Who’s got the toughest road in the Big Central? Updated rankings based on revised slate

Sayreville celebrates after winning the North 2, Group 4 title in 2016 at Rutgers University in Piscataway. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

by Mike Pavlichko

Even though the NJSIAA state playoffs in 2020 won’t look anything like normal – if they’re even held at all – it’s still an interesting exercise to look at some of the numbers they use, like Strength Index, and what we are calling the “Preseason OSI.”

Meanwhile, the revised schedules created by the Big Central Football Conference have in some cases created big changes in the strength of schedule for some teams.

The key stats are:

  • Preseason OSI: This is the average of the Strength Index of all a team’s opponents. During the season, OSI is calculated by using the full value for a win and half for a loss. In the preseason, we use full values for all opponents to keep the numbers evenly proportioned.
  • Play Up or Down: This is how much higher or lower a team’s OSI is compared to their own Strength Index. If a team’s OSI is higher than its own SI, that means they are playing stronger opponents, or “playing up.” In a normal playoff year, playing up by a lot could get you in the postseason even with a sub-.500 record. Playing down too much might keep you out, like happened to South River in a 6-3 campaign last year. This stats says scheduling is important.
  • Change in Preseason OSI: We thought it would be good to look at OSI values we calculated back in February when the regular season was 9 games long as opposed to 6 (and an even shorter 5 for those who had Carteret or Piscataway on their schedules, unless they find replacements).

We’ll give you some of the highlights here. For a full list of rankings of Preseason OSI, Play Up or Down, and Change in Preseason OSI, scroll to the bottom of each section and download the posted PDF files.

Preseason OSI

The toughest schedule in the Big Central Conference – according to OSI – belongs to Hunterdon Central, which has a Preseason OSI of 70.41. The Red Devils were just 2-8 last year under third-year head coach and former St. Joe’s of Metuchen skipper Casey Ransone.

Following Hunterdon Central is Watchung Hills (70.14), Bridgewater-Raritan (68.75), St. Joseph-Metuchen (67.80) and Ridge (67.73). The public school with the toughest schedule is Sayreville (62.89), which checks in at 15th out of the 58 teams in the league that are playing in 2020.

The weakest schedules belonged to the six schools in “Division 1B” (no word yet on whether the Big Central will officially name the new divisions in its first season, or will wait until they’re set up they way they initially planned, if and when COIVD travel cutbacks are thrown out). Those schools include Highland Park (46.67), Dayton (43.82), New Providence (42.54), Roselle Park (41.76), Dunellen (41.46) and Brearley (39.99).

Play Up or Down

Generally speaking, most of the teams that “play up” the most are the teams with the lowest Strength Index of their own.

Now, if you only looked at one opponent, instead of a full schedule, it might tell you who would be more likely to win that game (the team with the higher SI) and by how much. For example, if Team A is 7 points higher than Team B, they might be considered a touchdown better. That’s somewhat of a negligible difference.

Highland Park plays up the most in the Big Central at +26.26. That means while their own SI is 20.41, the average SI of the teams they play (Preseason OSI) is 26.26 points higher: 46.67.

The next teams down from the Owls are JP Stevens (+20.48), Governor Livingston (+17.64), Metuchen (+48.48) and Warren Hills (+13.68).

Out of the 58 teams in the league that plan to play this year, only 10 play up more than 10 points. Only 13 play up more than 7 points.

On the “play down” side of things, it would likely be the best teams who play down the most. Essentially, the best team in the league should play down the most, since everyone else has a lower Strength Index than they do.

Hillside plays down the most at -30.54 in 2020. That means they should – on average – beat their opponents by an average of 30.54 points per game.

In 2019, Hillside went 12-0, and won the South Group 2 Regional Championship. In eight regular season games they won by an average 38.4 points per game.

By the numbers, this year’s schedule would appear a little more competitive, but they’ll still be heavy favorites over the all of their opponents.

The rest of the top five teams that play down the most include Somerville (-22.14), Brearley (-20.02), Delaware Valley (–15.22) and Union (-12.17). Only 7 teams in the Big Central played down by more than 10 points, and only 13 by more than 7.

In total, 32 of the 58 teams playing in 2020 are within an average 7 points of their opponents, which makes for a pretty balanced schedule. Any two teams within seven point of each other are basically within a touchdown of each other.

Change in Preseason OSI

One number unique to this year – we hope! – is the change in Preseason OSI: what a team’s OSI is now with the reduced schedule compared to what it should have been had this been a normal game with teams in the divisions the Big Central initially intended, and a nine-game regular season schedule.

The team that saw the biggest jump in Preseason OSI – i.e., their season got tougher – was South Hunterdon, which saw that number go up 10.84. Essentially, their opponents – on average – got a touchdown and a field goal tougher from where they were originally placed.

Rounding out the top five were Watchung Hills (+9.00), Roselle (+8.66), Belvidere (+8.59) and Johnson (+7.31). Those were the only teams whose Preseason OSI jumped by more than 7.

There were 17 teams who rose by less than 3 points (i.e., a field goal) while the same amount fell by less than 3 points. That means 34 teams saw a very minimal change in strength of schedule, suggesting the Big Central scheduled most of its teams in a comparable way.

Only four teams saw their schedule get easier by more than 7 points. They were Voorhees (-7.32), Roselle Park (-7.74), Brearley (-9.39), and North Plainfield (-11.38).

Leave a Reply