The 2018 high school football season was a busy one, and a mix of new and old.
There was a new playoff formula, and controversy over same, resulting in much finger-pointing and criticism.
Then there was the old: Piscataway and Sayreville both winning state titles, bringing some sense of normalcy to the whole mess, particularly in Central Jersey. Since 2010, the Chiefs and Bombers have combined for nine state titles, and two “bowl” wins in the inaugural season of what are – in essence – group semifinals, and hopefully a precursor to playing down to overall group champions.
So what does 2019 have in store? Here’s a look, from A to Z:
A – Ahr is out, Aquinas is in. Bishop Ahr of Edison changed its name back to its original moniker of St. Thomas Aquinas earlier this summer in honor of its 50th anniversary. They’ll still be the Trojans, and be wearing similar colors, so you can probably get away with wearing that old Trojans t-shirt to a game.
B – The Born Power Index is alive and well, and so is creator Bill Born after he and his well-worn formula were put through the wringer last year. Born’s formula was used to seed the playoffs in 2018, leading to much controversy. The decision to use it was a poor one. The formula itself is a very good one. It’s a great predictor of results. But it was a bad way to seed teams, because of its over-reliance on historical data, and the formula’s rewarding of higher margins of victory with higher ratings, and thus, better playoff standing.
C – Once again, WCTC will have a countdown of top Central Jersey High School Football games on WCTC since the year 2000, featuring the Top Ten. There might even be a new game at the top of the list, so stay tuned!!
D – 2019 will be the 20th season of play-by-play for Mike Pavlichko at the mic as the Voice of Central Jersey High School Football, making it a complete two decades of scholastic football coverage.
E – East Brunswick looks to an alum to resurrect its football program, as the Bears hired longtime assistant Andy Steinfeld to take over as head coach this Spring. He’s a 1985 EB grad who worked under his predecessor Bob Molarz, who compiled a 14-49 record in six seasons after taking over for Marcus Borden.
F – Friday Night Football USA returns for a third season on Friday, September 6th, as we get you set for Week Zero action on WCTC. Then, we recap all the action on Football USA, Saturday following the noon Rutgers-Iowa game.
G – Group Champions. We’re still not there yet. Another season of paying “bowl games” – now “regional championships” – that really don’t mean much, but are a chance to play on a big stage like at Met Life Stadium or Rutgers Universiuty. After two seasons, will the NJSIAA and its member schools decide its time to do what almost every other state does, and play to an overall group champ? There are many hurdles to overcome, but we hope they at least give it a shot.
H – Both teams will be playing on their home field when Immaculata “travels” to Somerville on cutoff weekend. These two schools will resume a long-standing rivalry that has been on hiatus since their last meeting in 2008. The Pioneers lead the series 13-6, but the Spartans have won the last four, part of the most recent set of games played from 2004-08.
I – No more Independent schedule for Highland Park. The Owls have a full GMC Gold Division schedule and crossovers with Mid-State opponents Roselle, Brearley and South Hunterdon in 2019. The Owls tried a year off from the GMC in hopes of bolstering the numbers in its program, but only managed to play one game, falling to Montclair-Kimberley Academy, and losing four others by forfeit to go 0-5 in 2018.
J – Piscataway, and just Piscataway, led the WCTC Central Jersey High School Football Top Ten from wire to wire in 2018. Will they be able to repeat the feat? The Chiefs have held or shared the Number One position in the WCTC Top Ten in 21 of the last 22 weeks, including preseason and final rankings, dating back to the final Top Ten of 2016.
K – Kickers figured prominently in more than a few games in 2018; will they again this year. Last season, North Brunswick found a kicker in Aaron Ahr, who booted the Raiders’ first three-pointer after going 0-for-7 in the past 8 seasons. Colonia lost a heartbreaker on the opening weekend to Hillsborough on a field goal as time expired. And Sayreville won the North Group 5 Bowl Game in its own “Miracle at the Meadowlands” when Connor Holmes recovered a fumble in the end zone on a Williamstown punt attempt from deep in their own end.
L – Rutgers recently asked Ruston high school in Louisiana to use a different logo to represent their school. It was essentially the same block “R” that Rutgers uses, with even the same colors. It begs the question: Would anyone ever ask that of some of the schools in Central Jersey? Some logos look very similar to logos or letters used by the New York Jets, Wisconsin, Temple.
M – 2019 is the penultimate season before the Greater Middlesex and Mid-State Conferences merger in 2021, becoming the Big Central Football Conference. It will be interesting to see how the next two years play out and how they will factor into the division-forming process. The Mid-State hasn’t shifted around teams much in recent years, but the GMC went back to a fourth division in 2018, and this year sorted divisions strictly by size, which led to some of the best teams in the league ending up in the GMC White. The GMC Red traditionally has had powerhouses like Piscataway and Sayreville. This will take some getting used to.
N – Northing numbers will no longer decide what teams get placed in what sections for the playoffs. After 2018 saw teams get bundled up and some sections ended up top-heavy with strong teams, a change for 2019 will “snake” the brackets. Now, the top team in each supersection will go in its “traditional” section, while the next two teams would go in the other bracket. That could mean that If Sayreville and North Brunswick finished 1 and 2 in the South Group 5 supersection, that Sayreville would be the top seed in the Central 5 section, while North Brunswick would be the Number One seed in the South 5 section. But it would conceivably make both brackets more balanced
O – The Opponent Strength Index is the new formula the NJSIAA will use to help seed the state playoffs, and it’s an offshoot of the Born Power Index. With minor tweaks, the idea is the same. Results compared to the “expected result” are another way of saying how a team did against a “projection” or “spread.” But instead of ranking teams for the playoffs based on their own rating, it’s the rating of opponents that matter. Thus, the Opponent Strength Index.
P – The Playoffs will have numerous changes for the second straight year. While the UPR remains, the Opponent Strength Index replaces the Born Power Index, sections will be snaked rather than seeded by Northing Numbers, and no winless teams will be allowed in the playoffs. Which won’t change much, because that (almost) never happens anyway.
Q – Many questions remain about whether the NJSIAA’s new playoff formula will work. Time will tell, but with the temptation to run up the score now removed, it’s a big step in the same direction.
R – Rutgers is back in the fold for the NJSIAA playoffs, as SHI Stadium will host regional championship games this year. Until 2018, RU helped host sectional title games, along with MetLife Stadium. But last year, the state moved those games to the home field of the higher seeded team, reserving neutral sites for the so-called “bowl games” that have been renamed this year. Sectional finals will still be played at the higher seed.
S – Say what you want about the NJSIAA and last year’s playoff debacle, the organization was ranked first for the second straight year by the Korey Stringer Institute for its health and athletic safety policies. Each year, the Institute assesses each statewide athletic association in five equally weighted areas – sudden cardiac arrest, traumatic head injuries, exertional heat stroke, appropriate medical coverage and emergency preparedness. New Jersey ranked fourth when the rankings debuted in 2017, but has since moved to the top of the list. Korey Stringer was the nephew of Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer, and died in August of 2001 of complications from heat stroke suffered while in training camp with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
T – Thanksgiving Day games have gone by the wayside in Central Jersey. Mostly a Middlesex County relic in our coverage area, the expansion of the playoffs to include regional championships (group semifinals) has meant starting the season a week earlier, and leaving too much time in between games for teams that get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, but still have a Thanksgiving game to play. As a result, many traditional rivalries – like Piscataway-Franklin, JP Stevens-Edison, Metuchen-Highland Park, and the granddaddy of ‘em all – Carteret-Perth Amboy – have been moved to Week Zero. WCTC will cover the Raiders and Vikings game at North Brunswick in tape-delay fashion, with the broadcast airing Sunday, September 8th at 11 am before Somerset Patriots baseball.
U – Undefeated teams will be guaranteed entry into the playoffs in 2019, regardless of power points, OSI, or UPR. Kind of a no-brainer, but this will be the first season it’s written in stone. On the other hand, see “W”…
V – John Viotto takes over for a program in transition at South Brunswick, where Joe Goerge left after eight seasons following a disappointing 2018. Coming off the school’s third state championship – all under Goerge – The Vikings started with a big road win over defending state champ Lenape, but faded and exited the playoffs in the first round for the first time in his seven-year tenure. It probably wasn’t his fault. Fewer than 40 players were on the varsity roster all season, a slim list for a Group 5 school that’s one of the biggest in the GMC. Goerge takes with him a 63-17 mark and state titles in 2012, 2015, and 2017.
W – Winless teams will not be allowed entry into the playoffs in 2019, regardless of power points, OSI, or UPR. That still wouldn’t have kept 2-6 Shawnee out of the playoffs last year, even though many South Jersey football observers felt they had a legit chance to win their playoff section – and they did. Still, another no-brainer that is finally down on paper.
X – Because it’s tough to come up with anything football-related that begins with the letter X, let’s just hope no one on the WCTC coverage team has to get X-rays again this year, like Friday Night Football USA host Dom Savino did last year, when he turned his ankle at the Meadowlands rushing down to the field to get interviews after Sayreville’s thrilling South Group 5 bowl win over Williamstown.
Y – Yes, we have the games! More regular season games are coming to 1450 WCTC this season, with expanded regular season coverage. We’ve added tape delay coverage of early season Friday night games that normally wouldn’t make it on air due to conflicts with Somerset Patriots baseball. See our regular season schedule preview here as we bring you ten games, beginning with South Brunswick at North Brunswick on Friday, September 6th, with a tape delay broadcast on Sunday, September 8th at 11 am.
Z – Can the New Brunswick Zebras battle through what is the toughest division in the GMC, on paper? With the Greater Middlesex Conference going strictly to school size to make its divisions in 2019, New Brunswick is in there with Piscataway, Sayreville, North Brunswick and Edison. That’s not where they should be based on the record on the field, but maybe they can prove they belong in the second year under the tutelage of former Zebra and Scarlet Knight Nate Harris.