There was a new look to the Mission Conference standings last season--a look that Saddleback College didn't find too appealing.
It's a look that Saddleback wants to put out of style quickly.
Riverside became the first team other than Saddleback to win the conference since 1976. Citrus won it that year.
Saddleback and the conference title had become a sort of tradition. The Gauchos have won 13 since 1970. Even though Riverside won the conference title last season, the Tigers weren't picked to win the conference this season. Saddleback is the favorite of the coaches and the sports information directors.
"This year is no different," Rancho Santiago Coach Dave Ogas said. "Saddleback is the favorite, but Riverside and Southwestern are right there as always."
But Saddleback Coach Ken Swearingen isn't sold on this year's team, which is dominated by freshmen and sophomores who have had little playing time. "This season they are a very young team," said Swearingen, who enters his 12th season at Saddleback with a 98-18-1 record. "We, as coaches, never know what we will have, but we like what we see."
Here is a closer look at the Orange County teams in the Mission Conference.
5-4, 5-5 (Tied for Third)
This season, OCC might be the deepest team in the conference, especially at quarterback where the Pirates have three solid players.
"Not only are were we green, young and not very good, but we lost a lot of people to injuries last season," Coach Bill Workman said. "This season we are deeper, stronger and have a lot more to work with."
Keith Jarrett, a sophomore transfer from Boise State, starts at quarterback, and his backups will be Mike Angelovic, a freshman transfer from Weber State, and Mike Cederoth, a freshman from Villa Park High School.
Sophomore Junior Tagaloa, who set the OCC single-season record for receptions last season with 57, returns at wide receiver.
Bart Recktenwald has switched from defensive back to tailback this season after averaging 20.1 yards on punt returns and 25.6 yards on kickoffs last season. Recktenwald played tailback as a senior at La Quinta High School two years ago and rushed for close to 1,100 yards.
"Bart is dangerous when he has the football," Workman said. "He proved that last season. We want to make sure he has the ball as much as possible this season."
The one weak spot for OCC may be along the offensive line, where the Pirates lack experience. Curt Crandell, who played some last season, is back at center, and freshmen Daryl Pessler and Paul Toulouse have looked good at the tackles.
The Pirates' defensive secondary lost Recktenwald to the offense and Bill Craft to a knee injury. But Brian Sherrard is joined by Gunner Wolfe, Jose Wilburn and Paul Steele.
Martin Maslonka, who started two seasons ago at linebacker, returns after sitting out last season and is joined by Blake Adams, who started last season.
5-4, 6-4 (Tied for Third)
Sophomore quarterback Rick Burns performed well in the scrimmage and took the job from Wade Clester.
Glen Campbell (520 yards) returns at tailback and Albie Anderman returns at fullback. Mike Miscione, who led the county in rushing last season for Esperanza High School with 1,665 yards, backs up Campbell.
The most powerful part of the team appears to be the offensive line. Tackle Derek Sang, guard Grant Grable and center Ron Byers return to the left side of the line. Sophomore Mark Panasewicz and freshmen Mark Rose and Jim Murphy will play on the right side.
"Our offensive line is our strength," Ogas said. "We will try to utilize their pass- and run-blocking all we can."
All-Conference wide receiver Chuck Zacour (53 catches) returns along with redshirt Ed Nasser at tight end.
All-Conference punter Tom Peet (38.8 yards a kick) is back.
The defense lacks some size across the line and depth at almost every position. Kirk Merhish (225 pounds), Wally Thomas (220) and Todd Ramos (185) will get first shot at stopping opponents on the line. All three played last season but didn't start.
Linebacker Joe Valencia appeared last season on the cover of the media guide but injured his shoulder and missed all of the season. He is back and joined by returning starter Matt Alario in the middle.
Myron Butler and Kirk Anderson will start again in the defensive backfield and will be joined by freshman Robert Glover of Orange High School who was the Pacific Coast League defensive player of the year. Clester could also play in the defensive backfield.
4-4, 5-5 (Tied for Third)
Inexperience could be a problem at Saddleback for the Gaucho offense, which returns no starters. But the defense, which returns three starters, has experience and should lead the team early. Saddleback did have a fine year recruiting, getting eight players who played in the Orange County high school all-star game.