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.
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.
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.