Before South Coast Conference schools began non-conference play last month, most coaches figured it would be a four-team race for the community college football championship.
El Camino and Cerritos were ranked second in a pre-season poll, behind Fullerton. Pasadena was ranked fourth.
A month later, those four schools have combined for a sorry 1-9-1 start and every team in the conference has a shot at the title when league play begins Saturday.
"This league is full of parity," El Camino Coach John Featherstone said, still confident despite his team's 0-3 start. "Golden West, Long Beach and Mt. SAC, who were picked toward the bottom of the conference, are the only ones winning."
Offense has been the biggest disappointment for the Warriors, Featherstone said, especially with seven of 11 starters returning from the 1985 attack that ranked fourth in the country.
Quarterback Craig Kennedy, hampered by a rotator cuff injury, has led the team to just 23 points in three games. "I think he's been thinking about that (injury) a little," Featherstone said.
Still, the coach is encouraged by Kennedy's play against Bakersfield two weeks ago. The sophomore finished with 201 yards, completing 17 of 24 passes, one to wide receiver Mike Wimberly for a 23-yard touchdown and the Warriors' only offensive score.
"When Craig has his arm, he's one of the strongest throwing quarterbacks in the country," the coach said.
But the offense has been plagued by turnovers, giving the ball away 14 times, including seven at Bakersfield.
"You can't turn the ball over that much and win football games," Featherstone said. "I think our defense has kept us in all three games. Eliminate half of those turnovers and we're 2-1."
But the team isn't dwelling on those defeats, Featherstone said. Most players wanted to play last Saturday when they had a bye.
"They're coming off probably our best game of the year," the coach said. "We still believe we're an excellent football team. We're ready to play. Anybody that takes us lightly will get their butts whipped.
"We're very disappointed, a little frustrated and ticked off. We want to get on the winning board. We know we're a much better team."
After facing what Featherstone called "three of the best defenses in the state" in losses to Glendale, 14-7, Taft, 31-3, and Bakersfield, 23-13, the offense should have a chance to recover Saturday at home against Mt. San Antonio.
Mt. SAC is 2-1, but the victories came against lightly regarded Citrus and Porterville.
The coach said he does not plan changes in his offense--except a battle against slippery fingers.
"We can't afford to be fancy," Featherstone said. "We have to start executing and get the ball in the end zone and hold onto that damn thing. We know our offense is getting better. We moved the ball for 412 yards against Bakersfield. We're getting there.
"If we stay wild and aggressive on defense and put a stop to the turnovers, we've got as good a chance as anybody to win a championship. We just need a win."
If the defense gets better, it could mean trouble for other South Coast Conference schools. Freshman Billy Hughley has been a standout at free safety, Featherstone said, earning recognition as the team's defensive player of the week against Glendale and Bakersfield.
"He has as much ability as anybody I've seen at that position this early in his career," Featherstone said. "He's all over the field."
The coach also praised Tyrone Carter, a sophomore out of Banning High School who earned the team's defensive player of the week honor against Taft.
Surprisingly, it is four offensive players that Featherstone says are being most highly recruited by college scouts: receiver Wimberly, a Gardena High graduate who has caught 20 passes in three games; Tony Nettles, a St. Bernard graduate who has caught 22; and offensive tackles Dave Roney, out of El Segundo High, and Keith Gibson, from Gardena.
Also, nose guard Ron Gordon from Lynwood high and Roy Tavui from Carson are attracting major-college attention.
But for now, the team is concentrating on winning.
Said Earl Saunders, a freshman running back out of Banning, "The spirit is high and everybody thinks we can take the conference."