After months of training and anticipation, Friday Night Lights are back as local high school football teams kick off their seasons this weekend in Week Zero of the CIF schedule.

Santa Barbara High, coming off a Channel League co-championship, will make the trip down to Thousand Oaks to open the Nate Mendoza era. They are the only local team that begins the season on the road.

Ralph Molina and the San Marcos Royals will welcome Knight High School to town as they start their quest for the postseason after back-to-back 4-6 seasons.

Across town, Dos Pueblos will host Burbank High in a rematch of last year’s season opener where the Chargers came out on top, 22-19, on a final-play field goal.

Finally, Bishop Diego, coming off a 9-4 season and a CIF semifinal berth in 2022, will begin its season on Saturday against Santa Ana’s Foothill High.

Here is a capsule look and a prediction of each of the four games this weekend.

Santa Barbara @ Thousand Oaks, Friday at 7 p.m.

The Dons will face a tough test out of the gate. In 2022, the Lancers boasted a 10-1 record that ended in a first-round playoff exit. 

Thousand Oaks has a new head coach in Ben McEnroe, who won five league titles coaching at Cal Lutheran. At quarterback for the Lancers will be sophomore Jackson Taylor, who transferred after spending his freshman year at Oaks Christian. On the defensive side, senior Blake Lauritzen had 14 sacks last season and will look to get pressure on Santa Barbara High’s quarterback Abel Renteria.

Renteria, a three-year starter, and the Dons will usher in a new era with Nate Mendoza making his debut with the Olive and Gold. On top of this, Santa Barbara is returning the majority of its starting offensive players, including Renteria, the reigning Channel League Offensive MVP, and last year’s Channel League Wide Receiver of the Year in Kai Mault. In the trenches, the Dons will field an experienced offensive line that could be the difference in what is expected to be a high-scoring affair.

The Pick: Santa Barbara

Knight @ San Marcos, Friday at 7 p.m.

Palmdale’s Knight, which competes in the Golden League, finished the 2022 season with a record of 2-8 and averaged just 16.6 points per game. 

The Hawks are returning just three offensive starters and two on the defensive side of the ball, according to Impact players for Knight are expected to be senior running back and linebacker Donovan Freeman, junior wide receiver and defensive back Rhaymand Blue and senior wide receiver Ajay Coronado.

The Royals, meanwhile, will see the varsity debut of junior quarterback Danny Diaz, who led his JV team to a 7-3 record last year. Surrounding Diaz will be the biggest group of linemen Molina has had at San Marcos. On defense, the team will look to junior middle linebacker Brody Branstetter to lead the way. The size advantage and balanced running attack should give the Royals the edge.

The Pick: San Marcos

Burbank @ Dos Pueblos, Friday at 7 p.m.

Burbank is returning five offensive starters and six defensive starters, including senior running back Jacob Mendieta, who led the team with 623 rushing yards on 4.2 yards per carry in 2022. The Bulldogs ended last season with a 4-6 record, but will have a new face under center this year.

For the Chargers, who finished 3-7 last year, third-year starting quarterback Ryan Marsh will look to kick off his season with a victory. Marsh will have “improved athleticism” around him on offense, according to head coach AJ Pateras. Daniel Johnston figures to play a big role at wide receiver. A more experienced front seven for Dos Pueblos might be the difference in this one.

The Pick: Dos Pueblos

Foothill (Santa Ana) vs. Bishop Diego, Saturday at 7 p.m. @ SBCC

Foothill is returning eight starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s 4-6 team, including its starting quarterback, top running back and lead receiver. Under center for the Knights will be senior Nicholas Miali, while senior Aaron Mitchell will be the primary running back and seniors Jack Zerkel and Tyler Hakins will lead the receiving effort.

The Cardinals will bring the youngest team of Tom Crawford’s 24-year head coaching tenure to the season opener. One of the team’s two seniors is running back Misa Paiau, who has the ability to take over a game. After rushing for 9.9 yards per carry last season, he is in for a big year as the starter. 

Sophomore quarterback Tua Rojas will make his varsity debut at the position and will be leaning on a big offensive line that returns three impact starters. Expect Bishop Diego to keep the ball on the ground and dominate the trenches.

The game will be broadcast on KZSB-AM 1290, KZSB-FM 96.9, and

The Pick: Bishop Diego