Looking at the Central California Conference football race, it's hard to pick a favorite. I'll try to do it anyway.
There are five teams with a legitimate shot at winning the conference.
Pitman and Turlock both enter conference play with a 4-1 record and both have looked like championship caliber teams at times this season.
Merced (3-2), Atwater (3-2) and Buhach Colony (2-3) all have championship aspirations.
Good luck trying to pick how this conference will shake out. However, I expect favorites to emerge after this week.
We have some great matchups right out of the chute with Buhach Colony squaring off against Pitman and Merced hosting Turlock.
The winners of those two games will have a big leg up on the rest of the conference.
Here's my best guess at how the CCC shakes out.
The winner is...
Call me stubborn, but I'm sticking with our preseason pick Merced as my pick to win.
The Bears have been their own worse enemy in their two losses to Edison and Clovis North with costly turnovers. I think their problems are fixable.
With five games under his belt, I think we're going to see Merced's junior quarterback Tyrone Williiams come into his own. The Bears have as an explosive offense as their is in the CCC.
What I like about Merced is its front seven on defense. Linebacker Sam Scheidt and defensive end Justin Solis were both injured and missed time early this season. That front seven should all be in tact with the Bulldogs coming to town on Friday.
That defense will have to come up big down the road against teams like Pitman and Buhach Colony, but I think the Bears have the best offensive and defensive balance of any team in the CCC.
Nobody would be surprised to see Pitman win the title. The Pride beefed up their nonconference schedule by adding Lincoln and Pleasant Grove. That should help Pitman with the gauntlet that is the CCC.
Running backs Logan Wolfley and Drew Lewis have been explosive with the ball.
The reason I give the nod to Merced is because what the Bears were able to do against Pitman last year, winning 44-13. With most of the Bears defense back I like Merced in that matchup.
Nobody is going to be more prepared for the CCC than Buhach Colony. The Thunder's rigorous nonconference schedule included games against San Ramon Valley, Clovis North and Serra of San Mateo.
The Thunder have scored 30 or more points in four of their five games, but the defense has give up 40 or more points in three of the five.
Senior defensive lineman Kevin Kelleher, who missed the first five games, is expected to return Friday against Pitman and could be a difference maker.
Otherwise, Buhach Colony is going to have to win a lot of shootouts.
Both Turlock and Atwater could find their way to the top of the division.
The Falcons have a championship defense, led by linebackers Tony Romo and JoJo Ochoa. Atwater has only given up 18 points per game.
The question is can the Falcons win the big games?
Atwater is 0-9 against Pitman, Merced and Buhach Colony the last three years. The Falcons have to prove they can beat those teams before you can list them as a favorite.
The Bulldogs have one of the top quarterbacks in Sean Downs and he has a great weapon in tight end Patrick Green.
Can Turlock score enough points to beat Pitman, Buhach Colony and Merced? Turlock has only topped 27 points once this year in a 41-40 win over Modesto.
Not to be overlooked
Who is the only team entering CCC play with a winning streak?
That would be Golden Valley with wins over Davis and McNair their last two games. The Cougars are talented enough to scare some team if receiver Jashaan Wright makes a couple big plays.
Golden Valley just doesn't have the depth to compete with the talent in the CCC for five straight weeks.
Note: With the CCC schools moving the junior varsity games to Thursdays, all varsity games will start at 7 p.m. on Friday nights this season. Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or email@example.com.