In the last five years, Redlands has won four Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference football titles. Other SCIAC programs have not maintained as high a level of consistency.
Redlands Coach Mike Maynard doesn't have a flashy explanation.
"I think you either have teams or you have programs," he said. "We really strive to have a program, which I think puts us in the hunt every year.
"I wish I had a better answer. In this business, everyone takes their turn taking their lumps, and we're trying to avoid our turn as long as we can."
The Bulldogs went through the SCIAC unscathed last season and hope to avoid any pitfalls in a conference that appears more competitive than it has been in years.
On paper, Whittier is a contender, with several top players returning. Occidental is coming off its best season. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps may have the league's best player. Cal Lutheran can score at will, and La Verne may be poised to move up in the standings.
But . . .
"If you're going to win a championship, you have to beat Redlands," Whittier Coach Bob Owens said. "If you don't beat Redlands, you probably won't win a championship."
Redlands was 7-2 last season and 5-0 in the SCIAC, as Brandon Ford became the offensive star, rushing for 1,245 yards and 12 touchdowns in becoming the conference's offensive player of the year.
Now the Bulldogs must replace Ford and many other key graduates, four of whom played on the offensive line that created the holes for the tailback.
"That's definitely a question mark," said Maynard, now in his 14th season. "We've got a small offensive line. We lost four starters."
Junior quarterback Clay Groefsma was effective enough to keep defenses honest, passing for 1,228 yards, but Maynard acknowledges his defense will have to carry the load early on.
Junior punter-kicker Sean Lipscomb will be counted on too. He made 15 of 25 field goal kicks and averaged 44.2 yards in 29 punts.
Whittier, which at one point lost 13 in succession over two seasons, appears to be all the way back. The Poets (4-5) finished with four SCIAC wins in their final five games and lost by six points at Redlands late in the season.
Senior receiver Kenny Bohman ranked 15th in the nation with 1,014 yards receiving and scored 12 touchdowns. Bohman also led the conference with 1,548 all-purpose yards.
Quarterback Mark Mejia threw for 1,738 yards and 15 scores last season. Protecting him will be returning linemen Jesus Hernandez and Jure Gavran.
On defense, returning all-conference players include linebackers Andres Navarro and Pat Newland, lineman Harold Herndon and defensive backs Ollie Lynch and Tahir Allen.
"They're loaded," Maynard said.
At Occidental, the Tigers are trying to improve on a 5-4 season during which they won five of six before losing their final two by a combined 77-34 score.
Running back Kamron Jones is expected to have a big season, but Occidental figures to throw the ball more than in recent seasons. Returning quarterback Jesus Zuniga is being pushed in practice by Marshall Cook and John Palacios.
"Last year, we threw the ball 42% of the time so it won't be a surprise if we throw quite a bit," Coach Dale Widolff said. "But we're definitely different from, say, three years ago, when we were strictly an option team."
Kevin Watson at 6 feet 4 and 275, and Pat Ferrell, 6-2 and 240, team to give the Tigers an imposing duo on the defensive front. Sean Godkin and Josh Jansen are experienced linebackers, and defensive back Chuck Ortega had five interceptions last season.
Ryan Gocong is a player-of-the-year candidate for Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Gocong, a bruising 6-3, 221-pound running back, led the SCIAC with 1,304 yards in a league-high 256 carries and scored 12 touchdowns.
"He'll definitely carry it 30 to 35 carries a game," CMS Coach Rick Candaele said. "He may not be the best player in this league, but he's among the top two or three."
Gocong will be running behind all-conference fullback Josh Kogler. Guard Mike McHorney, center Joe Cericola and tackle Chris Taylor also return.
Candaele is excited about a defense that has all but one starter returning. Linebackers Ben Baumer and Nate Lubetkin, defensive backs Doug Kidney and Ethan Taomae and all-SCIAC lineman Travis Nagunst lead the Stags (4-5).
La Verne hopes to improve on its 2-7 record. The Leopards lost three games--to Azusa Pacific, Chapman and Whittier--by four points or fewer in 2000. However, they have only one all-conference player returning in senior linebacker Chris Oliver.
Back are quarterback Aaron Becker, who passed for 1,399 yards and 11 touchdowns, and kicker Flynn Turner, who made nine of 12 field goals.
Cal Lutheran scored a league-best 303 points last year and the Kingsmen's offense is loaded again. Senior quarterback Chris Czernek, who passed for 2,439 yards and 16 touchdowns, will be throwing to senior receivers Brian Woodworth and Eugene Sullivan. The Kingsmen's problem has been defense, where they gave up 372 points.
NAIA independent Azusa Pacific begins the season with a No. 21 ranking. The Cougars' 6-4 record last season didn't meet expectations, however, considering that they had made the previous two national title games.
Junior Luke Winslow is the first returning Cougar quarterback in more than a decade. He passed for 2,512 yards and 20 touchdowns. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Beery, an All-American in 1999, returns after having been sidelined last season with a broken ankle.
Chapman could improve its fortunes if receiver Marvin Qualls returns. Qualls, who didn't play last year, is awaiting word on a financial package that will allow him to attend school and play his senior season. In 1999, Qualls ranked among the nation's best in receiving yards (1,025) and all-purpose yards, adding 488 as a kick returner. The Panthers, 2-7 as an independent in 2000, also have center Mark Shafer back. The defense figures to benefit from having defensive end Nate Bush and cornerback Dino Rossi at full strength.