Week One in Central Jersey HS Football: Random Thoughts and Observations

We've completed Week One in high school football in New Jersey, and just like every year, some things change and some things stay the same.  More area teams played in Week Zero this year, a result of the new playoff schedule that will move cutoff weekend to before Halloween, with the state playoffs beginning on the first week in November.  Here are some observations through the first full week of play.

Same Ol', Same Ol'

The cream of the crop on the most consistent basis for the last several years in the GMC Red Division is off to a 3-0 start.

Top-ranked Piscataway shutout East Brunswick in the opener for both teams, 41-0, back on Friday night.  It was more of the same from Juwon Jackson, too, who led off the second half by returning the opening kickoff by the Bears 79 yards for a touchdown, following a four-touchdown second quarter.

But it's No. 2 South Brunswick who's off to the impressive start.  The defending Central Jersey Group 5 champs beat the defending South Jersey Group 5 Champions, Lenape, 21-14 two Fridays ago, then cruised past then-No. 7 Old Bridge 28-0 this Friday night.  The Vikings capitalized on Knights' fumbles on their first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead, and got three touchdown passes from Gage Katzenell-Hall, the third starting QB for South Brunswick in as many years.

Over in Somerset County, it was No. 6 Somerville putting up big numbers again, and getting some revenge.  The Pioneers won at Rahway 42-31 to avenge their only loss last season en route to the Central Jersey Group 3 Championship.  And Jalahn Dabney is picking up right where he left off.  He rushed for another four TDs and 329 yards against the Indians at Rahway River Park.

The New And The Old

North Brunswick picked up a big win over then fourth-ranked St. Joseph of Metuchen, 9-7, on the Raiders' first field goal in years.  (Yes, years.  Since 2010.)  The Raiders have been resurgent under now-second year head coach Mike Cipot, who's changed the culture in North Brunswick in just a short amount of time.  It doesn't hurt that he has a major D-I recruit in Myles Bailey at running back.  The offers have been pouring in for him.

Sayreville brought the Raiders back to earth somewhat in Week 1, as the fifth-ranked Bombers (now up to Number 4) beat North Brunswick 34-14.  Stat-wise, the Bombers looked in mid-season form.  They rolled off 409 yards of total offense (246 on the ground and 163 through the air).  In fact, Sayreville has never lost to North Brunswick in 20 tries.

The Disappointing

Disappointing is an understatement to describe what has happened to the Highland Park football program.  Last week, the district decided to shut down the varsity team for the year after the Owls dropped their opener to Montclair-Kimberley Academy 41-0.  They took a forfeit against Brearley on Friday.  Highland Park will play a JV schedule the rest of the way in 2018, and any team unable to find a replacement on their schedule will benefit from a forfeit win as it relates to power points, which will contribute to the playoff seedings.

There are many reasons for what happened in Highland Park, like lack of a feeder program (Pop Warner), concern about player safety (with participation down in many schools), allegations of abuse against former coach Rich McGlynn.  And it's not just happening at small schools; West Windsor-Plainsboro has a co-op program with the North and South high schools this year.

The reason it's so distressing is the storied past (several state titles as recently as the 1990s) and colorful history of Highland Park football, it's rivalries against schools like Metuchen and South River, and the stars to come from the program (see:  the Policastros, L.J. Smith, just to name a few).  It's sad to see any program struggle like Highland Park has, but especially one as rich in tradition and steeped in Central Jersey High School Football lore.

The Born Power Index

We're starting to learn a little more about the Born Power Index, the new formula being used to help seed the state playoffs this year.  The sole determining factor has previously been "power points," a formula which gets ever more complicated (and controversial) with each passing year.

In 2018, teams will be seeded by their New Jersey United Power Ranking (NJUPR), a combination of 60% Born Power Index (BPI) and 40% power points.  The 60-40 split appears to be a move to appease those who felt power points were okay.

But now that we've seen two weeks of action, we at least have a pretty good idea what you can expect, without knowledge of the formula.  Teams that do better rise, teams that don't fall.  One Twitter user posed the question of whether the BPI is based on one week or two weeks of play.  The answer?  Tehcnically, both.  But it's also based on last year.

Every team starts off with the BPI they had at the end of 2017.  Their number will go up or down throughout the year.  When are last year's games filtered out?  That's a little unclear.  We think they don't.

Bill Born told us the following last week on Friday Night Football USA:  "Through the years, certain teams are stronger than others.  I like to say, 'The snow falls deeper in certain parts of the country than others.'  And talent seems to go to different schools than others."  We don't think the old results ever "go away."

We're not math majors here, but it appears those results simply become less relevant as new ones are added.  It's a simple mathematical principle.  Particularly if a team goes from 2-8 in 2017 to 8-2 in 2018.  It's likely they will go up a lot; their BPI will be affected more by the immediate results than those in the past.

Born adds that most teams would be better off losing to St. Peter's of Jersey City or Don Bosco Prep by a couple of points than by beating up on a weaker opponent.  And a look at the early rankings seems to prove that.  The BPI suggests that a team at 70 is consistently 20 points better than a team at 50.  But when Carteret beat JFK Friday night, the margin was much slimmer than what their BPI's would have predicted.  The Ramblers' BPI went down, while JFK's went up.

Ultimately, it seems kind of like what the NJSIAA is doing with (more) non-public schools this year.  Play Don Bosco and you get extra, guaranteed bonus points:  54 for a win, 36 for a loss.  Those scores are weighted.  This is similar, except instead of a fixed number, it's more of a sliding scale of some kind, and it's regardless of whether you're a small public school or a big private school.

The big knock on power points is that they take into account group size, and that's not always a good indicator of how strong an opponent is.  For example, Paulsboro scored 31 or more points in nine of their 12 games last season en route to the South Jersey Group 1 crown.  They pitched three shutouts.  And they outscored opponents by an average of 22 points per game.  That's pretty dominating.  And they had a 72.6 BPI at the end of last year.  That's higher than East Brunswick, Edison and Monroe.  And that's as it should be.

Another example to look at is Westfield, which ended the 2017 season having won 37 straight games, and three sectional crowns in a row.  But their BPI was 81.6.  The team they defeated in the 2017 finals, Bridgewater-Raritan, finished with an 88.7.  And Piscataway, the team Bridgewater eliminated in the semis, also was higher than Westfield, checking in with a final BPI of 82.2.  Why?  Westfield had its lowest average margin of victory in a season during it's three year-plus winning streak in 2017.  And Bridgewater and Piscataway often dominated opponents, playing a tougher schedule (both the Delaware Division of the Mid-State and Red of the GMC are among the toughest in the area).

If you'd like to see the Born Power Index, click here.

Tune in this Friday night to "Friday Night Football USA presented by St. Peter's University Hospital" as we take a closer look, and let you know if we've learned anything else.  We still have more questions.  Like what happens when an out of state opponent doesn't have a BPI number?  (Born only does New Jersey and Pennsylvania high schools.)

By the way:  forfeits don't count toward the BPI.  Born says if the game isn't played, the numbers don't change.  That affected Brearley this weekend, and could affect all the other teams left on Highland Park's schedule this year.