Since five of the six conferences have teams alone atop the standings, we thought it might be a good time to start projecting the eight-man playoff bracket. For our projections, we use the current conference standings and RPI released on October 7th to determine which teams are league champions and which programs earn wildcard berths through the RPI standings.
The only league without a clear-cut leader at this point is the Plains conference where both Sedgwick County and Caliche remain unbeaten. For our purposes this week, we gave the spot to Sedgwick County as they sit higher in the RPI.
So, with that in place and with RPI numbers from Sunday, the league champions are West Grand, Sedgwick County, Mancos, Hoehne, Pikes Peak Christian and Front Range Christian. At-large selections would then be Rangely, Akron, Sanford, Vail Christian, Holly, Fowler, Simla, Norwood and Sargent. Merino is 16th in RPI but the Rams would be bumped in favor of Front Range Christian. The Lions are only 25th in points but move into the bracket as a league champion.
Seeding criteria is a bit different this year as a committee will place teams in the bracket. RPI will be a major factor but not the only item up for discussion. Other criteria include common opponents, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition. Teams in the bottom half of the bracket could also be moved for geographical purposes to cut down on travel. The committee will also try to avoid putting league teams against one another in the opening round.
League champions must finish in the top 10 of RPI to automatically gain a home game in round one and all conference leaders at this point, except for Front Range Christian, meet that requirement. This week, West Grand is first in RPI with Sedgwick County second, Mancos third and Hoehne fourth. Pikes Peak Christian is 10th this week.
To start the seeding, all the league champions are placed on the board and the number one seed is chosen from that group. Then the second-place team from the league chosen as the top seed is added to the remaining teams and a second seed is chosen. The seeding process continues in that manner until the bracket is complete. The system prevents a team finishing lower in the conference standings from being given a higher seed.
With all that in mind, our first look at the bracket looks like this:
#1 Sedgwick County vs #16 Front Range Christian
#8 Pikes Peak Christian vs #9 Sanford
#4 Hoehne vs #13 Simla
#5 Rangely vs #12 Norwood
#2 West Grand vs #15 Sargent
#7 Akron vs #10 Vail Christian
#3 Mancos vs #14 Fowler
#6 Caliche vs #11 Holly
Right away, the discussion for the top overall seed begins between Sedgwick County and West Grand. And to be honest, West Grand probably has the best case right now for the number one seed. Both teams are unbeaten but the Mustangs are higher in RPI by two spots (1st-3rd) and have a stronger strength of schedule (1st-13th). Still we believe by the end of the year, Sedgwick County will be the top overall seed and being the three-time state champions, they deserve the spot if they finish unbeaten.
Another good discussion involves Rangely and Caliche as the top overall at-large team. They have not played head-to-head but each club has a loss to West Grand. Since the Panthers lost by fewer points, we give the nod in seeding. Plus, Rangely is much higher in the RPI this week (2nd) than Caliche (8th). Caliche also trails Akron in RPI and those two clubs could be swapped in our bracket. We’ll know for sure when they play this Friday.
Concerning the second eight, we exchanged Fowler and Norwood in the 12th and 14th positions due to travel and avoiding league pairings as Norwood was slated to face Mancos in round one.
We mentioned the key game between Akron and Caliche, two other important games find Rangely at Soroco and Mancos at Norwood. Coming up in later weeks are critical contests between Sedgwick County-Caliche and Sargent-Sanford. Holly also has two important contests left with McClave and Springfield that will help determine the pecking order in the Ark Valley.
For comparison sake, we wanted to revert back to the previous system where RPI was basically used completely in laying out the bracket. If we use the RPI standings from today (Sunday), the bracket would appear like this.
#1 West Grand vs #16 Front Range Christian
#8 Pikes Peak Christian vs #9 Caliche
#4 Mancos vs #13 Simla
#5 Hoehne vs #12 Fowler
#2 Rangely vs #15 Sargent
#7 Sanford vs #10 Vail Christian
#3 Sedgwick County vs #14 Norwood
#6 Akron vs #11 Holly
Teams would be moved to prevent Norwood from going to Sedgwick County and from Fowler to rematch with Hoehne but otherwise the bracket would be left alone.