WHO'S HOT: No. 1 De La Salle (10-0), No. 2 Pittsburg (8-2), No. 5 James Logan (8-2)
WHOM TO WATCH: De La Salle RB John Velsaco, California RB Blake Bierwith, James Logan RB/DB Ahki Muhammad, Pittsburg LB Noah Palega, Deer Valley QB Nsimba Webster, Freedom RB Joe Mixon, Foothill WR/RB/DB Isaiah Langley, SRV QB Matt Winaker
DREAM DATE: It would be fitting if the champions from the top Division I leagues faced each other with a spot in the finals on the line. BVAL champ Pittsburg already outlasted EBAL winner California 35-33 the second week of the season, but a potential rematch in the semifinals could look a little different. Injuries have sidelined key offensive players on both teams. Pittsburg RB Harris Ross, who tallied 233 rushing yards and four TDs against Cal, has missed the last two weeks with a leg injury that could be season-ending. Cal is without injured QB Cameron Owen. Those injuries might make just reaching the semifinals a challenging task for both teams.
BONUS: There's new leadership at De La Salle, but that doesn't stop the Spartans from being overwhelming favorite to win a 22nd consecutive section crown. Justin Alumbaugh gets a first-round bye in his first playoff run as the Spartans' head coach after guiding his team to an unbeaten regular season. What's even scarier about the Spartans is that some of their top contributors, like Antoine Custer and Boss Tagaloa, are just sophomores... Freedom gets standout RB Joe Mixon back for its first-round rematch with Foothill after playing without him in a must-win game to qualify for the playoffs. Castro Valley is also in the field after facing a must-win game in its finale to become eligible... Liberty made the NCS playoffs for the first time since 2003 under first-year coach Jeff Walters... NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon has already stated that the championship game will likely be played at Dublin High and eliminated the Oakland Coliseum as a potential site.
-- Stephanie Hammon
PREDICTED CHAMPION: De La Salle
WHO'S HOT: No. 2 Clayton Valley Charter (9-1), No. 1 Casa Grande (10-0), No. 3 Miramonte 8-2
WHOM TO WATCH: Clayton Valley Charter RB Miles Harrison, Clayton Valley Charter WR/DB Tanner Wraa, Miramonte QB Drew Anderson, Miramonte WR Dominic Paoletti, Casa Grande QB JaJuan Lawson, Casa Grande RB, John Porchivina, Northgate RB Eric Haynes, Montgomery RB Logan Francavilla, Concord WR Mason Knight, Concord QB Mitch Daniels, Concord RB Malik Blackburn, College Park RB Timmy Jackson, American RB Jared Luty, Tennyson QB Christian Silva, Alameda CB/QB Sulaiman Hameed.
DREAM DATE: Defending champion Clayton Valley Charter would probably love nothing more than to upend top seed Casa Grande-Petaluma in the championship game. The Ugly Eagles are hot on offense but have been nicked up in the secondary and are young at linebacker. The defensive line is solid. Casa Grande, which tripped Heritage 12-7 on Sept. 6, boasts dual threat QB JaJuan Lawson, a big-time recruit who completes 69 percent of his passes and has run for 718 yards, averaging 10.11 per carry.
BONUS: With four teams in the field, the Diablo Valley Athletic League can make a strong statement in the first two rounds. If the seeds hold, No. 3 Diablo Foothill Athletic League runner-up Miramonte, which has scored 194 total points in its past four games, stands to face DVAL foes No. 6 Northgate and No. 2 Clayton Valley in the quarterfinals and semifinals. The Matadors and Minutemen each have a sensational quarterback-wideout combination in Miramonte's Drew Anderson and Dominic Paoletti and Concord's junior tandem of Mitch Daniels and Mason Knight.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Clayton Valley Charter
-- Matt Schwab
WHO'S HOT: No. 1 Marin Catholic (10-0), No. 2 Campolindo (10-0), No. 3 El Cerrito (8-2)
WHOM TO WATCH: Marin Catholic QB Morgan Mahalak, Campolindo QB Andrew Zolintakis, El Cerrito CB/RB Adarius Pickett, Analy WR/DB Kerr Johnson Jr., Cardinal Newman QB Keaton Dunsford, Encinal RB/OLB Isaiah Hunter, Acalanes QB Casey Harrington
DREAM DATE: If the seeds hold to form, Campolindo will host El Cerrito in the semifinals in a rematch of their Sept. 20 nonleague game. In that game, the teams traded touchdowns in the first half and the Cougars held a 35-27 lead with just over two minutes left before finishing with a 42-27 victory.
BONUS: The top four seeds in Division III (Analy is the No. 4 seed) are the top four North teams in the CalHiSports.com Week 11 CIF State Bowl Game Division Rankings, so the North representative at this season's CIF Division III state championship game very well could come from the NCS. The Wildcats are led by Oregon-bound quarterback Mahalak. Both Campolindo's and El Cerrito's offenses were high-powered during their respective league seasons -- the Cougars averaged 39.5 points per game and the Gauchos averaged 43.8 points per game.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Campolindo
-- Phil Jensen
WHO'S HOT: No. 2 Fortuna (8-2), No. 4 St. Helena (8-2)
WHOM TO WATCH: San Marin QB Manny Wilkins, Fortuna RB/DE Brett Renner, Healdsburg RB/LB Trystan Cleaver, St. Helena RB/LB Sebastian Segura, St. Mary's WR/DB Liam Godfrey, Justin-Siena RB/LB Diano Pachote, Moreau Catholic RB Jason Hinton
DREAM DATE: Fortuna and No. 3 seed Healdsburg could meet for the second time this season in the semifinals. In their openers, Fortuna edged Healdsburg 14-7.
BONUS: San Marin (8-2), the No. 1 seed, lost 49-14 to Division III No. 1 seed Marin Catholic last week. But the Mustangs are led by Arizona State-bound quarterback Manny Wilkins. Fortuna averaged 36 points per game during its long league season, in which it went 6-2. Healdsburg is 2-2 in its last four games, but is fresh off a 47-0 win over El Molino in its regular-season finale.
PREDICTED CHAMPION: San Marin
-- Phil Jensen
WHO'S HOT: No. 1 Middletown (9-1), No. 2 Valley Christian (7-3). No. 3 Ferndale (7-3)
WHOM TO WATCH: Valley Christian RB Vince Volpatti, Valley Christian DT Logan McHone, Middletown RB Austin Benson, Salesian RB De'Angelo Hernandez, St. Bernard Catholic QB Noah Davis.
DREAM DATE: How about a rematch of the season opener between Middletown and Salesian in the quarterfinals? The Pride lost to Middletown on the scoreboard, 21-14, but got the victory via forfeit after the Mustangs self-reported a paperwork error. Salesian drops from to Division IV to Division V, one year removed from back-to-back Division IV championships in 2010 and 2011. Overall, Division V looks wide open.
BONUS: Valley Christian, which had been playing up in the Division IV playoffs the past four seasons, will enter the Division V playoffs on a five-game winning streak after dropping its Tri-County Athletic League opener to El Cerrito, the No. 3 seed in Division III. The Vikings have a stout offensive line and a marquee back in Volpatti (1,229 yards rushing).
PREDICTED CHAMPION: Middletown
-- Matt Schwab