The Southern Pacific Conference has produced 19 of the 23 City 4-A football champions since the division was created in 1975, and chances are good that the 1998 titlist will also come from what is annually the section's strongest league.
Two-time defending 4-A champion San Pedro will get plenty of competition in the league from Dorsey, Wilmington Banning, Carson, Washington, Crenshaw, Gardena and Harbor City Narbonne as it tries to win three consecutive 4-A titles.
"When you play in this conference, you get accustomed to playing hard every week," Dorsey Coach Paul Knox said. "When you have to do that all season, it helps once you get into the playoffs where every game counts."
Winners of the city's six conferences will be placed in the 16-team 4-A playoff bracket along with 10 at-large teams deemed strongest by a committee made up of conference representatives and City Section administrators.
Much is bound to change as the season unfolds, but here is a look at 10 teams to watch:
1. SAN PEDRO
Until someone proves it can knock them off when it counts, the Pirates remain the team to beat. Other schools might have more talent, but Coach Mike Walsh and his staff have a knack for getting the most out of their players.
Dominic Furio, a 6-foot-4, 281-pound senior, anchors the offensive line and Marty Gonzalez begins his third season as a starter on the defensive line.
Senior Chris Harrell is the top running back. Junior Gustavo Navarro and senior Paul Rosas will split time at quarterback for the Pirates, who get an early test Friday when they meet Locke.
2. WOODLAND HILLS TAFT
Will the third time be the charm for the Toreadors?
Coach Troy Starr has guided his team to the City Section final two years in a row, only to lose to San Pedro both times.
Taft is the favorite in the Northwest Valley Conference and has a good shot at returning to the final behind senior running back Marquis Brignac and quarterbacks Steve Alvarado and Brandon Hance.
The Comets boast perhaps the biggest offensive line in the Southland and one of the top running backs in Southern California in senior Charles Drake.
Courtney Morgan, 6-4, 310 pounds, and Marlan Dale, 6-4, 290, are returning starters for an offensive line that averages 6-3, 290. Terron Cheadle, 6-4, 320, anchors the defensive line.
The Spartans play one of the city's toughest early season schedules with intersectional games against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Antelope Valley and Newhall Hart.
Sylmar is led by George Wrighster, a 6-4, 225-pound tight end and defensive lineman, and Corey Neal, who plays running back and defensive back.
5. WILMINGTON BANNING
The Pilots lost their opener, 41-14, to Kahuku High in Hawaii, but opposing City Section coaches consider that a case of early season jitters and perhaps the distractions of travel.
Banning won passing league tournaments during the summer and features one of the city's most talented running backs in junior Chris Howard.
The Dons lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, but Coach Paul Knox has a deeper, experienced team this season.
Senior quarterback Lonnie Honeycutt and senior running backs Major Cobb and Nevin McGee will operate behind a line led by Josiah Rugley and Brian Goods.
Asa Taylor and DeAndre Prince lead the defensive line.
Armando Gonzalez is 49-0 in Northern Conference competition in his last seven seasons as coach, and the pass-happy Panthers are favored to win another title.
Sophomore Daniel Gonzalez, a 5-9, 140-pound sophomore who is the coach's son, will start at quarterback.
Senior Paul Turner is the top receiver. Senior Albert Quinonez leads an experienced offensive line and nose guard Danny Santiago begins his third season as a starter.
The Colts lost to Woodland Hills El Camino Real in the 3-A final last season and are expected to be an experienced force in the 4-A division.
Machtier Clay and Rashaun Sanders give Carson one of the best receiver combinations in the city and running backs Justin Garland and Carlos McCall are formidable.
Linebacker Danny Lockhart anchors a defense that will be tested Friday in the Colts' opener against defending Southern Section Division I champion Long Beach Poly.
The Dolphins, expected to battle Westchester and Venice for the Coastal Conference title, feature one of the section's most versatile performers in Carlos Flores, a 6-2, 255-pound senior expected to play quarterback, tight end, middle linebacker and nose guard.
Two-way lineman Roland Barnett is another top starter for the Dolphins.
The Gondoliers have one of the top quarterbacks in the state in senior J.P. Losman, who passed for 2,346 yards and 19 touchdowns last season and has made a commitment to UCLA.
Wide receiver Sharif Rosales-Webb transferred from Palo Alto to be Losman's main target and the combination makes Venice a force to be reckoned with.