Mid-Season Playoff Analysis: A look at the small schools heading into Week 5

We’ve reached the middle of the high school football season in New Jersey, and it’s time to start thinking about the playoff races.

Presented by sponsor My Family Appliances on Route One South in the Wick Plaza in Edison, here’s our look at where the smaller schools stand – Groups 1 and 2 – in the chase for the postseason heading into Week Five.

But first….

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 2

The only Big Central Conference school in the North Group 2 supersection in Bernards, and the Mountaineers are in really good shape. They’re in second place overall, which means if the playoffs started today, they would be the top seed in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2.

Westwood is the overall No. 1 team at the moment, and they’d be the top seed in North 1, Group 1. Both teams are 5-0.

Caldwell (4-0) – which is on the state’s longest active winning streak, currently at 32 games – is not far behind Bernards, just 6/10 of a UPR point in back of them, while Hanover Park (4-0) in fourth is just one full point off the mark.

The Mounties’ schedule is about average for the last four games, with North Plainfield, Bound Brook, New Providence and Governor Livingston. Sure, they might have to win out to retain a top seed, but with that schedule, they should.

South Group 2

Currently, Pt. Pleasant Boro (4-0) and Rumson-Fair Haven (2-2) sit in the top two spots, with the highest-standing BCC team being New Providence checking in at No. 6. The Pioneers are 3-2 with a 6.4 UPR, and if they keep playing how they’ve been, have a really good shot at a first round home game in the playoffs. Their schedule is good, with three of the last four teams already having three or more wins (Johnson and Middlesex have three wins each, Bernards is 5-0).

Then, it’s down to 11th place for Spotswood, despite the fact the Chargers are 5-0. That’s partly a product of their schedule, which isn’t great throughout.

They already toughened up their schedule by dropping Bishop Eustace for their opener and adding Bordentown, but having Highland Park on the schedule hurt them, as does having JP Stevens on Cutoff Weekend.

Last year’s Chargers were 6-3 at the cutoff – missed the playoffs – and finished 7-3. Their losses were to Roselle Park, Johnson and Brearley. They’ve already beaten the Bears. The Panthers are this weekend and the Crusaders in two more weeks.

Win the games they should and Spotswood will be in the playoffs. Any loss along the road could make things dicey.

Delaware Valley (3-2) is right behind the Chargers, and is also a good bet to make the playoffs, though with their schedule, they should have a little more margin for error.

Can Johnson make the playoffs? Sure, why not. ALJ is 3-1, and out of the picture right now in 20th place, but they have three solid opponents the next few weeks before closing with winless South River. New Providence is this week and a road game at Spotswood comes in two weeks. Both are teams ahead of them in the standings at the moment, and even a split would do wonders for the Crusaders’ chances.

And even a loss to Hillside – which comes in the middle of those two games – would not be the end of the world. Johnson’s OSI is 36.43, and a loss to the Comets (76.25 SI) would get them 38.13 points. Inotherwords, a loss to Hillside is worth more than a win over South River.

North Group 1

Last year, Brearley held on to their standing enough to pick up a first-round home game, then hosted another thanks to a first-round upset by Kinnelon.

This year, it’s a different story for Brearley, which is 2-2, but finds itself in 15th place. There are a lot of .500 teams ahead of them, with the highest being in ninth. Again, we’re seeing the lack of small schools with quality records hurt the small schools that have playoff aspirations.

Their wins have come over Roselle Park and Dayton, a combined 2-6. The Bears might just need wins over two of their three strongest opponents remaining: South Hunterdon (4-1) this week, Middlesex and Dunellen (both 3-1) the last two weeks.

Roselle Park (2-2) is in an even worse situation than Brearley. They’re also .500, but stand in 21st place with a 21.2 UPR, 4.6 UPR points (not insurmountable) out of 16th place. Keep an eye on the Panthers here, who have an opportunity still with a huge game Friday night at home against unbeaten Spotswood (5-0), then go to Middlesex next week, and host Dunellen the week after.

South Group 1

The highest team in the standings heading into Week 5 is South Hunterdon (4-1). The Eagles are in good shape for making the playoffs, but not quite a lock for a first round home game yet.

They’ve only got three games left that count before the cutoff, with big rival New Hope-Solebury (PA) on the schedule for Cutoff Weekend. Out-of-state games don’t count for playoff calculations in either power points or OSI, so they will need to solidify their position.

One slip up the next three weeks could find the Eagles on the road in the first round of the postseason. Right behind them in eighth place is Middlesex (3-1). Their schedule is good after a home game with Belvidere this weekend, but they still will likely need to win out to clinch a top eight position and a first-round home game.

Go down to 13th place and you’ll find Manville, which is 2-3. Hard to believe that a couple of seasons ago, with six wins at the cutoff, they missed the playoffs. Here they are sub-.500 and well into the field.

We’d still consider them a bubble team for now, but at least they’re on the right side of it, with a 15.8 UPR, and 1.8 UPR points ahead of 17th place Pennsville.

A little further down is Dunellen (3-1). The Destroyers are having a nice season, and if they can stay healthy, could be a nudge in the playoffs – even more than they are to opponents in the regular season. And their schedule is strong enough that if they keep winning, they will do more than just tread water in the standings. A loss or two and they could be doing some scoreboard watching.

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