Yesterday we ranked the top ten college football programs in the state of Texas. Continuing with that theme, we’re heading westward today. This is a the top ten programs we’d buy stock in right now for this season in the state of California. Every program is judged on a pound-for-pound basis for where the program sits today.
We know USC has more history than Fresno State, and we know the Trojans would beat Cal Lutheran 100 times out of 100.
1. Stanford – Not just a model program, but the model program for how to win big and still do things the right way at every level of a college football program. The only program to reach a BCS bowl each of the past three seasons, David Shaw broke through and won the program’s first Pac-12 title since 1999 and the program’s first Rose Bowl since 1972 in 2012. The Cardinal may be the nation’s best bet to end the SEC’s streak of seven straight crystal balls.
2. Cal Lutheran – The last time Cal Lutheran lost a conference game, George W. Bush was still the president. Ben McEnroe has led the Division III Kingsmen to 27 straight Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference wins and four straight league championships. The last time Cal Lutheran finished lower than second in conference play was 2006. This season started with a 31-24 loss to Pacific Lutheran, with No. 3 Linfield (Ore.) on the schedule next, but then Cal Lutheran goes back inside its element – beating up the rest of the Division III roster in California.
3. UCLA – The job Jim Mora has done reviving this slumbering program is nothing short of remarkable. On one hand, UCLA football should always be good. On the other, it hasn’t. The Bruins are in pursuit of their first back-to-back seasons of nine or more wins since 1997-98; UCLA hasn’t won eight or more games in three straight seasons since accomplishing the feat five straight times from 1984-88. A 9-5 campaign last fall was a good start and, through two games at least, Mora’s club appears to have taken another step forward in 2013.
4. Fresno State – You want consistency? How does 12 bowl trips in 14 seasons sound? Tim DeRuyter has built on that stability, bringing home a share of the Mountain West title in his first season at Fresno, and the program’s first in the new conference. Should the Bulldogs take down Boise State at Bulldog Stadium on Friday night, they’ll have the fast track to a shot at the first BCS bid in school history.
5. Cal Poly – The Mustangs acquitted themselves quite well in their first season of membership in the Big Sky Conference, registering a 9-3 record, a share of the Big Sky title and a spot in the FCS playoffs. Tim Walsh’s team beat San Diego 38-16 to open this season and, following understandble losses to Fresno State and Colorado State, find themselves ranked No. 19 nationally as they enter Big Sky play.
6. USC – The last 13 months haven’t gone as anyone planned, but there’s a heritage here no one inside state lines can duplicate – and very few outside the state, for that matter. Don’t let the talk swirling outside the Los Angeles Coliseum distract you, this is a 2-1 team that has the talent to compete with, and beat, everyone left on their schedule. The right personnel mix could have the Trojans back in the elite faster than most people can imagine.
7. San Diego – Say this about San Diego football – the Toreros have been good enough to get their last two head coaches hired away by bigger programs. Jim Harbaugh took the Stanford job after going 29-6 in three seasons at USD, and Ron Caragher is now in his first season at San Jose State after posting a 44-22 in six seasons after Harbaugh’s departure. San Diego has won or tied for the Pioneer Football League title six times since 2003, including each of the past two seasons. New head coach Dale Lindsey has USD off to a 1-1 start this year with a win over Western New Mexico and a loss to Cal Poly. With Harvard on the schedule next, the Toreros are about to do what they’ve always done, dominate the non-scholarship FCS circuit.
8. Redlands – It’s not the Bulldogs’ fault they happen to be in the same conference as Cal Lutheran. In 25 seasons under Mike Maynard, Redlands has never posted a losing record in SCIAC play (they’re112-31 during that span) with 10 conference championships and six trips to the NCAA Division III tournament. In the last three seasons, Redlands has gone 22-6 overall, and its only sins in conference play are three losses to, you guessed it, Cal Lutheran.
9. Humboldt State – Rob Smith’s Jacks may be off to a slow start this season (0-2), but a 24-8 record over the past three seasons, including a Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship in 2011, tell us Humboldt State is a safe bet to right the ship and post its fourth straight successful season.
10. San Diego State – This was a very tough call between the Aztecs and San Jose State, but we’ll side with the program that’s done it a little bit longer. Brady Hoke and Rocky Long combined to deposit a 27-13 mark over the past three seasons, and Long led San Diego State to a share of its first Mountain West title last fall. Let’s all agree to settle this debate on the field when the Aztecs visit San Jose State on November 9.
San Jose State – Again, a tough call between them and San Diego State. There was certainly a lot to love about how the Spartans played in 2012. Let’s see how they fare in Year 1 in the Mountain West.
Cal – I love everything about the Sonny Dykes hire. The Bears will play an exciting brand of football. Once the depth arrives, we fully expect Cal to be back in contention for bowl games, the Pac-12 championship game, you name it, by 2015.