league champion from the city of Modesto (Downey). With another experienced bunch led by another Division I talent (Trey Paster), the Thunder look to atone for that season-opening stumble in their 2018 opener against Gregori, the Modesto Metro champion last fall.
8. Merced (0-0): The Bears are led by the triumvirate of Dhameer Warren, Xavier Stewart and Cliff Johnson, but it may not be enough against Del Campo, a program ranked in the top-100 in the state.
9. Pitman (0-0): The Pride have a a dangerous set of offensive weapons, led by running back Payton Bass and quarterback Treyton Fair, whose 1,159 yards were the most by a Pride quarterback since Colin Kaepernick. With that kind of experience, a fast start Friday against Napa could be in the cards.
10. Patterson (0-0): The Tigers graduated much of the talent from its Western Athletic Conference title-winning team last fall. However, coach Rob Cozart likes his building blocks: offensive linemen Logan Foumai and Omar Ortega, who has been hobbled by a knee injury. Patterson opens on the road against Tokay at the Grape Bowl.
On the bubble: East Union (0-0), Modesto (0-0).