Sure, Saddleback won a share of the national championship for community colleges last season. The Gauchos finished 11-0, the same as Snow, Utah, and the two were declared co-champions by the J.C. Grid-Wire.
Sure, the Gauchos won the Mission Conference for the ninth straight time, and defeated Fullerton, 32-13, in the PONY Bowl.
Sure, Saddleback is picked to repeat as conference champions despite the loss of eight starters on defense.
But don't expect Coach Ken Swearingen to make any preseason predictions about his team, other than it will show up. He doesn't want to think about repeating as national champion or winning the conference.
Last season, after the Gauchos started by beating El Camino, 48-14, Swearingen wasn't willing to make any predictions about his team. It's the same thing this season.
"You just can never be sure," he said. "Last season we just didn't know. I wasn't sure if we were good or El Camino was bad. You have to play about half your games before you can really tell.
"We have a lot of people who could be good," he said. "In fact, they might even be very good, we just don't know."
But that's just the offense. Defensive coordinator Vince McCullough, who runs the defense, likewise is lacking in specifics.
"We have a lot of bodies but we're just so undecided out there, we can't be sure. It's so early," McCullough said.
The main reason for Saddleback's success last season was sophomore quarterback Jason Schmid, now at USC. He completed 196 of 356 attempts for 2,882 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also rushed for 247 yards and four touchdowns.
"A great quarterback can make a good team great," Swearingen said. "And a good quarterback can make a great team good. Last season Jason (Schmid) made us a great team. This season were have a chance to be either good or great."
This season, the pressure of guiding the Gauchos' no-huddle offense will fall to sophomore Pat Hegarty, who threw only eight passes as a freshman. The Tustin graduate will be backed up by sophomore Jeff Bielman from Irvine, who will start at slot or wide receiver.
Last season, Saddleback surprised El Camino in the opening game with a no-huddle offense and scored 41 points in the first half. "We're planning to use it (the no-huddle offense) again," Swearingen said. "But we will add a few more things just to keep the defense guessing."
The Gauchos' passing game will benefit from the return of wide receiver Bret Mersola. He left Saddleback this spring to accept a scholarship at the University of Florida, but changed his mind and returned for his sophomore season. Mersola had 52 catches for five touchdowns and 653 yards playing only the last five games as a wide receiver. He also scored six touchdowns as a tailback.
The Gauchos also return both starters in the backfield. Fullback Roger Fickling was the leading rusher with 603 yards and nine touchdowns on 150 carries. Tailback John Jungkeit gained 235 yards in 70 carries and scored three touchdowns.
The defense returns three starters: nose guard Tyler Hinds, defensive end Greg Conradt and linebacker Todd Pearlman.
The secondary is a concern because only three sophomores return. Brendan Callanan and Rudy Figueroa should see time at safety as will Jondon Franks at cornerback.
Freshman Dennis Erk, a first-team Times' All County player from Mission Viejo High, is also expected to play.
Mission Conference notes