This is Week 9 of the high school football season, normally the time of year for slide rulers, calculators, mathematicians and prognosticators rule the roost. Schools and fans try and guess whether kids will be playing playoff football, and what has to happen or not happen for that to become a reality.
Friday’s games themselves can be controlled, at least by players’ and coaches’ actions. The rest, of course, is up to numbers, math and other teams’ results.
But this year, the already-blurred lines between whether a given team will play in the postseason or turn in uniforms are even fuzzier. Most schools, fans, coaches and kids who would normally try and hypothesize scenarios for the next two weeks are stuck.
The new AIA/MaxPreps.com power rankings formulas aren’t completely known publicly. It means a shortage of concrete numbers and equations make accurate projecting nearly impossible for those on the “bubble” of being among the top 16 spots in the five divisions (Division VI playoffs begin this week).
East Valley schools on that proverbial postseason “bubble” heading into Week 9 — Chaparral and Notre Dame in Division II, Tempe in Div. III and San Tan Foothills in Div. V — know they need a win (or two) to get in, but even that’s a mystery.
“I’m sure more than a few coaches aren’t eating or sleeping well,” said San Tan Foothills coach Rodger Schenks, who noted one if his assistants is a big statistics fan but has had extra free time lately.
The school which could be most interested is Tempe in Div. III, given the Buffaloes went from 0-10 in 2010 and 1-9 in 2011 to a 6-2 record entering this week’s difficult matchup against Seton Catholic.
Though Seton and Maricopa make for a difficult ending to the regular season for the No. 13-ranked Buffaloes, coach Brian Walker made no mystery about his approach.
“If I hear any of the kids say anything, it’s extra conditioning,” he said.
“We can’t pay attention to that. We have to worry about Seton Catholic, that’s enough to worry about.
We haven’t been in this situation, so our approach is the same. Let’s go out and win a football game.
We can sit around and try that (number-crunching) but why? The minute we start looking ahead we’re going to spring leaks.”
Others in similar situations are trying anyway. Despite hopes of not needing to repeat 2011 to make the Division II playoffs, Notre Dame — which started 2-4 in 2011, won four consecutive wins and received some help to get into the playoffs, then reached the quarterfinals — is currently No. 17 at 4-4 with games against McClintock and Horizon to end the season.
Under the previous power point system the Saints were No. 20 at this point last season. A schedule featuring Hamilton, Marcos de Niza, Desert Mountain and Chaparral has been daunting, but coach Gary Gregory doesn’t believe the Saints deserve a playoff spot at 5-5.
“Obviously we know we have to win out, that’s a given,” he said. “My opinion is (we) have to win out or don’t deserve it. Things are playing out eerily the same. It looks like we’re in a better spot than last time, so I won’t knock the rankings until they knock us out if we’re 6-4.”
Nearby Chaparral (No. 12 at 5-3 in Div. II) has been in must-win mode since losing to Desert Mountain in Week 4. It’s a different scene for the Firebirds given their place as top-3 seed and three-time defending state champions (Div. II and 5A-II). With Horizon and Saguaro left to play, the Firebirds, who’ve won four consecutive games, might need to go 2-0 to stay in the top 16. Or they could go 1-1 and possibly still get in.
“It’s the biggest game of the year,” coach Dave Huffine said. “With where we are, it has to be.”
Schenks’ squad sits at No. 16 with games against Div. V powerhouses Tempe Prep and at Yuma Catholic to end the season.
Despite the help they’ll get in strength of schedule by playing these two teams who are ahead of them in the rankings even in a loss, the Sabercats know at least a 1-1 finish for these two games is the likely scenario needed to stay in the loop.
“Likely,” “guesstimate” and “looks like” were popular buzzwords this week.
That’s because nobody knows, but now very few are even trying to guess.
“By this point you could put it all together and have a feel for where you’re at, especially after Week 9 you can identify where you’ll be,” Huffine said. “I don’t think anybody has any idea and can give an answer. It’s kind of sad to put everything on the line from a season and program standpoint and not be able to tell the kids what’s going to happen, win or lose.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.