Derek Taylor: First SSAC ratings provide early gauge
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Secondary School Activities Commission playoff ratings make their 2013 debut today, meaning that prep football postseason talk can begin with some actual evidence to back up lofty aspirations.
Huntington will enter the playoff race as the top-ranked team in Class AAA today, followed by a typical early season logjam at No. 2 featuring George Washington, Cabell Midland, three-time defending state champion Martinsburg and University.
The initial rankings rarely resemble the most important ratings set, released this year the night of Saturday, Nov. 9. That forthcoming list will set the playoff field and determine first-round matchups in each of the three classes.
Today's release does have real value however. It serves as a starting point. It provides a glimpse as to where teams can be expected to finish in the standings given their performance in the first three weeks of the regular season.
George Washington is a great case in point. The Patriots (3-0) are off to a stronger start than was expected of a team that lost such key players to graduation. While their season-opening home win against South Charleston (2-1) wasn't a shock, there were many - including myself - that did not see Coach Steve Edwards Jr.'s club winning each of its first three games as it worked in a new quarterback (Jon Alexander), running back (Draven Riffe) and fought to get its most recognizable holdover (linebacker Zach Malone) back to full health.
Nevertheless, there the Patriots are, where they've been for the better part of the past six seasons. What was perhaps overlooked is that at least 17 of the team's full-time starters are seniors. That will help any club supposedly in a rebuilding year.
GW's strong early start puts the team in good position to keep its string of playoff appearances - dating to 2007 - alive another season. Looking at the Patriots' remaining schedule there are still challenging games ahead.
In fact, GW goes to surprisingly strong Princeton (2-1) on Oct. 4, hosts Hurricane (2-1) a week later before going to Midland (3-0) the very next week.
After games against rebuilding Parkersburg (1-1) and Ripley (0-3) the Patriots close the regular season against rival Capital (2-0).
It is very conceivable that GW could drop at least three games during its final seven contests, which would spark a ratings free fall. When you start off at No. 2, though, it's much more likely that your team is going to land within the top 16 given such an event.
On the other side of this spectrum are teams like Princeton and Hurricane, who - coincidentally - meet Friday night at Redskins Stadium.
Hurricane will come into the game at No. 17 in the playoff ratings, with Princeton at No. 19. Both teams are playoff worthy, but face significant challenges in making the 16-team field because of their schedules. On one hand, Hurricane has a tall order because it has remaining games against GW, Midland, Capital and Spring Valley (1-2), all of which figure to be playoff qualifiers.
Princeton being good - the Tigers were 2-8 in 2012 - is just an added bonus for Coach Jeremy Taylor and the Redskins. With the way its schedule shapes up, Friday night might essentially be a must-win situation for Hurricane.
Princeton is in less of a bind, but it's a bind nonetheless. The Tigers have beaten Shady Spring (0-3) and Class AA power Bluefield (1-1), but as far as the SSAC playoff rating formula goes, both wins are handicapped, in a way. Shady hasn't scored a point this season, and since Princeton will receive a bonus point for every Class AAA team Shady beats, that amounts to, well, no bonus points at least so far.
Bluefield will gain the Tigers some bonus points, but as the Beavers are a Class AA team, they supplied Princeton with just nine base points as opposed to the 12 points Princeton earns from beating a Class AAA team.
Princeton's remaining games are a mixed bag. There are certain challenges, though the Tigers get Spring Valley and GW at home, and there are games in which Tahj Sho-Johnson and company will be heavily favored - Riverside (0-3), St. Albans (0-3) and Class AA James Monroe (0-2).
South Charleston not making the playoffs last year despite its 6-4 record shows that Princeton likely needs to win at least one of the aforementioned games against Hurricane, Spring Valley or GW to get in the field.
Still, it's entirely too early to make travel plans for late November. But autumn is approaching quickly, and the picture will get a little clearer each week.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT.