By TOM WILLIAMS
The regular season of New Jersey high school football is just a little past the halfway mark and, according to the current ratings, there are 11 teams at Cape-Atlantic League schools who are in the NJSIAA playoff picture.
The state association has changed its system again this year, discarding the Born Index and inserting a new rating program. The emphasis is heavy on the strength of a team’s opponents’ schedule.
In each group, all of the schools generally considered South Jersey are combined with those from Central Jersey into one large pool. The 16 teams in each of the five public school groups that have the highest power rating qualify for the playoffs.
Then comes the unique seeding procedure.
Let’s takes South-Central Group 4 for example.
Shawnee is the No. 1 seed in those power ratings through this weekend. So, Shawnee would host No. 16 Clearview in the “South” bracket. Highland is No. 2 and would host No. 15 Freehold Boro in the “Central” bracket. Next would be No. 14 Ocean City at No. 3 Jackson in South, No. 13 Colts Neck at No. 4 Millville in Central, No. 12 Middletown South at No. 5 Hammonton in South, No. 11 Brick Township at No. 6 Toms River East in Central, No. 10 Middletown North at No. 7 Moorestown in South and No. 9 Mainland at No. 8 Long Branch in Central.
The new playoff format, in an exaggerated effort to make everything fair and balanced, has thrown out all the traditional public school alignments. Let’s examine how the Group 4 playoffs would look this week under the old arrangement.
In South Group 4 it would be Ocean City at Shawnee, Mainland at Highland, Moorestown at Millville and Toms River East at Hammonton.
Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? There is less travel and more of the match-ups have a history.
One thing hasn’t changed – the winners from the two South Jersey brackets in each public school group will play each other in a “bowl game” that has no real meaning. It is hoped by state championship advocates that these bowl games will become state championship semi-finals in the near future.
OK, there you have a brief summary of the new format. Let’s look at which CAL teams are in the playoff picture now with four weeks left in the regular season. And a few of them might surprise you.
In Group 5, Vineland (2-3) is currently No. 11 and would travel to New Brunswick and Atlantic City (1-4) is No. 16 and would play at Toms River North.
Group 4 is outlined above – Ocean City at Jackson, Colts Neck at Millville and Mainland at Long Branch.
There is currently no team that is in the top 16 in Group 3 but there are two in Group 2. No. 3 Cedar (4-2) Creek would host Haddon Heights and No. 4 Pleasantville (4-1) would host Lincoln of Jersey City in the first round. Actually, if the playoffs were this week, Pleasantville would move ahead of Cedar Creek in the seedings because the Greyhounds beat the Pirates on the field.
In Group 1, No. 8 Buena (4-1) would host No. 9 Asbury Park in the first round.
Among the Non-Public schools, No. 6 St. Augustine Prep (2-3) would host No. 11 Paul VI in Non-Public 4, with the winner facing Bergen Catholic. In Non-Public 2, No. 1 St. Joseph (4-1) would host the winner between St. Mary and Holy Cross and No. 2 Holy Spirit (2-2) would host the winner of the game between Morristown-Beard and Newark Academy.
At this point, the only other CAL team in a good position to qualify is Oakcrest (2-3) in Group 3. The Falcons are currently No. 18, needing to move up two spots. And, with games the next three weeks with Mainland, Cedar Creek and Ocean City, there are opportunities for Oakcrest to improve its status.
A lot of this will change over the next four weeks because of game results and also because schools that do not wish to play in the playoffs can indicate their intent by Oct. 28. No matter what happens in the next month, area football fans can anticipate some post-season excitement again this year.