Coach Craig Moropoulos guided SBCC to a historic season in 2022 that ended in a Bowl Game victory. (Lily Chubb / Noozhawk File Photo)

While 2022 goes down in the record books as one of the best Santa Barbara City College football teams of all time, 2023 is shaping up to be a whole new challenge.

Coming off a dominant 10-1 season, with an average margin of victory of 34.4 points and the first outright conference title since 1991, the Vaqueros are making the jump to compete in the SCFA Northern Conference, one of the strongest community college circuits in the state.

SBCC’s conference opponents include perennial Southern California powerhouses like Ventura, College of the Canyons, El Camino, Bakersfield and Allan Hancock as well as Antelope Valley and Moorpark.

Canyons, Hancock and Ventura shared the Northern title last year, with Ventura advancing to the State Playoffs based on a better overall record (7-3).

Ventura reached the State Championship game in 2018, Allan Hancock has won three bowl games in the last four seasons and Canyons has qualified for the state playoffs in 2018, 2019 and 2021. El Camino and Bakersfield are schools located in areas that include several strong high school programs and have rich football histories.

“This year’s schedule will be tough,” Moropoulos said. “It’s going to be a heck of a challenge as we transition into a new division.”

The cutthroat schedule will mean a large freshman group of players will need to grow up fast.

“We had a sophomore-heavy team in 2022, so we had a lot of new faces this spring and summer,” Moropoulos said. “Our [roster] numbers are up, but we are very young with a lot of freshmen.”

SBCC lost all three of its All-Region First Team members, including quarterback Alex Johnson, who was the 2022 APL Offensive Player of the Year, who is now at the University of Washington.

Among the returning impact players are tight end Elian Sunquist, defensive lineman Grant Hessler and cornerback Terrance Coleman, all of whom were 2022 American Division All-Pacific League first-team selections.

Kayden Chan, shown in a   game last season, was an all-conference returner last season.
Kayden Chan returns after earning All-Pacific League honors last season. (Lily Chubb / Noozhawk file photo)

On special teams, kicker Hunter Simmons and punter Brandon Bowers will be coming back as well as punt returner Kayden Chan, another First-Team all-league honoree.

Moropoulos believes that this year’s team will need to work to reach the same level as last year’s.

“Last year’s team was very seasoned and had strong leadership,” he said. “We will need to establish that type of cohesiveness among the mix of returners and freshmen that we have for 2023.”

Several former local high school stars in that mix. They include: running back Andre McCullough and defensive lineman Benji Rodriguez of San Marcos, offensive lineman Ryan Holguin (Santa Barbara), offensive lineman Ivan Medina (Dos Pueblos), and defensive back Michael Hayes and offensive lineman Gabe Lopez (Bishop Diego).

The Vaqueros kick off their training camp next week and will begin the season on Saturday, Sept. 2 against Fullerton College.

“Our guys are excited and looking forward to getting started,” Moropoulos said.

Another change for SBCC football this season is kickoff times for home games. The Vaqueros will play all their games at La Playa Stadium at 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

The home opener is Sept. 9 against Saddleback. The first conference game is against Canyons at La Playa on Sept. 23.

SBCC 2023 Schedule

Sept 2 at Fullerton, 6 p.m.

Sept. 9 Saddleback, 6 p.m.

Sept. 16 at Orange Coast, 6 p.m.

Sept. 23 Canyons, 6 p.m.

Sept. 30 at Ventura, 6 p.m.

Oct. 7 Bye

Oct. 14 at Antelope Valley, 2 p.m.

Oct. 21 El Camino, 6 p.m.

Oct. 28 at Hancock, 2 p.m.

Nov. 4 Moorpark, 6 p.m.

Nov. 11 Bakersfield, 6 p.m.

Noozhawk sports writer Diego Sandoval can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter @NoozhawkSports