A week ago, Carson would have been the unquestioned choice as the South Bay's No. 1 prep football team. After all, how could a team that was ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the nation not be the area's best?
How quickly things can change.
Today the Colts are perched precariously at the top of The Times' rankings, susceptible of taking a fall if they don't get their act together.
Friday's 7-7 tie against Mt. Carmel of San Diego exposed Carson as a team that has yet to solve the problems that led to a 6-5-1 record in 1991, its worst finish since 1968.
Playing against a Mt. Carmel team that was 1-9 last season, the Colts were victimized by mistakes. Coaches had trouble getting plays in on time, the running game was shut down, receivers dropped five passes, and two potential game-winning field goals were blocked in the final seconds.
"It was a first-game thing," Coach Marty Blankenship said.
For the Colts' benefit, they had better hope so because the road is expected to get tougher in the coming weeks. They play nonleague games against Bishop Amat, San Diego Morse and Colton, all highly regarded teams.
After Friday's performance, an 0-3-1 start isn't out of the question for Carson. Then again, neither is a 3-0-1 start.
There is a reason the Colts were ranked No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 in the nation by USA Today before the newspaper dumped them from their national top 25 this week. Carson has an abundance of talent. At some point, it should shine through.
But many people felt the same way in 1991 and look what happened.
If Carson fails to live up to expectations, there are several teams capable of claiming the title of "Best in the South Bay."
* Defending Bay League champion Hawthorne, which is No. 3 in the Southern Section Division III rankings and has its usual abundance of athletes.
* Peninsula, which is ranked No. 5 in Division III and should benefit from playing together for a year after the three-school merger in 1991.
* City Section 4-A Division runner-up Banning, which has a new coach and suffered heavy graduation losses but boasts a talented nucleus of players.
* Stais Boseman-led Morningside, which is determined to win back the Southern Section title it forfeited because of an ineligible player.
The picture will become clearer after a few games. In the meantime, San Pedro's Mike Walsh might have summed up the feelings of all coaches at this point in the season.
"It should be interesting," Walsh said.
A rundown of the top 10 teams in the South Bay follows:
1. CARSON 1991 Record: 6-5-1 League: Pacific Coach: MARTY BLANKENSHIP
Although the Colts played a disappointing opener from an offensive standpoint, Coach Marty Blankenship is confident his team will improve. "There are a lot of things to prepare for," he said. "As a coaching staff, we need to make sure that by the time we go into conference play, everything in the game plan will be ready to go. . . . It's more important to us where we are at the end of the season."
Quarterback Jamie Sander completed only 10 of 24 passes--five were dropped--last week, but Blankenship said he has no plans to replace the senior with junior Tony Harvey, who quarterbacked the B team to a 9-0 record in 1991. Harvey is playing wide receiver. The Colts rushed for only 86 yards in 34 carries against Mt. Carmel, with tailback Robert Johnson, the team's top returning rusher, gaining a mere 17 yards in eight carries.
2. HAWTHORNE 1991 Record: 9-3 League: BAY Coach: DAN ROBBINS
The Cougars, who have won or tied for the past three titles, are again contenders for the Bay League championship. Second-year Coach Dan Robbins welcomes back 13 starters, along with a promising group of juniors who led the sophomore team to a 9-1 record in 1991. Ronnie Morrisette (6-foot-3, 215 pounds), last year's quarterback, moves to strong safety and will help out offensively at tight end and running back.
Junior Kenji Tatum takes over at quarterback. The offensive line is anchored by tackle Mostafa Sobhi (6-6, 275), a major college prospect. Corey McCoy, who has run 100 meters in 10.6 seconds, replaces South Bay all-star Morell Ollis (El Camino College) at tailback. Middle linebacker Tevita Moala (5-11, 190), who also plays fullback, leads seven returning defensive starters. Moala set a school record in 1991 with 140 tackles.
3. PENINSULA 1991 Record: 8-3 League: BAY Coach: GARY KIMBRELL
Tailback James Durroh didn't have trouble adapting to varsity competition after he was called up from the sophomore team in 1991. In three games, Durroh rushed for 453 yards and four touchdowns, averaging better than 11 yards a carry. Coach Gary Kimbrell says Durroh isn't the only weapon on a deep and talented Peninsula team, but look for the speedy junior to carry a good portion of the offensive load.