With just two weeks of play left before the state playoffs are seeded, things are heating up in the playoff chase. Here’s our look at the Big Central Conference teams in playoff contention in Group 5 as we head into Week 7 of high school football around the state.
And, of course, don’t miss our “Playoff Projection Show,” scheduled for 5 pm on Saturday, October 21st, when we’ll reveal our predicted matchups and seeds for the postseason. It’s all presented by My Family Appliances of Edison, which will be giving away three $100 gift cards during the show to lucky listeners!
All our analysis is based on Gridiron New Jersey’s official playoff calculations performed for the NJSIAA and listed on their website as of 9:30 am on October 10. For full standings, click on each supersection’s header below:
2. Phillipsburg (5-1, 2.4 UPR): The Stateliners remain in the second spot this week, but their lead has slimmed a bit over the third place team, which now is Union City, just 0.8 UPR points behind. Watchung Hills is just one point back. A win at Union this weekend would help bolster their cause, but it remains to be seen if a win over East Brunswick at home on Cutoff Weekend would hurt them. The Bears – at the moment – are the second winless team on P’burg’s schedule, which otherwise has three ranked teams – Sayreville, Ridge, Hillsborough – and two others (Hunterdon Central and Union) that had been ranked in the past couple of weeks.
4. Watchung Hills (6-1, 3.4 UPR): The Warriors rebounded off their first loss of the season to Montgomery with a road win against a very good Plainfield team. Things get no easier the next two weeks, with St. Joseph-Metuchen at home, then a road game at Elizabeth – which just stunned Elizabeth for its first win – on Cutoff Weekend. There’s a slim chance that if the Warriors could win out, they could get a top two finish and a top seed, but a lot of scenarios would have to break right. We’ll have a much better idea after this weekend.
5. Union (4-3, 5.8 UPR): The Farmers held steady this week in fifth, despite the loss to previously-winless Elizabeth, but they fell one spot in OSI standing and dropped in their UPR by 0.6 points. If things go right, they could end up with a top four finish, but they would also have to pull off two huge upsets, topping No. 4 Phillipsburg at home then No. 2 Ridge on the road in successive weeks.
6. Plainfield (4-2, 6.2 UPR): The Cardinals are a good example of what playing a strong schedule does. Despite their loss to Watchung Hills last Saturday, they gained 0.4 UPR points and moved from seventh place to sixth in the standings. Two teams (5-2 Montclair and 3-4 Clifton) are right behind them, within one UPR point, so there could be some movement there, but it looks like the Cardinals won’t finish in the top four, which only guarantees them a first-round home game.
10. Westfield (3-3, 11.4 UPR): The Blue Devils had a big win over Somerville Saturday, and climbed up five points in the standings in the process. We called them a bubble team last week, but no more. And with two challenging games remaining, we’re not even sure going 0-2 the rest of the way – with a loss to Ridge at home this week and Hillsborough on the road next week – can keep them from the postseason. We’re calling Westfield in, clinching a berth with their win against the Pioneers.
15. Piscataway (4-3, 15.2): Another example of how your schedule affects your standing, PIscataway dropped in UPR to 15.2 (by 0.2 points) and fell a spot from 14 to 15 this week with a victory over winless East Brunswick. The last two weeks, the news is a mixed bag. The Chiefs host a huge game this weekend with old GMC rival Sayreville (Friday night at 6 on CJSR – click here to listen) that they very well may need to make the playoffs, because their season finale against currently winless New Brunswick isn’t going to help them either. That would make it two winless teams and two two-win teams (Franklin and Monroe) killing their schedule. So it makes this Friday night uber-important.
17. Bridgewater-Raritan (1-6, 16.6 UPR): The Panthers are a win shy of the minimum wins required by the NJSIAA (2) to make the playoffs, but if they get one at this point, it will give them a huge jump against the six losses they have, even if it does come against one-win Elizabeth and/or two-win Old Bridge. They might need to win both, they might need to win just one, depending on what the teams around them do. We’ll have a better idea after next week.
4. Hillsborough (6-1, 3.8 UPR): Thanks to No. 1 Cherokee and No. 2 Toms River North continuing to win – and even Marlboro, which has won its first division title since 1994 – it doesn’t look like the Raiders have a shot at a top four seed. The likely scenario is they finish fourth – giving them a two seed in whatever section they land – assuming they can close out the season with two wins over Somerville and Westfield. And both of them are at home.
5. North Brunswick (6-0, 5.2 UPR): Ah, the schedule. A road trip to winless East Brunswick this weekend may not hurt their cause much, but won’t help them either. The Raiders already dropped a spot from fifth last week to sixth this week, but with a win over the Bears – and another next week at home to Cranford – North Brunswick may be able to keep from dropping further, depending what everyone else does. As long as the Raiders don’t lose to East Brunswick, we’ll assume they start the playoffs at Steve Libro Field.
9. Hunterdon Central (4-3, 10 UPR): Here’s the benefit of a good schedule: despite a third straight loss, the Red Devils didn’t drop this week in the standings, though their UPR did go from a 9.6 to a 10, showing a fall of one ranking spot in power points. They are 0.8 UPR points behind eighth-place Atlantic City (6-1, 9.2 UPR). Can they finish in the top eight and get a first round home game? It might be doubtful, considering they visit Franklin this week and host Perth Amboy the next, a significant drop in their schedule from the likes of Ridge, Phillipsburg and Hillsborough the past three weeks.
12. South Brunswick (4-3, 10.8): If you figured this out and looked at the math, yes, the Vikings are just 0.8 UPR points behind Hunterdon Central, but three places back. IN fact, there are five teams within 1.6 UPR points of each other, from Atlantic City to Hunterdon Central, Kingsway, Freehold Township and South Brunswick. It just means anything can happen in the middle of the pack here, but we still think the Vikes end up in the bottom eight and playing on the road in the first round.
18. Old Bridge (2-5, 19.8): For the Knights, 32. UPR points is a tough hill to climb. They’ve won two of their last three – albeit against East Brunswick and Monroe – and visit New Brunswick this week (0-7) and host Bridgewater-Raritan next week (currently 1-6). We don’t think it’s enough to move the needle, unless the Knights get a lot of help, but it’s tough to tell if it’s possible until the Strength Index numbers lock next week and we know for sure how much each game is ultimately worth.
19. Edison (3-4, 20.2 UPR): Despite being a spot below the Knights, the Eagles have an extra win, and have a better shot at making the postseason a year after winning their first sectional title since 1991. Now, they might have to beat St. Thomas Aquinas to get in, but we’ll see. Assuming they beat South Brunswick this weekend, Edison would be a very good playoff candidate with a victory over the Trojans. A loss – even with the multiplier – might leave them in 17th, and then it depends what teams like Howell, Southern, Williamstown and even Old Bridge might do. Some of that help could come this week, so again, the picture will be clearer after this weekend.