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Steve Cameron: Never trust a computer ... except this time

Win tonight, and Merced's Rob Scheidt will face the coaching nightmare.

Say what?

You're shaking your head.

If Merced rumbles Pitman to go 4-0 and cements its lofty place in the state rankings, how could Scheidt possibly be looking at a headache?

Simple.

One of the most challenging situations any coach can face is motivating a team that has lost its sense of fear.

And no matter what Scheidt says or does, his players will look at the six remaining games on their regular-season schedule and see workouts that barely require breaking a sweat.

Remember...

Kids never imagine injuries, or fumbles returned for touchdowns, or any of the crazy things that can happen to teams on cruise control.

Nah, Scheidt's guys could tick off the six teams lined up prior to their entrance in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs -- Beyer, Buhach Colony, Turlock, Golden Valley, Atwater and Los Banos -- and not even catch the faintest whiff of an upset.

Oh, I'm sure some of Merced's more mature players will say a few of the politically correct things about how you can lose to anyone on a given day...

But they won't believe it.

What they'll really be thinking is that they fell a touchdown behind to Los Angeles Crenshaw -- on the road -- and came back to dominate the L.A. city champions without any fuss.

Or that quarterback Brandon Garcia played most of the game against Sonora with a concussion, couldn't remember the plays, threw four interceptions and...

The game really was never in doubt.

And assuming they survive Pitman tonight with a minimum of terror, the Merced players will look at their six future opponents and think: "How many guys are we going to face who could even get any playing time on our team?"

It's a good question.

Especially because there aren't many.

Even traditional rival Golden Valley, which had a three-game winning streak against Merced snapped last year, is uncharacteristically short of prime-time players.

Oh, Jon Betschart's bunch will come out flying and play with serious passion -- but in the real world, where you have to block and tackle, Merced is simply better at almost every position.

CalPreps, one of the many ratings and rankings services which follow high school sports and let computers crunch a few zillion numbers, released a fascinating report this week.

It listed every prep football team in the state which was still undefeated after four weekends of play, and worked out a formula predicting what chance each of them had to "run the table" -- remain perfect entering the playoffs.

A lot of figures went into the computations, but if you want the short version, it came down to how good a team already had proven itself to be and what kind of schedule it faced the rest of the way.

Believe it or not, there are 182 teams playing 11-man football in California who still haven't lost.

CalPreps' computer whirred and hissed, and ultimately decided that the team most likely to finish the regular season with a perfect record was Del Norte of Crescent City.

Not that Del Norte is any juggernaut, you understand. According to the CalPreps ratings system, Del Norte would finish somewhere between second and fourth in the CCC.

But in the feeble Humboldt-Del Norte-Big 5 Conference, I guess these guys are monsters.

CalPreps estimates Del Norte has a 94 percent chance of winning them all.

No. 2 on the list is St. Margaret's of San Juan Capistrano, another so-so team in hopeless company, the Academy Conference.

And then comes...

Merced.

According to the CalPreps computer, Merced earns a rating of just under 30 -- De La Salle is best in the state by miles at 58.6 -- and its toughest future game comes tonight against Pitman.

But it's not like CalPreps predicts a heart-stopper. Merced is a 23-point favorite.

You probably can guess that the rest of the schedule looks even more toothless.

Just to give you an idea, Golden Valley is ranked No. 436 in the state, Los Banos No. 700. The CCC isn't very pretty.

So Merced is given an amazing 93 percent shot at staying perfect through the regular season.

Look, I'm no computer junkie when it comes to games played by human beings.

I got into a running argument with a gentleman from MaxPreps last year about their computer rankings. He told me flat-out that Merced had virtually no chance of reaching the section finals and in the event Scheidt's guys somehow made it, they would be blown out by three touchdowns.

I wonder if the MaxPreps computer was holding its breath on that two-point conversion at the end of the title game against Vacaville.

Anyway...

The problem with this CalPreps thing is that, uh, I can't really argue with it.

If Merced handles Pitman, any pre-playoff loss would rank as the upset of the decade.

Which is why Rob Scheidt might need the best coaching of his life to keep a team sharp for two long months.

But first, let's see about this evening -- shall we?

Steve Cameron is the Sun-Star sports editor. He can be reached at scameron@mercedsun-star.com.

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