High school football shifts into high gear tonight with nearly a full load of games. There's no better place in the country to see tomorrow's college and NFL stars play today, with Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley, the reigning Gatorade national player of the year, being only one example. And the chance to see great up-and-coming prospects is only one reason to keep an eye on our local fields this fall. Here are 10 reasons to be excited about the 2008 season:
1. It's going to be the year of the quarterback. If a college coach doesn't come away with a passer from the Southland this year, he has missed out big time. Already committed are Barkley (USC), Richard Brehaut (UCLA) from Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos, Josh Nunes (Tennessee) from Upland, Keith Price (Washington) from Bellflower St. John Bosco, Allan Bridgford (California) from Mission Viejo, Clark Evans (Colorado) from Los Alamitos, Caleb Herring (Nevada Las Vegas) from Perris Citrus Hill, Corey Nielsen (Hawaii) from Cerritos Gahr, Sean Schroeder (Duke) from Dana Hills and Dasmen Stewart (San Jose State) from Oxnard.
There are more talented seniors available, and don't forget about the junior class that features Nick Montana from Westlake Village Oaks Christian, Brandon Connette from Corona Santiago and Chase Rettig from Pasadena La Salle.
2. It's going to be boom or bust for Los Angeles Jordan. The Bulldogs are a City Section school that is embarking on an ambitious nonleague schedule, with games against Locke, Mater Dei, Ventura St. Bonaventure and Anaheim Esperanza. Coach Elijah Asante is subjecting his players to the challenge of a lifetime and opening himself up to second guessing.
"We are not scheduling these teams so we can have a great losing experience," Asante said. "We scheduled these teams because we expect to beat them. . . . We would play USC if I could get them on the schedule."
3. The shotgun formation is here to stay. If Kevin Rooney, in his 29th year as coach at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, can adopt the shotgun formation, then anyone can. Rooney's quarterbacks rarely passed more than 10 times a game early in his career while they focused on running the quarterback option.
This season, the Knights are hoping to use the shotgun formation 95% of the time, with junior quarterback Ryan Kasdorf the beneficiary.
"Football trends have been moving this way," Rooney said.
Added Kasdorf: "It's pretty exciting."
4. The new Big 8 League can be the Inland Empire's version of Orange County's Trinity League. There are no cupcake games for Big 8 teams Corona Centennial, Corona Santiago, Corona Roosevelt, Corona, Riverside Poly, Riverside North, Riverside King and Norco. It could be a demolition derby, with teams having to play each other a second time in the playoffs.
5. Long Beach Poly is going to turn loose its running backs. There isn't a team in Southern California that has a better trio of running backs than the Jackrabbits' Melvin Richardson, Cory Westbrook and Daveon Barner.
6. The state CIF championship bowl games are new and improved. There will be five season-ending bowl games instead of three, and for the first time, the best team from Southern California, regardless of enrollment, will get to play the best team from Northern California on Dec. 20 at the Home Depot Center in the open division final.
Concord De La Salle is the probable Northern California team. Good luck on guessing the No. 1 Southland team. My top candidates: Corona Centennial, Long Beach Poly and Orange Lutheran.
7. Let the debate begin about how good Oaks Christian is. The Lions are the most likely team to finish 14-0. Then comes the arguing whether Oaks Christian belongs in a state bowl game after a schedule that includes no teams in The Times' preseason top 25. Coach Bill Redell, who once thought about running for Congress, gets to show how good a politician he can be.
8. The Brehaut-Nunes QB rivalry is heating up. On Oct. 24, Los Osos and Upland meet in a televised Baseline League championship game, setting up the much anticipated matchup between the quarterbacks. It's reminiscent of the days when John Elway and Tom Ramsey played a couple of miles apart at Granada Hills and Kennedy, respectively, in the late 1970s, and fans debated who was better. Each ended up as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
9. Upgraded football facilities are popping up across the Southland. Redlands opens its new stadium tonight against Vista Murietta. Encino Crespi, Palisades, Mission Hills L.A. Baptist, Santa Maria St. Joseph, Baldwin Park, Wilmington Banning, Los Angeles Cathedral and Harbor City Narbonne have new fields. Van Nuys Grant will have permanent lights for the first time since it opened in 1959.
10. Rivalry games are bigger and better than ever. Alumni are going to clear their schedules and not miss these matchups: Anaheim Servite vs. Mater Dei on Oct. 17 at Angel Stadium; Notre Dame vs. Crespi on Oct. 31; Crenshaw vs. Dorsey at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Oct. 31; Carson at Banning on Nov. 7; West- lake at Thousand Oaks on Nov. 14.
Looking ahead: Corona Santiago-Anaheim Esperanza matchup highlights opening-week schedule. D5
Lonnie White: It won't be easy for Matt Barkley to live up to the hype. Go to latimes.com/preps.