At the mid-way point of the high school season, with four more weeks of football until the playoffs are seeded, there are seven large – Group 5 or 4 schools – with a realistic shot at earning a top seed when the sectional playoffs begin the weekend of October 27th.
This is our first week of playoff projection analysis on cjsportsradio.com, presented by My Family Appliances in Edison, and we begin with a look at North and South Group 5 and 4 supersections..
With still a lot of football to be played, the analysis will be a bit more general in nature this week, but will get increasingly detailed with each passing week as the numbers come into better focus.
Playoff Qualification Primer
The NJSIAA uses the United Power Ranking (UPR) to determine where teams are seeded. Without getting into all the behind the scenes calculations and caveats, each team’s UPR is based on two factors: their rank in the supersection based on power points and on OSI.
Power points are an average and based on the traditional formula that’s been used – albeit altered from time-to-time – over the years. Teams get six points for every win, group points based on the group of the opponent, and residuals – 3 for every win by a team you beat, 1 for every win by a team you lost to.
OSI is the Opponent Strength Index, and average of all the opponents played. Teams get the full value of a team’s Strength Index for a win, half for a loss. A win over an opponent with an SI of 80 gets and 80, a loss gets you 40 points. SI varies based on results throughout the year.
Teams are ranked in each category. OSI values are worth 60 percent of the formula, power points 40 percent. That added number makes the UPR, with lower numbers better. The best UPR a team can have is a 1, which is first in both power points and OSI.
The UPR is calculated for the NJSIAA by the website Gridiron New Jersey. Central Jersey Sports Radio also does its own unofficial calculations throughout the season, and will unveil its playoff projections in our annual special broadcast, this year on Saturday, October 21 from 5-7 pm, presented by My Family Appliances in Edison.
North Group 5
There are three area teams in the top five at the moment. After Passaic Tech in first, there’s Watchung Hills second, Union third, then Union City, and Phillipsburg in fourth.
The Warriors (5-0) have a big clash at home Saturday night with Montgomery (5-0) so that could boost their power point average. Union also has a huge game at Cooke Field with Hillsborough, which just knocked off previously-undefeated P’burg Sunday in the Rumble on the Raritan at Rutgers. The Stateliners try to get back on the horse Friday against Hunterdon Central, which just took its first loss of the season Friday to Ridge.
After that, there’s a chance for a home game for Plainfield, which is 3-1 at the moment and sitting in seventh. They go out of conference Friday night with a trip to North Bergen (2-2), and have a big one with Watchung Hills next week at home before closing at Monroe and home to Franklin, two very winnable games. The Cards look like the have a shot here.
Next, you have to go down to 12th to find Westfield, whose victory over winless Scotch Plains-Fanwood Friday probably did them no favors. The good news is, they Blue Devils are 2-2 after an 0-2 start, so they’re trending in the right direction. Westfield is at St. Joseph-Metuchen Saturday afternoon.
Though they’re on the right side of it at this point, we’ll call Piscataway and Bridgewater-Raritan bubble teams for now. The Chiefs (2-3) are in 14th, while the Panthers (1-4) are in 15th. This is a danger zone, because any team with one or two wins will make big jumps if they win a third or fourth game. So, they’ll have to watch teams behind them.
Of course, winning themselves will help.
The last four games for the Chiefs are winnable, starting with Old Bridge on the road this week, then East Brunswick home on Friday, October 6th – a game you can hear on CJSR at 6 pm from Kenny Armwood Stadium. Sayreville and New Brunswick close out their schedule.
Bridgewater-Raritan has a much more difficult schedule. They’re at Ridge this week, and home to Phillipsburg the next, before Elizabeth and a road game at Old Bridge round out the slate.
South Group 5
Two area teams are in the top six here, and you need to finish in the top two to get a top seed in one of the sections, South or Central 5. North Brunswick (4-0) currently sits in fourth, with a 3.4 UPR, just one UPR point behind second-place Toms River North (4-1).
The problem for the Raiders is their schedule is not conducive to climbing up the rankings. Of the four teams remaining, two are winless (New Brunswick and East Brunswick) and Franklin (this week) and Cranford (Cutoff Weekend) each have just two wins at the moment. As far as a top-seed is concerned, there’s zero margin for error here.
Hillsborough sits in sixth at 4-1, and got a big boost with its upset win over previously-unbeaten Phillipsburg. That was 20 power points for the win, as opposed to four for a loss. They’ll have similar opportunities the next two weeks – both on the road – against Union and Hunterdon Central. And their last two home games against Somerville and Westfield won’t hurt them either. Running the table could give them a really good shot.
Hunterdon Central currently sits in eighth, and should be able to get a first round home game. Their remaining four games are a mixed bag. They should beat both Franklin and Perth Amboy to end the regular season, so a first-round playoff game (top 8 finish in the supersection) could ride on getting at least one win in the next two weeks, which includes a trip to Phillipsburg this Friday night, and a home game against Hillsborough next weekend.
South Brunswick sits in 11th, well enough inside the bubble, but also fairly likely a bottom eight finish.
On the bubble are Edison and Franklin. The Eagles are the defending Central Jersey Group 5 champs, and 2-3 at the moment. There are some winnable games on the schedule for the Eagles, including a home game with New Brunswick this Friday night.
The Warriors, however, are another story. While 2-3, their wins have come against East Brunswick and New Brunswick, opponents who are a combined 0-10. Their next three opponents – North Brunswick on the road this week and Sayreville and Hunterdon Central are a combined 11-3. So, we’ll not only see how much Franklin has improved this year, but whether a must-have win against at least one of those teams can get them in the playoffs.
North Group 4
In the top four are two Big Central teams from very competitive divisions, which explains why they’re there. Montgomery sits in third at 5-0, with a 4 UPR, two points behind second place Mount Olive. Then Ridge is right behind them – literally – with a 4.2 UPR. Northern Highlands is right behind the Red Devils with a 4.4 UPR.
This is very bunched up right now, and with a lot of football to be played, too close to call. Bottom line: Montgomery and Ridge will need to keep on winning. A loss by either team might make too high a mountain to climb to get into the top two.
Linden (4-1) has looked very good this year, and the Tigers claim seventh place this week in the UPR standings. They’ve got a reasonable schedule the rest of the way with JFK at home this week, then at Summit and Cranford before finishing at Montgomery in what could be a critical game to clinch at least a first-round home game.
Woodbridge looks like a pretty good playoff bet. The Barrons are tenth and 3-2 on the season, and Rahway – also 3-2 on the year – is right behind them. Woodbridge could have a legit shot at a top eight finish and a first round home game, Rahway a little less so, but they still have a chance with four weeks left and a good enough schedule that could give them a boost. They may have to go 3-1 the rest of the way to do it, though.
Sayreville sits in 13th, and while I wouldn’t call them a bubble team yet, the 3-2 Bombers can’t get complacent. Granted, their losses have come to Phillipsburg and North Brunswick, the only two teams that have occupied the top spot in the CJSR rankings. If Sayreville is as good as their preseason hype, they should do no worse than 3-1 the rest of the way.
Outside the bubble and a longshot to make the field is Scotch Plains-Fanwood, which is 1-4 and in 19th place. But more interesting is Colonia. The Patriots are 2-3, but all the way down in 21st place. They have a 20.2 UPR, 4.8 points out of a playoff spot. The schedule is favorable with winless North Hunterdon coming to the blue turf this week, and then a visit to 2-3 Perth Amboy next week. It could come down to the last two weeks – with home games against Summit and Rahway, two teams in the playoff field – to decide Colonia’s playoff fate.
South Group 4
While there are no Big Central teams in this section, it’s worth mentioning briefly since New Jersey now plays all the way to group champs. For now, we’ll just point out that the top two teams are Mainland (5-0) and Millville (3-1), followed by WInslow (4-1) and Brick Memorial (5-0).