Tag: playoffs

Group 5 playoff analysis: Phillipsburg and North Brunswick hold top spots overall in North and South, but will it hold?

With the second half of the high school football season officially kicking off this weekend, it’s time to examine the playoff races with a closer eye. Here’s a look at where the Big Central teams in Group 5 North and South stand, using official standings calculated by Gridiron New Jersey.

NORTH 5 (Click here for official standings)

There’s little surprise here that Phillipsburg, which has established itself as one of the top teams in the state this year, is leading the pack in the supersection. In fact, they have the top OSI in all of Group 5. Only Cherokee has a better power point average, but that’s because they have played two multipliers already, Holy Spirit and St. Augustine. (More on that when we get to South 5).

The Stateliners are 4-0 with a UPR of 1, OSI 74.01 and an 18.5 power point average. Right behind them is Ridgewood, also 4-0, UPR 2, OSI 70.13 and an 18.25 power point average. Should they keep winning, P’burg should be able to hold on to at least one of the top two spots. The ‘Liners and Maroons are the only undefeated teams in the section. The schedule is favorable, having played their first four games all against ranked teams (Sayreville is 8th, Ridge has been previously ranked, North Hunterdon is 10th and Hillsborough is 5th). The last four are at Hunterdon Central, home to Bridgewater-Raritan and Union, before closing at East Brunswick on the Friday of Cutoff Weekend.

That’s could be a good news/bad news scenario for the Stateliners – or maybe not – when it comes to the overall No. 1 seed. Ridgewood’s first four games were weaker than P’burg’s. Their next three opponents (Eastside Paterson, Wayne Hills and Montclair) are all 2-2, while Ramapo is 4-0. If both teams win out, it’ll come down to who has the stronger schedule the rest of the way.

The next Big Central teams down the list, after Passaic Tech third and Clifton fourth are Westfield in fifth (3-2, 5.8 UPR) and Watchung Hills (3-2, 6.6 UPR) in sixth. With a decent gap between them and the number nine teams Morristown and Bridgewater-Raritan, with 10.6 UPRs – following Union City and West Orange – if the Blue Devils and Warriors keep winning, they will likely finish in the top eight, which would guarantee at least a first-round home game. A top-four seed could be in play as well, depending on how well they do down the stretch, and if any of the teams above them slip.

Bridgewater-Raritan is having the epitome of an up and down season; at 2-3 they’ve yet to win back-to-back games. To get to a first-round home game, they’d have to string a couple of wins together. They have Ridge, then visit Phillipsburg and Elizabeth, before a Cutoff Weekend home matchup with Old Bridge.

Speaking of which, Elizabeth – on the strength of Saturday’s massive win over St. Joseph-Metuchen – jumped from 16th to 11th in the standings, now with a UPR of 10.8. At 1-3, a few wins in a row would boost them even further. The Minutemen have a shot, with Somerville this weekend, then at Union, Bridgewater-Raritan home, then a Cutoff Weekend Friday night visit to Watchung Hills. All of those teams have Strength Index values well above their current OSI, so anything would be a big boost.

Union and Piscataway are in the last two playoff spots at the moment.

The Farmers are 15th at 1-3 with a 15.4 UPR. But, remember: a minimum two wins are needed to make the playoffs, so even if they finished there, they would still need to win one more game to even be eligible. Union has games at Hillsborough, home to Elizabeth, at Phillipsburg and home to Ridge – a tough slate.

The Chiefs are 2-2 and in 16th place. They have a decent schedule upcoming: Old Bridge this Friday, followed by road games at East Brunswick and Sayreville, then home to New Brunswick in a game originally scheduled for Friday night of cutoff weekend, but which has been moved to Saturday afternoon.

Both teams will have to win a few, and try to hold off the teams behind them.

SOUTH 5 (Click here for officials standings)

North Brunswick is now at the top of the pile in the supersection, breaking a previous tie with Toms River North, which – of all things – had at least something to do with Cherokee leading – by a wide margin – the power point rankings, due to the new double-multiplier rule this year; two are allowed by the NJSIAA, and the Chiefs took full advantage with Holy Spirit and St. Augustine on the schedule.

The Raiders are 4-0, with a 1.4 UPR, a full point ahead of Toms River North (5-0). But whether their strength of schedule is good enough the rest of the way to hold onto that spot is another story. Their next three opponents – Franklin, New Brunswick and East Brunswick, are a combined 1-12, which does no favors for their power point average. It’s an 18.25, but right now, Franklin and East Brunswick are only worth 11; New Brunswick is worth 14.

Cherokee – at just 2-2 – is in third (UPR 2.8) – with Hillsborough alone in fourth, despite a loss to Phillipsburg last Friday night. Those Raiders are still a pretty good bet for a top-four seed, which would guarantee home field through at least the sectional semifinals, as long as they get back to their winning ways. Their schedule is strong enough, at least from a Strength Index perspective, that they could make a push forward, with Union, Hunterdon Central, Somerville and Westfield ahead.

It’s a long trip down to the next Big Central team, with Washington Township in fifth, followed by Rancocas Valley, Kingsway, Atlantic City, Marlboro, Southern and Lenape. Then, three BCC teams: Edison 12th (3-2, UPR 13), South Brunswick 13th (2-2, UPR 13.6) and Old Bridge 14th (3-2, UPR 13.8). Those teams all could go truly any which way. A top-eight seed and a first-round playoff game would be a challenge; it’s highly unlikely all three could end up there, anyway. They could get close, but any of them could also miss the playoffs if they don’t win some games down the stretch.

And then there’s Hunterdon Central. The Red Devils are seeking their first playoff berth since 2018, when they bowed out in the opening round to 5th-seed Manalapan. At 2-3, they have a 16.4 UPR, one point behind the two teams tied for 15th – Cherry Hill East and Howell – with 15.4 UPRs each. Central is a bubble team right now, just on the outside looking in. If they could pick up a win the next two weeks – either this Friday night at Stewart Field against top-ranked Phillipsburg, or next Friday night at Hillsborough – then take care of business the last two weeks with wins at home against Franklin and at Perth Amboy, the Red Devils should be in. Going 2-2 with wins in those last two games may not be enough.

Group 4 playoff analysis: North Hunterdon leads BCC teams packed tightly behind them

As we head into the final four weeks of the regular season before Cutoff Weekend in high school football, it’s time to start taking a closer look at the race for the playoffs. Here’s a look at Group 4; note that we only give a detailed breakdown of the North section since South 4 doesn’t include any teams from the Big Central Conference, the only such supersection in the state.

NORTH 4 (Click here for official standings)

Ramapo is the leader in this section, with Randolph right behind, but both UPRs are in the twos (2.2 for Ramapo, 2.4 for Randolph). That oddity is because while they are 1-and-2 in OSI, Ramapo is fourth in power points, while Randolph is third. (OSI weighs 60%, power points 40% in the state UPR formula).

The highest Big Central team is North Hunterdon in fifth, and there are a bunch of league teams sort of right behind them, and they play two of the three in the next couple of weeks. The Lions have a 5.6 UPR, followed by Wayne Valley (5.8) and Colonia (6.6). Rahway is eighth with a 9 UPR, and Montgomery – with a 10 UPR – is in tenth, followed by Sayreville (10.4 UPR).

That’s a fairly good-sized gap in the middle of the pack. It essentially means that the top seven teams are all tightly packed in the top of the power point and OSI standings; i.e. there’s no team in the top seven that’s very high (say, fourth) in one and very low (say, 12th) in the other.

North Hunterdon can really solidify things and maybe make a run at a top-four seed (and home field through the sectional semifinals) with wins the next two weeks. They host Colonia Friday night – where Central Jersey Sports Radio will have live updates during the Sayreville at East Brunswick game, which kicks off at 7:00 – and next week, North Hunterdon travels to Montgomery.

Now back to that gap: it’s a lot to make up, and if nobody can do it, we’ll have Rahway, Monty, Sayreville, Chatham and maybe more battling it out for that eighth spot, which means a first-round home playoff game.

Ridge in 14th is a good bet to make the playoffs, but Linden in 15th is a little more on the bubble, but at least on the good side.

Woodbridge, however, at 1-4, is in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2018. They are in 18th, with a 17.4 UPR. They may need to run the table, which would include not only winning at Perth Amboy this weekend and beating in-town rival JFK at home next week, but then winning out in Clinton over North Hunterdon on October 14th, and beating Sayreville at home on the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend.

Put it this way: for the Barrons, the playoffs start now.

SOUTH 4 (Click here for official standings)

Again, there are no Big Central teams here, but with the NJSIAA going to group finals for the first-time ever this year, it warrants a brief look.

The top two teams here are Middletown South (3-1) and Millville (2-1). They might not be were it not for the multiplier effect, as Middletown South lost to Red Bank Catholic – and still has Donovan Catholic later on. Millville beat St. Augustine two weeks ago.

There’s only one undefeated team in this section: 4-0 Pennsauken, in 6th place right now, with a 7.2 UPR. Their power point total is what hurts them

Group 3 playoff analysis: Somerville needs some wins, and badly, while Cranford battles for a home game

With the midway point of the high school football season upon us, we start to take a closer look at playoff standing and the chase for the postseason, with Cutoff Weekend just four weeks away. Below is a look at Group 3:

NORTH (Click here for official standings)

Defending North 3 Regional Champion West Morris remains the class of the section this year, as the Wolfpack sit 5-0, with a UPR of 1.0, and Old Tappan behind them with a 2.4 UPR. Two undefeated teams lie ahead, both 4-0 at the moment: Morris Knolls this Friday night, and Randolph on the road two weeks later.

Cranford – which won the North 2, Group 3 section last year, but lost to West Morris in the regional final at Met Life Stadium – is the highest-ranked Big Central team here, at 2-2. They have wins over Summit and Woodbridge, with losses to North Hunterdon and St. Thomas Aquinas. If those schools continue to have good years, it will bode well for Cranford, with the goal here to earn at least a first-round playoff game, which necessitates a top eight finish.

They visit Rahway this Friday, which just took its first loss of the season Saturday on Central Jersey Sports Radio, 20-0 to winless Summit. That’s a big game, and then there’s a huge one cutoff weekend at home against North Brunswick. Should they beat the Raiders, that could seal the deal.

To find the next team in the section, you need to go all the way down to No. 17 to find Summit, a full UPR point behind Wayne Hills, with a 15.6 UPR. The Hilltoppers’ win over Rahway could be a turning point for the season, with winnable games against Scotch Plains-Fanwood (2-2) and Linden (1-3) the next two weeks before facing some of the big boys – Colonia (5-0) and St. Joseph-Metuchen (3-1) – the last two weeks.

After an 0-2 start, which has hurt them, Governor Livingston has all of a sudden won three straight. But they’re in 21st place, and the Highlanders have a tough schedule the rest of the way, though. South Plainfield, Carteret, South River and Bernards are a combined 14-4. The good news is this: beating those good teams will boost their chances a lot.

SOUTH (Click here for official standings)

This is a playoff section where – for the last several years, it’s been Somerville mostly trying to get over the hump to earn a top-seed despite their weak schedule. And more often than not, there was nothing they could do about except win and hope for the best.

That will be the thinking again this year, but that’s just to make the playoffs. After five straight playoff appearances (not counting 2020 where there were no playoffs) with one title and three finals berths, the Pioneers are in drastic danger of snapping that string under first-year head coach Ian Pace.

They sit in 23rd place, with a 22.2 UPR, ironically right behind Camden East Side (nee Woodrow Wilson), the team they lost to in their last finals appearance, in 2019. They will have to make up oodles of ground to get into the top 16, with Manasquan holding that last playoff position with four weeks to go, with a 16.8 UPR.

The good news is that if Somerville can get it in gear, their tough schedule will help it immensely. They play five Group 5 schools to finish the regular season, starting this weekend at Elizabeth, which just knocked off St. Joe’s in Metuchen Saturday afternoon for its first win of the season. Then, they have Westfield and Hillsborough at home before closing on the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend at South Brunswick. All will boost their power points and OSI – if they can beat them.

The highest-ranekd team here is South Plainfield in ninth, as Bill Hamilton has the Tigers 4-0 in his second season as head coach. Can they crack the top eight to earns first-round home playoff game? Too early to say, as their schedule the rest of the way is a bit weak after a Saturday afternoon road game at resurgent Governor Livingston. That’s the best team left on their schedule, with a road game at Voorhees the next week, followed by Perth Amboy at home and Monroe on the road.

Want a shot at a home game? GL is a must win.

Carteret is also having a fine season. Kevin Freeman’s squad is 4-1, their lone loss to South Plainfield, and they sit in 13th. Considering that among the teams behind them are Manasquan (0-3) and Triton (1-3) and the minimum number of wins to make the playoffs is two this season (up from one last year) it would appear Carteret, should they continue their excellent play this year, is a good bet to make the playoffs, and end up on the road in the first round. Next up is Group 5 JP Stevens in Edison this Friday night, the third Group 5 team they’ll play this year. (They’ve already beaten Perth Amboy and Plainfield.)

Group 2 playoff analysis: Bernards benefits from big win at Del Val, while Terriers drop

With high school football season at its midway point, it’s time to start taking a look at the playoff picture, with Cutoff Weekend just four weeks away. Here’s a look at Group 2 teams in the Big Central Conference, and where they stand:

NORTH (Click here for official standings)

The only Big Central team here is Bernards, whose game Friday night at Delaware Valley was billed as a boon for whoever won. It was the Mountaineers, 17-14, and they jumped from eighth place to third with the victory over the Terriers; it was a solid Strength Index and power points game. OSI went from 49.01 to 53.52, while power point average climbed from 10.75 to 12.80. That puts them behind leader Westwood (4-0, 1.6 UPR) and Caldwell, owner of the state’s longest winning streak, now at 19, dating back to their last three games of 2020.

Caldwell may not lose again this year, and the SI of their last four opponents are all 67 or higher. Bernards, on the other hand, has winless North Plainfield and Bound Brook, plus Governor Livingston and New Providence. The Highlanders have won three straight since starting 0-2. If they can continue that run, it’ll help the Mountaineers.

We don’t think they’re a solid top four team yet – which would mean they’d be a 2-seed in either section and guaranteed home field at least through the sectional semifinals – but if they run the table, they at least have a shot at it. It depends who can come up from behind on them. Bernards has a 3.6 UPR, but at 3.8, Ramsey (4-0) is right behind them. Rutherford, though, in fifth, is a healthy 2.8 UPR points behind Bernards.

SOUTH (Click here for official standings)

Little surprise here that Rumson-Fair Haven is in familiar territory, atop the supersection. It could be surprising when you look at their 2-2 record, until you realize one of those losses is to a multiplier, in Donovan Catholic. And since they also play Red Bank Catholic – another multiplier – on cutoff weekend, well, you can just sew it up right now for the Bulldogs. (Is that fair? Definitely not, but that’s a rant for another time.)

The highest-ranked team here is Delaware Valley, which dropped from third to tenth after Friday night’s home loss to Bernards, its first of the season, leaving them 3-1 on the year. And they’ve still got Hillside to go, with the Comets’ powerful run game. Likely bet that the Terriers will make the playoffs, barring a collapse, but they may be hard-pressed to get a first-round playoff game out of it – unless they can knock off Hillside, Saturday afternoon road game the week before Cutoff Weekend, October 15th.

Johnson is right behind Del Val, at 4-0, having a nice year so far, with a UPR of 11, one full point behind the Terriers, who have a 10 UPR. They’re at New Providence this Friday night, with the Pioneers in 14th with a UPR of 15. That’s a big game for either team, and a loss could relegate whoever’s on the short end of the stick to bubble status, though likely on the inside – and it’s more harmful to New Providence than the Crusaders.

Dayton is in a 16th place tie for the final playoff spot with Haddon Heights. The Bulldogs are 2-2, while the Garnets are 3-1, both with 16.6 UPRs. Dayton will need to keep winning, and have a middle of the road schedule the rest of the way.

They play their next three on the road, and the games get progressively tougher – at Highland Park this Friday night, at Spotswood the following Saturday, and at South Hunterdon on Friday, the 14th – before coming home to face Metuchen the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend. They might have to win out.

The next question is: What about Spotswood? The Chargers are 4-1, their best start since 2016. Can they pick up enough power points and OSI value to get in, even if they go 4-0? The jury is still out and it’s probably too early to tell. JP Stevens is their final opponent – yes, Group 5 JP Stevens – and that will at least soften the blow from the Hawks not having won a game yet this season. (They’ve lost 27 straight, in fact, the second longest streak in New Jersey at the moment.)

Will it be enough? Stay tuned.

View Post

South River – despite a 2-2 mark – sits in 24th place, and would be hard-pressed to make a dent. Then again, their last three games are at Delaware Valley and Governor Livingston, then home to Johnson. Should they win at least two of those, maybe – maybe – they have a shot. Check back in a couple of weeks.

Group 1 playoff analysis: Manville stays near the top after blanking South Hunterdon

At the midway point of the season, it’s time to start honing in on the playoff picture, with just four weeks to go before the state cutoff for public schools. We begin our analysis with Group One.

SOUTH (Click here for official standings)

Manville didn’t move an inch in either direction in the South Group 1 UPR standings after a huge 13-0 shutout win at home over South Hunterdon Friday night, but it still helped them immensely.

After missing the playoffs with a 6-2 record at the cutoff last year – and a late loss to Metuchen hurting their cause – the Mustangs are looking solid in a bid to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Manville remains in fourth place, 4-1, with a UPR of 3.6. With the 16th place team having a 16.2 UPR, we think the Mustangs may have locked up a playoff berth with the win, providing they take care of business the rest of the way. And they should; of their next four opponents, Dunellen (on the road Friday night) is the only one with any wins this season (2-2). The remaining three – Belvidere, Highland Park, and on the road at Bound Brook, in that order – all are winless in 2022.

Even with an inexplicable loss to one of those clubs, Manville should still make the playoffs, but should they run the table, it’s a pretty safe bet the Mustangs will open the playoffs at home.

Woodbury is the top team in the supersection, followed by Salem. It’s unlikely Manville would catch either, based on their schedule, and they could slip a bit the next few weeks depending on what teams around them do, and what their schedules look like. For example, the teams ahead of them may have tougher schedules, but they also may be more likely to lose a game than Manville.

The picture will become clearer in a few weeks.

South Hunterdon drops one spot to 9th with the loss. And a defeat to a good team like Manville (or if the Mustangs had lost to the Eagles) actually would do less to hurt them than a loss to lesser teams, which is why the drop wasn’t more precipitous.

But South Hunterdon has a stronger schedule, and only three games left, starting with a road game in Kenilworth against undefeated Brearley this Friday. That’s two big ones in a row for South Hunterdon. (More on Brearley when we look at North 1.)

Middlesex is a bubble team at this point, checking in at 15, with a 16.2 UPR after a 43-42 overtime win over Dunellen. Behind them is Pitman at 16 with a 16.2 UPR and Palmyra with a 16.4 UPR in 17th place.

NORTH (Click here for official standings)

There are a lot of good teams at the top of this supersection, with five undefeated squads among the top seven. From the top down, it’s Mountain Lakes and Wood-Ridge in the top two spots, both 4-0, followed by a pair of Cedar Grove (4-1), Park Ridge (3-1) and another 4-0 team, Waldwick, in fifth.

Brearley is in 6th, also with a 4-0 mark, tied with Weequahic out of Newark with a 5.8 UPR. The South Hunterdon game is critical this Friday night because it’s the best remaining team on their schedule, with a 63.56 Strength Index value.

This week’s opponent for the Bears, Highland Park (0-5), is down to 18.9 in the Strength Index (but NJSIAA rules set a minimum 20 pts for OSI calculation), so even a win their will cause Brearley’s 46.3 OSI to drop. Assuming they get at least 20 for beating the Owls, they will drop to a 41.04 this week (pending the change in value of other teams they’ve played).

Week 3 Playoff Chase Breakdown: Multiplier having an early effect in some sections

Once again, come Sunday afternoon, the website Gridiron New Jersey posted its Week 3 UPR standings, updating how the race for the playoffs looks after three or four weeks of play – depending on who began Week Zero.

Gridiron is the official calculator of the playoff formula for the NJSIAA, and the process is much more streamlined this year with games against non-NJSIAA member schools (i.e., out-of-state, or prep schools) not counting toward win-loss record, power points or OSI as far as playoff qualification.

A full look at the UPR standings can be found here.

Continue reading “Week 3 Playoff Chase Breakdown: Multiplier having an early effect in some sections”

As Gridiron New Jersey releases its first UPR standings of the year, we take an all-too-early look at what it means

We’re only halfway to the halfway point of the regular season in high school football, and the numbers are going to change a lot – trust us! – but Gridiron New Jersey is out with the state’s UPR standings after Week Two of play around the Garden State.

Gridiron is the official calculator of the playoff formula for the NJSIAA, and the process is much more streamlined this year with games against non-NJSIAA member schools (i.e., out-of-state, or prep schools) not counting toward win-loss record, power points or OSI as far as playoff qualification.

A full look at the UPR standings can be found here.

Continue reading “As Gridiron New Jersey releases its first UPR standings of the year, we take an all-too-early look at what it means”

NJSIAA selects Franklin and Cherokee as sites for first-ever football Group Semifinals

Franklin High School in Somerset County and Cherokee High School down in Camden County will be the two sites for football’s NJSIAA Public Group Semifinals in 2022, the round leading up to the stat’s first-ever Public Group Finals take place in December.

The NJSIAA updated its website in the last week or so (it doesn’t issue press releases on site selections) to reflect the designation of the two locations, which will host state semifinal games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 18th through the 20th.

Since 2018 – with the exception of the 2020 COVID season where no playoffs were held – the NJSIAA had expanded playoffs, ending with a “regional championship.” It was essentially a state semifinal in each group but without a state final.

But last June, member schools overwhelmingly approved a plan to play to Group Championships, like every other sport, starting this season.

Continue reading “NJSIAA selects Franklin and Cherokee as sites for first-ever football Group Semifinals”

Out-of-state games may not count for anything, but they could affect playoff standing

One of the many tweaks to the NJSIAA’s playoff system for 2022 is the new rule about out-of-state games: they won’t count this year – at all.

That’s not entirely true; they will count toward the maximum number of games a team can play in a regular season. For public schools, that’s nine, including Thanksgiving. For non-publics, they’re allowed ten since they start the playoffs one week later this year.

But that’s it:

To put it succinctly, “For lack of a better term, it’s an exhibition game, as in every other NJSIAA sport,” says New Jersey Football Coaches’ Association Commissioner John Jacob.

What does that mean? A win or loss will certainly count toward a team’s official record, but as far as they playoffs go, it means nothing.

The change will affect not just those who play out-of-state teams, but their New Jersey opponents as well.

A team that plays an out-of-state (OOS) opponent will not get any power points or OSI value from the win. That won’t necessarily hurt them as it would have in the past because power points are no longer a running total; they’re an average, just as OSI is. Counting only seven of eight games doesn’t necessarily give a team a disadvantage. All it does is give them one less chance to increase their average. Then again, a loss could lower a team’s average. This way, there’s no gain, and no loss.

The only way it could significantly hurt a team is with the new minimum win rule to make the playoffs, which was increased to two this year. Now, a 2-6 team that has one of its wins against an OOS opponent is 1-6 in the eyes of the NJSIAA, and wouldn’t make the playoffs. Of course, one could argue a 1-6 team doesn’t belong in the playoffs anyway.

One person it will benefit is Jon Fass at Gridiron New Jersey, who’s website calculates the official playoff standings for the NJSIAA. That’s because finding the right numbers for out-of-state opponents is time consuming, and even then, not always accurate.

For power points, an OOS opponent’s group size has to be determined, and that number isn’t generally publicly available as for all other NJSIAA schools.

But at least that number can be found out. Strength Index provides even more of a challenge.

Other states don’t use Strength Index, a uniquely New Jersey thing. So the formula the last few years was to find the OOS in the national MaxPreps rankings, then find the closest NJSIAA school. If the game was on the road for the New Jersey team, the closest NJSIAA school above it in the rankings was chosen – the perception that it would be more of a challenge – and their SI value used to determine the OSI value. For a home games versus an OOS school, the closest NJSIAA school below them in the MaxPreps rankings was used. And since MaxPreps uses a completely different mathematical formula, the SI values didn’t always correspond. The next school above or below the OOS opponent might not be anywhere near each other in SI value.

Got a headache yet?

Now, let’s go back to how the NJSIAA doesn’t recognzie that out-of-state win. What about the team that plays a team that plays an OOS opponent?

They won’t get any residuals from that win, since that win didn’t count for playoff qualification.

There are eleven games this year where a public school will play an OOS team (we won’t count non-public since those playoff sections are seeded by committee, and not solely by UPR). One involves a Big Central team, so we’ll use that real life example.

South Hunterdon will play its annual rivalry game with New Hope/Solebury (PA) for the first time since 2017 when they square off on Friday night, in Week Zero. They have seven more games before the cutoff. Their opponents the rest of the year – Roselle Park, Belvidere, Middlesex, Manville, Brearley, Dunellen, and Dayton – will only get residuals from those seven.

If this was 2021, those opponents – only getting residuals from the Eagles’ first seven games – would have gotten residuals from New Hope through the Dunellen game. Now they get Roselle Park through Dayton: South Hunterdon’s last seven games, since the first one “doesn’t count.”

That could affect those teams negatively or positively, depending on if South Hunterdon wins or loses that opener. But, it’s an important distinction to make when figuring out power points and OSI.

There is one Big Central team, however, that could get hurt significantly by this. Somerville opens its first year under new head coach Ian Pace with Mastery HS of Camden, a charter school playing its first varsity season of football. (Mastery operates two dozen charter schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia.) Mastery only plays two New Jersey schools – Lakewood and another charter playing its first season, KIPP Cooper Norcross, also out of Camden.

This means Somerville can only gain, at best, six residuals with a win over Mastery. Also, since it’s their first year of football, they will start with a base Strength Index of 20. With only three NJ schools on the schedule, their SI will probably go up. Somerville is a 75.37, so unless the Pioneers win by 55, Mastery will go up. Lakewood is a 47.18, so that one could go either way. And KIPP will start at 20, so it’s the same deal there.

Bottom line: Somerville will be hurt here. Then again, they play in a very tough division, and that could make up for it.

Some Big Central teams will have a tougher road than others to the playoffs in ’23

Back in the days when power points themselves were simpler, and the only method the NJSIAA used for playoff seeding, there would always be some six-win team that could make a case to get in the playoffs over a four-win team. In 2017, 5-3 Linden missed the playoffs, while Columbia – 0-8 at the cutoff – made it in, thanks to a multiplier.

And even now, with power points more complicated, and OSI added in, there’s controversy. Manville didn’t make the playoffs last year at 6-2, when a Cutoff Weekend loss to Metuchen cost them a playoff spot, meaning the Mustangs would have had to 7-1 to make the playoffs.

This can happen when teams don’t play a strong enough schedule. That was the case with Manville. Meanwhile, other teams could win three games and get in.

And even the NJSIAA adopting a new rule that playoff teams must have a minimum of two wins to qualify (though some coaches and ADs pushed for three) may not be enough.

Over the last few days, we’ve looked at Big Central Strength Index ratings, as well as all 59 teams’ strength of schedule, based on the SI rating of their opponents. We can use that data to determine how many wins a team might need to make the playoffs.

We did this last year, and of the 58 public school teams in the BCC last year, our projections held true for all but three of them.

How did we do it? We took the minimum and maximum OSI each team could get in a year – for going winless or undefeated – and averaged the difference. If a team with eight games could average a 64 OSI for going unbeaten, and a 32 OSI for going winless, that’s a difference of 32. That means each game on average is worth eight points.

Those numbers can change throughout the season, as opponents’ SI numbers go up or down, but generally, they’re fairly accurate because, on average, some teams will go up, some will go down. Unless a whole division is much improved, or entirely down for the year, it often comes close to a wash in the end.

But how many wins would you need to make the playoffs?

We looked at the highest OSI team to miss the playoffs, then took the next team above that which was in the playoffs, and set that as the target goal for OSI. If that team we described above was in a section last year where no one below a 43 missed the playoffs, we could figure they’d probably need just two wins to make the playoffs, three for a lock. Going winless would give them about a 32 OSI, one win would give them 40, two would give them 48, well over the 43 “minimum.”

This is impossible to do with power points because we don’t know what the records of a team’s opponents will be. It’s a much more imperfect science than using SI and OSI, which – after being used in 2019 and 2021 – is a pretty useful – and accurate – tool.

The first year with OSI in use was 2019, after the controversial and failed Born Power Index in 2018. With no playoffs in 2020, OSI was only used again in 2021. So we only have two years of data to work with. But we decided to average the minimum OSI from the last two playoff seasons this year to get the target number.

Back to our predictions last year: in 2021, we were right on 55 of the 58 teams qualifying or not qualifying the playoffs. That is to say, if we said a team needed four wins to make the playoffs, most of those type teams who won only three games didn’t, and those that won more than four often made it. (Technically, 53 of the 58 were accurate, but that was only because Scotch Plains-Fanwood – which made it – was ineligible, and Montgomery – which didn’t make the cut mathematically – took the Raiders’ place).

So, for this year, here are the averages, the minimum OSI we think a team needs to make the playoffs.

  • North 5 – 38.81
  • South 5 – 42.91
  • North 4 – 42.95
  • South 4 – 41.34
  • North 3 – 42.01
  • South 3 – 40.61
  • North 2 – 40.46
  • South 2 – 37.98
  • North 1 – 35.36
  • South 1 – 35.21

Note that North 5 having a 38.81 minimum and South 5 having a 42.91 minimum doesn’t necessarily mean the North playoff teams were better. It just means North 5 playoff teams the last two years generally played tougher schedules. They also may have won closer games (because beating a team by more points drives the opponent’s SI down, thus driving down your own OSI.

Based on the above numbers, our projection is that a team in North 5 would need at least a 38.81 OSI to make the playoffs. That’s the two-season average. It was 40.21 in 2021 (based on 2019 playoff numbers, and they may have been higher because 2019 preseason numbers were based ont the final 2018 Born Power Index numbers) and 37.42 last year; next year, we’ll have three years of OSI to work from.

So, let’s pick a team. Elizabeth has an eight game schedule, with an estimated – because the numbers will change throughout the year – maximum OSI of 64.98 (if they go 8-0) and an estimated minimum of 32.49. Each win with worth about 4.06 OSI points.

One win would get them to 36.55. Two would get them to 40.61. Since the minimum we estimate at 38.81, we would predict that Elizabeth could get in the playoffs with just two wins. Three would give them 44.67. We think three wins would make them a lock. Last year, that would have put them at tenth in the playoff standings.

In actuality, the Minutemen went 3-5 at the cutoff, and made the playoffs, seeded 14th overall. We predicted three wins would get them in and that four would be a lock. They got in with three.

Let’s look at a middle group team: Cranford in North 3. We say 42.01 would be the minimum OSI, which they would also surpass with three wins. The defending North 2, Group 3 champions lose a lot from last year, but we project would be a playoff team with as little as three wins.

The difficulty is that the Big Central doesn’t have a lot of strong small schools, and that makes it difficult for small schools in the league to make the playoffs. For a school like Manville – a Group 1 – its peers are Highland Park, Dunellen, Metuchen. The first two are on their schedule, but overall it’s tougher this year, which could be a good thing – though Manville lost a lot as well.

And believe it or not, Manville is playing just about even against opponents; the average SI of the teams they play is about the same, within a point. But Manville was a 41.07 SI last year, and with a 6-2 season, upped that to 48.84 this season. They got better, and so did their opponents, by about a touchdown.

So, how many wins would the Mustangs need?

In South 1 they would need a 35.21 OSI, averaging out the last two playoff season minimums. With each game worth about 3.01 points, counting up from a winless OSI of 24.10: One win gets them 27.11, two gives them 30.12, three gives them 33.13, four wins gives them 36.14. We think they need four wins to get in, or at least be on the bubble. Five would put the Mustangs at 39.16, a virtual shoo-in.

In that way, we think the Big Central did a good job in Manville’s division and their schedule.

Last year, we predicted they would need an OSI of 37.33. To get that, they would have needed eight wins to get them over the hump. Turns out they would have needed 35.21. They finished 21st – five places out of a playoff spot – with 6 wins and a 29.73 OSI. The loss to Metuchen was the dagger. Seven wins might have made it. Eight likely would have been a lock.

That said, below are all our projections for how many games all 57 public schools in the Big Central (non-publics are seeded by committee) would need to win to make the playoffs:

A few notes and thoughts on our projections:

The Target OSI is the number below above which no team missed the playoffs. Anyone getting having an OSI of that value or better over the last two years, on average, made the playoffs in that specific supersection. The “Closest Over” column is the first number of wins that gets a team “over” the Target OSI. The “Full Step Over” column is simply one additional win.

Inotherwords, Union’s Target OSI is 38.81. They would be need just one win to get over that (39.27) and two to be a virtual lock (43.63). Two wins is the minimum to qualify for the playoffs anyway. So, with two wins, it would be hard for Union to not make the playoffs, unless everyone on their schedule goes winless and their OSI tanks. But that’s highly unlikely. Some will go up, some will go down, it’s usually close to a wash.

Remember the old days when you had to have a .500 record or better to be in the playoffs? Some still believe that, and others don’t. Our projections say the “average” number of wins to make the playoffs is 3.7 (close to 4-4 in an eight game schedule), while a virtual lock would be 4.7 (5-3 over eight games, or 5-4 in a nine-game schedule).

Last year, in the Big Central, the average number of wins we projected was a 4.0, and the lock average was a 5.0. Both numbers are down by 0.3 points. So, on average, the Big Central has made it “easier” for its teams to make the playoffs; requiring only 3.7 wins on average by its teams, compared with 4.0 last year. That’s a good thing.

Some teams, however need a lot of wins. Spotswood, for example, would have to win 7 or 8 games. Based on last year, getting to half that would be a huge success and turnaround for the program. Playoffs may not be a goal for every team. For the Chargers, it’s about getting experience and getting better.

But let’s go back to another team we talked about in a prior story: Brearley. Last year, the Bears were 7-2 at the cutoff with two forfeit wins. We said they needed five or six wins to get in, and they got in with seven, finishing as the 12th overall seed in North Group 1. This year, with a Target OSI of 35.36, they need six wins to pass that at 37.33, and seven wins to virtually lock in a playoff spot with a 40.00 OSI.

Being in a weak division – Bearley has a Strength Index value of 61.53 while only one of the eight opponents on its schedule have an SI over 50 (South Hunterdon at 59.36) – hurts the Bears. They already play four of the other “Division 1” type teams – Dunellen, Manville, Middlesex and South Hunterdon – so they might have been better playing in that same division with Dunellen, et al, and playing schools like Roselle (49.55) and Metuchen (46.59) instead of Spotswood (34.01) and Highland Park (26.32).

And though Brearley likely could make the playoffs, they would probably have to go undefeated to even have a remote shot at a home playoff game.

Carteret, Dayton, Governor Livingston and South Plainfield are the other schools that we believe need at least six wins to get in the playoffs.

As for the “easiest” route? (Remember, we’re not talking easy in terms of opponents, we mean fewer wins needed to make the playoffs.) Bridgewater-Raritan, Phillipsburg, Union and Westfield – we believe – could all make the playoffs with one win, if that were allowed this year by the NJSIAA. Two is the minimum. Roselle, Hillsborough and Elizabeth also fall into that group, needing at least two. That means all those teams are playing tough schedules.

Check back at the end of October; we’ll let you know how we did!