I am a strength of schedule kind of guy.
Always have been, I suppose; but as with everything, there are exceptions. Not just yet, though, not in this year’s Star-Advertiser Football Top 10 voting. Unlike most years, we just don’t have a clear-cut dominant team. Yet.
We’ve got a lot of interesting, talented, elite teams. As we enter Week 4 of the prep season. Saint Louis. Punahou. Kamehameha. All powerful, it seems, with their own unique strengths. It just might be an ILH dream season all the way through the state tournament.
But as strong as Saint Louis (great passing game and rushing attack), Punahou (pulverizing ground game and the most elite of returning starting quarterbacks) and Kamehameha (three points allowed in three games) have been, the OIA Red West has been tantalizing.
A voter can ride Waianae and its veteran quarterback, Kekoa Kaluhiokalani, and a solid defense. Or Leilehua, which continues to mobilize with ingenuity on offense and defense, and which continues to win despite (or because of?) its dual quarterback situation.
How can any ballot keep Mililani out of the top five when the Trojans have a high-level defense (Kelii Padello is a sack machine). Campbell? Punahou may have the finest of seasoned slingers in Larry Tuileta, but Isaac Hurd is a force of nature when he’s in the shotgun and on the move.
That’s four significantly talented teams from one division. It’s just a bit odd, but actually par for the course, all in all. The OIA has leaned west for several years now. The Red East, with Kahuku reloading and Farrington recovering from the graduation of its entire starting offensive line, is in a strange place right now. Last week, Kahuku had its share of struggle in a 40-14 win over Kaimuki.
A normally potent Kahuku squad would steamroll through the East. But this season, at this point, offers opportunity for everyone in the East. Great for fans.
Here’s how I voted this week.
1. Saint Louis.
S-A Top 10: No. 1.
Back to SOS. The Crusaders’ win over Kahuku two weeks ago had a resounding effect on voters, myself included.
Some voters will peg their picks with an eye on potential. A prediction. I don’t do that. It’s all about now. What have you done? Well, with 100 points in two games against historically strong teams, what more could be asked of the Crusaders.
That makes tonight’s battle with Kamehameha that much more intriguing. I’m pretty sure coach Matt Wright can look across the field and imagine what Kamehameha’s Doug Cosbie is going through. Last year, Wright had a limited offseason after being hired as head coach. He and his staff made the most of that situation. And they’ve made the most of this offseason with sterling results.
S-A Top 10: No. 2.
It’s kind of a frozen moment in time for the Buffanblu this weekend. They’re in the San Diego area to face perennial CIF power Helix. A solid win would be another boost for a team that has a mix of outstanding returning talent and a good number of new starters. A loss? That wouldn’t change my view of the Buffanblu.
So, if Saint Louis beats Kamehameha tonight, it would take a big Punahou win for me to push the Buffanblu to the top of my ballot. But it’s not that simple, right?
S-A Top 10: No. 3
I won’t argue with anyone that Kamehameha doesn’t deserve this spot. In fact, the Red Raiders haven’t done a whole lot this early in the season to justify a spot in the top three. But they have as much currency — respect from voters — as any team out there. I try not to let projections affect my voting, but I admit there’s a bit of that in this mix. It probably shouldn’t be that way, but there’s no science to this. It’s a little bit of art, or in other words, a lotta guessing.
S-A Top 10: No. 5
The most consistent team might be the Seariders, with wins over Farrington (33-16), Moanalua (28-13) and Aiea (29-13). They’ve got just the right blend of skill sets on offense (Kaluhiokalani, Jemery Willes, Pookela Noa-Nakamoto).
S-A Top 10: No. 6
I actually screwed up on my ballot and voted Campbell, which the Mules beat last weekend, in this spot. But the Mules belong here, period. With all the new personnel, they still play their brand of football in all phases.
S-A Top 10: No. 4
A strong win over Saint Louis tonight and I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Warriors at No. 1 when the next poll is released on Tuesday. Not prognosticating here, but I’ve seen some wild things in voting over the years, and voters are often sold — sometimes too easily — on what happens right now.
I can’t imagine the Warriors will hold a foe like Saint Louis without a touchdown. If that happens, the move to the top happens, my guess.
S-A Top 10: No. 9
The Sabers can’t seem to get much traction in the poll despite a hearty defense and an offense that is unpredictable. It was a few years back when a 3-3 team in the Red West (Leilehua) went on to win the state title. This might be similar, particularly with a powerful Red West. No idea which team that could be.
S-A Top 10: No. 7
They could easily be a top-five team, but that loss to Punahou is a factor. But the wins are so convincing (39-9 over Moanalua, 35-0 at Kapolei). They’re only going to get better, and like all the teams in contention for the state title, it’s just a matter of putting things together in time for the playoff run.
S-A Top 10: No. 8
I’ve seen all three of their games — afternoon kickoffs work great — and I’m amazed at the level of execution. This could’ve been a rebuilding year with Reece Foy and so many seniors from last year’s title team gone. But the new starters stepped in and the machine keeps humming.
The challenges are still there, but they’re more good problems than anything. The rotating quarterbacks. Youth on defense. Some youth on offense. But after reviewing every play on my game videos, it’s simply astounding.
They really are one team.
S-A Top 10: No. 10
The Lunas rarely go outside their comfort zone in preseason. They have incredible talent led by defensive lineman Hercules Mata‘afa, and they’re probably the best team in the MIL regardless of classification.
But they don’t try to overdo things early in the season. So we don’t have a barometer, a way of comparing. They didn’t leave the island to play an Oahu D-I (or D-II) powerhouse. No, all coaches Garrett Tihada and Bobby Watson want is to build their team into peak form by the postseason. Oh, and win the MIL.
And there’s more … in no particular order.
Aiea. Can’t help wondering what if. What if QB Jordan Liilii hadn’t gotten hurt. This team was on a roll. They’ll still compete at a high level, but clearly, it’ll take some adjusting.
Kapolei and Kealakehe. Both have talent, but one-sided losses recently bumped them to the edge of my radar. Not off. I’m waiting to see how they bounce back.
Hawaii Prep. HPA? They feature a tremendous running back in Bobby Lum. But I can’t really rank them ahead of Konawaena or Hilo at this point.
Konawaena and Hilo. New QBs, winning games. We shall see.
Radford. Coach Fred Salanoa has a lot of young contributors, but the Rams are dangerous with QB Cody Lui-Yuen having a prolific start.
Baldwin. The win over Maui was sound and thorough. Wish I could see A) Baldwin-Lahainaluna, and B) Baldwin vs. KS-Maui. It’ll practically be Bears vs. Bears when Baldwin plays KS-Maui, which has a number of former Bears coaches on its staff, including Cody Nakamura.
Damien. Academic probation hit the Monarchs hard early in preseason, but they’ve got talent. Depth is an issue, but I won’t be surprised if coach Eddie Klaneski’s squad gives ‘Iolani a run for the ILH D-II title.
Farrington. I can’t remember the last time the Govs were not in the Top 10. The way some teams like Waianae have the right mix of ingredients, well, the Govs are on the other side of that spectrum. They’ve got raw talent, a lot of youth and a huge gap to fill with the departure of All-State running backs (Amo Silva, Tyler Taumua) and an entire starting O-line. Factor in a knee injury for QB Montana Liana, and they have a huge challenge.