The North Coast Section football playoffs begin a week earlier this year to accommodate the new Northern California regional games.

First-round NCS games get under way this weekend, with championship contests scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Divisions I-IV and Nov. 23-24 in Division V.

Here's a quick look at each division:

Division I

WHO'S HOT: No. 3 James Logan (9-1), No. 4 San Ramon Valley (5-5), No. 6 Freedom (8-2), No. 11 Berkeley (5-4)

WHOM TO WATCH: De La Salle RB Tiapepe Vitale, California RB Karris Johnson, James Logan RB/LB Warren Miles Long, San Ramon Valley QB Cameron Birse, Freedom WR/DB Darrell Daniels, Amador Valley QB Kyle Moreno, Deer Valley QB Nsimba Webster, Monte Vista TE/LB Mason Melin

DREAM DATE: A potential Freedom vs. James Logan quarterfinal matchup would feature two explosive offenses and some outstanding athletes. Each team has a college-bound two-way star, as Logan's Long has committed to Northwestern and Freedom's Daniels is bound for Washington.

BONUS: East Bay Athletic League teams went 3-1 against qualified teams from the Bay Valley Athletic League in nonleague games, but the East Contra Costa County schools can get their revenge in the playoffs. Three of the four BVAL schools will begin their playoff journeys against EBAL teams on the road. Matchups include Antioch at San Ramon Valley, Deer Valley at Foothill and Pittsburg at Monte Vista.

PREDICTED CHAMPION: De La Salle


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Division II

WHO'S HOT: No. 1 Clayton Valley Charter (9-1), No. 2 Rancho Cotate (10-0), No. 6 Newark Memorial (8-2)

WHOM TO WATCH: Clayton Valley RB/DB Joe Protheroe, Rancho Cotate RB Jalon Luque, Northgate RB/DB Fisi Tavake, Concord RB Olito Thompson, Casa Grande UTL Elijah Qualls, Las Lomas QB/LB Adam Wood, Newark Memorial RB/DB Marty Leggett

DREAM DATE: Clayton Valley had its way with Concord earlier this season in the ClayCord Cup, but the Minutemen have a history of peaking in the playoffs. If the crosstown rivals see each other again, it would be for a spot in the championship game. Concord played in the last two NCS Division II title games; Clayton Valley's most recent final appearance came in 2008.

BONUS: Livermore, which dropped to Division II this year, is in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 when it made the 3A East Bay semifinals. Though the Cowboys didn't win a game in the challenging EBAL, they beat the only Division II team they played this year (Hayward) to qualify. Livermore's first-round opponent, Dublin, is a familiar one. The teams played nonleague games in 2010 and 2011, with Livermore winning both times.

PREDICTED CHAMPION: Clayton Valley Charter

Division III

WHO'S HOT: No. 1 El Cerrito (10-0), No. 2 Marin Catholic (9-1), No. 5 Analy (10-0), No. 7 Miramonte (6-4)

WHOM TO WATCH: El Cerrito UTL Marcellus Pippins, Marin Catholic QB Jared Goff, Campolindo QB Andrew Zolintakis, Cardinal Newman QB Keaton Dunsford, Miramonte QB Derek Anderson, Bishop O'Dowd QB Dominic Miroglio, Acalanes RB Deshawn Johnson

DREAM DATE: Campolindo and El Cerrito have split nonleague thrillers the last two years with the winner going on to an unbeaten regular season. El Cerrito held on for a 16-14 win this season with a successful 2-point conversion and a late missed field goal by Campo. If the two meet again in the semifinals, don't be surprised to see another instant classic.

BONUS: Whoever emerges as the winner from this stacked field stands a great chance to be selected for the new NorCal regional games. Cal-Hi Sports ranks six NCS teams in the top 10 in this division in NorCal, including three in the top five (No. 1 Marin Catholic, No. 2 El Cerrito, No. 5 Campolindo).

PREDICTED CHAMPION: Marin Catholic

Division IV

WHO'S HOT: No. 1 Justin-Siena (8-2), No. 2 Valley Christian (8-2), No. 4 Arcata (9-1)

WHOM TO WATCH: Valley Christian RB Howard Wikle, Justin-Siena RB Austin Connolly, Salesian RB Michael Page, Arcata RB/DB Tyler Keil, St. Helena WR Joey Brink, St. Mary's QB Kevin Flemer, Moreau Catholic QB Nick Kinast

DREAM DATE: How about a rematch of last week's showdown between Valley Christian and Salesian? The 41-33 battle won by the Vikings was certainly an entertaining game for fans of offense, and the teams could meet in the semifinals in two weeks.

BONUS: Salesian is the two-time defending champion and opens against a team (Kennedy-Richmond) that it shut out 42-0 in the regular season. As the No. 3 seed, the Pride most likely will have to go through a 9-1 St. Helena squad and Valley Christian to reach the final again. Justin-Siena's only losses have been to Division III schools Marin Catholic and Novato.

PREDICTED CHAMPION: Justin-Siena

Division V

WHO'S HOT: No. 1 Ferndale (9-1), No. 2 California School for the Deaf (9-1), No. 3 St. Vincent (8-2)

WHOM TO WATCH: California School for the Deaf RB Brian Freeman, Berean Christian QB/DB Garrett Anderson

DREAM DATE: A California School for the Deaf-Ferndale championship game would provide a David vs. Goliath matchup. The Wildcats have won 12 NCS titles in their storied history; the Eagles have won none. The last time that California School for the Deaf reached an NCS final was 2002 (Class B).

BONUS: CSD already has defeated two of the three teams that would be in its way to a final appearance. It beat Tomales 17-14 on Oct. 5 and St. Vincent 44-17 on Sept. 29. Tomales, the Eagles' first-round opponent, has a 1,531-yard rusher in Anthony Feliciano. Ferndale's offense has scored at least 39 points in its last six games.

PREDICTED CHAMPION: Ferndale