Joe Davidson

Our rankings inspire some, inflame others. How do we pick them, and does it matter?

We cannot be bought, unless it’s an extra large and there’s a hoodie to be named later.

That’s our mandate – kidding! – when it comes to ranking high school football teams at The Sacramento Bee.

Coaches are kind in offering up shirts and hats and conversation when we stop by practice. And they often wonder how they can possibly compete with such a young team, laced with, “Where do you have us ranked?”

We feel your angst, coach. The kickoff high school football rankings are a thankless task in that it is a challenge to squeeze so many deserving teams in.

The region has become so vast and so talented that we expanded from a Bee Top 10 in 2007 to a Top 20. Can we go to a Top 30, boss?

The Bee started ranking teams in the late 1950s, when there were 25 area schools. Now there are 80.

Do rankings matter? To a degree, yes. They do not determine league champions or playoff teams, but they do offer a gauge and glimpse of staying power, of rising teams and slumping ones.

Players revel in the rankings more than coaches, though Max Miller massaged and polished the Cordova Lancers’ image in the 1980s and loved being top ranked, and Mike Alberghini of Grant enjoyed top rankings in the 1990s and 2000s, once saying, “Life is good at No. 1.”

Last week, Alberghini’s top assistant, Carl Reed, pleaded, “Please rank us No. 19. Make our guys hungry.”

But athletes bristle that they’re ranked too low, even if their team is in the top five and has lost to teams in front of them. The common athlete line in recent years is big on perceived slight, along the lines of, “You’re sleepin’ on our boys again.”

Son, we don’t sleep. We don’t nap on rankings. We don’t even yawn on them. Best solution to rankings angst? Win.

Folsom starts as The Bee’s No. 1 team, bolstered by 13 returning starters from a 12-2 campaign.

The Bulldogs started the 2012 season – Jake Browning’s sophomore season – as the top team and haven’t left. They’ve suffered one local loss and two within the Sac-Joaquin Section since 2011. That’s 80 football weeks at No. 1, the longest for the region since the famed Cordova teams of the late 1970s.

“It feels good to be No. 1,” Folsom quarterback Kaiden Bennett said. “It means we’ve put in the work. I love it. The pressure is always there for us, and it means teams are trying to take our spot. And all they can do about it is win.”

One coach, since retired, used them to inspire to his players. I overheard him moments before a kickoff last decade, barking to his team, “The Bee doesn’t respect you! They won’t rank you because they don’t even like you!”

Uh, coach. I’m right here. And you’re No. 5. Why lie?

“Oh, hey. Thanks for coming. I mean, we have to motivate our guys any way we can.”

We rank teams based on returning talent, playoff success, tradition and strength of schedule. We often rank teams next to each other if they face off in the early weeks, to let them settle it on the field.

And losses to quality teams do not mean a plummet in the rankings, unlike national rankings where it has been common for De La Salle of the Bay Area to drop five or more spots for only winning by 17 and not by 50, which is absurd and misses the point of competition.

No. 3 Granite Bay hosts No. 2 Jesuit on Aug. 25, a beauty of an opener. Jesuit hosts Folsom the next week, which is too perfect. And No. 6 Elk Grove hosts No. 7 Inderkum in an opener, the same night No. 8 Grant visits No. 9 Rocklin.

At Oak Ridge, coach Eric Cavaliere said the goal is to beat rival Folsom in Week 10, to wrestle away No. 1. He liked the idea of being ranked in the Top 5, however, and the Trojans are sitting pretty at No. 4.

At Inderkum, assistant coach Tod Hamasaki said, “We’re good at No. 30 or lower.”

At Capital Christian, former Del Oro coach Casey Taylor now heads the ambitious small-school Cougars. They start at No. 10, their highest ranking in program history. Capital Christian hosts Grant on Sept. 8, the ultimate gauge game.

“We can’t get anyone to play us, and they wanted to, and they’re supposed to be really good, so let’s see,” Grant’s Alberghini said.

Folsom’s résumé screams of achievement, a 95-12 mark this decade and 70-5 since it has been No. 1.

The Bulldogs have won five section titles since 2010 with two CIF State championships. And Folsom had 14-0 seasons end at the hands of De La Salle in 2012 and 2013 in the Northern California Open Division finals.

The constant has been coach Kris Richardson, who remembers the lean days at Folsom, when winning streaks and a winning record in the mid-2000s were reasons to celebrate.

“I remember how excited we were just to get in The Bee Top 20 because it was such a big deal,” Richardson said. “It’s a pat on the back. Teams should be proud to be ranked because there are so many good programs out there trying to get ranked.

“We’ve had a bull’s-eye for years and everyone shows up to play us. A lot of teams spend a lot of time in the offseason trying to figure out a way to deal with us, and that’s a great compliment. Hey, being No. 1? We embrace it.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

The Bee’s Top 20

(With last year’s record)

1. Folsom 12-2

2. Jesuit 9-4

3. Granite Bay 4-7

4. Oak Ridge 10-3

5. Del Oro 13-3

6. Elk Grove 11-2

7. Inderkum 11-3

8. Grant 8-4

9. Rocklin 4-6

10. Capital Christian 11-3

11. Franklin 5-5

12. Sheldon 8-4

13. Sacramento 10-2

14. Antelope 12-1

15. Cosumnes Oaks 8-4

16. Christian Brothers 11-3

17. Whitney 6-5

18. Del Campo 6-6

19. Placer 7-6

20. Vista del Lago 8-4

Bubble teams: Monterey Trail (5-6), Roseville (9-2), Cordova (7-4), Burbank (7-5), Davis (5-6), Yuba City (8-4), Colfax (9-4), Woodcreek (4-6), El Dorado (7-3), Center (8-4), Marysville (9-3), Bear River (3-7), Bradshaw Christian (12-1), Liberty Ranch (8-3), River City (6-5).

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