Teams listed in predicted order of finish by Times staff writers. Santa Ynez
COACH: Larry Popkin, second year
LAST SEASON: 7-5; 2nd in league, 5-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Santa Ynez finished a game behind Carpinteria in Popkin's initial season and expectations are running high again this year. Santa Ynez has the edge in experience and size, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, to turn the tables on Carpinteria, which is ranked fourth in the Inland Conference in the Southern Section preseason poll. Half of this year's 40-man squad are seniors. Opponents must contend with massive senior tackle Shane Hamilton (6-8, 265) on both sides of the line of scrimmage, along with guard Brent Messer (6-0, 220) and center/defensive end Peter Stacy (6-0, 205). Popkin hopes senior quarterback Jim O'Shaughnessy (6-1, 190) comes through in his first season as the starter. His main targets include seniors Robert Mercado (5-11, 160) at wide receiver and tight end Dan Monahan (6-2, 200). Senior tailback Darren White (5-10, 180), also a starter at linebacker, heads the running backs.
OUTLOOK: "We're big enough up front to match up with anybody," Popkin said, "and we have fairly good team speed. I also feel quite good about our offensive and defensive balance. We don't have a proven quarterback and that will be very critical as to what is going to happen here. Key injuries could hurt us. We are two deep at every position. I think it will be between us and Carpinteria again."
COACH: Lou Panizzon, 13th year
LAST SEASON: 11-3; 1st in league, 6-0
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Carpinteria, the runner-up in last year's Inland Conference playoffs, will be hard-pressed just to defend its league title. Not only will the Warriors be counting on a group of inexperienced linemen, but they had only 34 players come out for football. Worse, they have to replace Tyler Whitney, the conference co-MVP who passed for more than 3,000 yards last season. Junior David Uhler (5-9, 188), last year's backup quarterback, is expected to run the offense. He is also a returning starter at linebacker. Sophomore Coley Candaele, expected to start at wide receiver and defensive back, may play as an option quarterback. The team's strength lies in its defense, especially at linebacker, and in its kicking game. All-Southern Section tackle David Medina (6-0, 221), a senior, is strong on both sides of the line. All-league linebacker John Zanini, a senior, will share the placekicking duties with Hector Garcia. Junior Anthony Perez (6-2, 171), another quarterback candidate, will handle the punting chores.
OUTLOOK: "We should be a contender if we do all the things we are capable of doing," Panizzon said. "I still think we can win our league. But with only 34 kids on the roster, we have to stay in great condition and avoid injuries."
COACH: Ron Veres, first year
LAST SEASON: 0-9-1; 6th in league, 0-5-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Veres, who joined the staff as offensive coordinator last season, takes over a team that can only go up. With only 21 players on the roster, the Eagles are short on numbers, but not necessarily on talent. Several of the key people in Veres' run-and-shoot offense are back, including senior quarterback Chris Hall (5-11, 165), who completed 55% of his passes last year. His favorite target, junior Jason Stein (5-11, 165), is being switched to running back to better utilize his speed. But Hall will still have talented senior Joe Gerty (5-10, 155) as a wide receiver. The offensive line will be anchored by senior tackle John Sloan, a converted center. Defensively, the Eagles will be strong at linebacker with senior Bobby Wootton (5-10, 180) and junior Mike Benjamin (5-11, 185) both returning. The secondary will be led by third-year starter Chris Frame (5-9, 145), a senior cornerback, and Hall, a safety.
OUTLOOK: "We'd just like to win enough games to make the playoffs," Veres said. "Anything above that would certainly be nice. We don't have a lot of depth, so we have to limit injuries. We spent the whole summer in a lifting program so we'd be stronger this year and capable of taking care of ourselves."
COACH: Paul Spinner, fifth year
LAST SEASON: 4-6; 3rd in league, 3-3