If the wildcard point averages used by Nebraska School Activities Association truly relate to strength of schedule, then Central Catholic Guardian Angels is beneficiary of this year’s east-west split. The west half of the 32-team Class D1 playoff field is made up of teams that the point averages say emerged after playing the toughest schedules.
That’s not to say the D1 champion will come from the west, but that half of the bracket includes 6 of the top 10 wildcard point average teams and 9 of the top 16 teams. The east half has 3 of the top 10 wildcard point average teams and 5 of the top 16.
Two top 16 teams, Neligh-Oakdale (#3) and Wakefield (#16) are ineligible for the playoffs because their enrollments are too high for eightman football.
Palmer, with the highest wildcard point average in the 32-team field, is the top team in the west bracket. Others in that bracket that have averages in the top 16 are Perkins County (#2), Elm Creek (#5), CWCE (#7), Dundy County (#9), South Loup (#10), Medicine Valley (#11), Hemingford (#13) and Alma (#14).
GACC, with the 4th highest wildcard average in D1, owns the top average in the east half. Other top 16 teams in that half are Creighton (#6), Lourdes Central Catholic (#8), Heartland (#12) and East Butler (#15).
In the unlikely scenario that only the teams with the higher point averages win each playoff game, the semifinals would look like this: #1 Palmer vs. #2 Perkins County, and #4 GACC vs. #6 Creighton. Those are seeds based on playoff point averages, mind you, not seeds based on anyone’s poll.
Classes D1 and D2 are the lone classes that still invite 32 teams to the playoffs. Classes A, B, C1 and C2 invite 16 teams. That policy probably needs to be reconsidered. This year, 76 percent of the 42 Class D1 teams eligible for the playoffs are in, including three teams with 2-6 records and five teams with 3-5 records. That’s hard to justify when teams like Lincoln Lutheran (7-2) are left out in Class C2 because only 16 teams qualify in that class.
The one hiccup, however, is that the larger classes play a 9-game regular season, compared to 8 games in D1 and D2. So one could argue that the first round of playoffs in the lower classes is the ninth game for those teams. Still, it may be better to schedule 9 game seasons rather than to end up with 2-6 teams playing unbeaten teams and 3-5 teams playing 7-1 teams in round one.
That 76 percent of the 45 eligible D1 teams make playoffs is high compared to the other classes: 57% in Class A, 50% in Class B, 37% in Class C1, 36% in Class C2, and 59% in Class D2
In Classes A, B, C1 and C2, the playoff teams are seeded from 1 through 16 based on their wildcard point averages and placed on brackets accordingly (1 vs. 16, 2 v. 15, etc.). In Classes D1 and D2, the playoff brackets are determined by both wildcard averages and geography.
If D1 bracketed its teams like the larger classes, GACC’s first-round foe would be Cambridge. That’s if 32 teams were still involved.
Taking it one more step, if D1 invited just 16 teams to the playoffs like the larger classes, GACC’s first-round foe would be Hemingford.
Taking it two more steps, if the other classes still invited 32 teams to the playoffs, West Point-Beemer would be traveling to face Boys Town in round one and BRDL would be traveling to play Battle Creek.
The crystal ball hasn’t been removed from the shelf in some time, and peering through the dust covered globe it tells me, that because of recent injuries sustained by GACC players, Clearwater-Orchard could be a tighter game than C-O’s record indicates. The Cyclones are one of the playoff teams with a 2-6 record, but the teams they played have a combined won-loss record of 38-26. GACC is undefeated, but its opponents have a combined mark of 25-39.
None of that will stop the Jays from prevailing.