Nick Stevens

An early look at the 4A playoff picture & MaxPreps

Posted August 28

Devon Lawrence (3) of Wake Forest. Wake Forest handles Richmond County 38 - 13 on Friday, August 26, 2017 in Rockingham, NC. 
(Photo By: Beth Jewell/

I want to say this first so no one can say I didn't... It is entirely too early to be talking about playoff projections.

But with that said, the new N.C. High School Athletic Association playoff format allows us to get a much earlier picture of where things are. I hope that by following the rankings week by week, we will be able to better project things come the end of the season – and if we're lucky, we'll get a better handle on what factors are considered in the formula.

In case you're unaware, the NCHSAA voted to use MaxPreps rankings for the state playoffs instead of overall winning percentage. Many like the idea that strength of schedule will be considered now and not just the win-loss record, but the problem is MaxPreps does not reveal its formula. I wrote about this extensively in May when the change was first announced.

There are other changes for 1A & 4A where only 48 teams will make the playoffs instead of 64. Yes that means first round byes for the top four teams in each region.

And yes, this is going to be... interesting.

Here's a quick breakdown:

  • The conference champion gets in automatically, regardless of their MaxPreps ranking. In a split conference, the top team for each classification gets in and is seeded as a conference champion, despite where it finishes in the actual conference standings and its MaxPreps ranking.
    • Conferences with 5-8 teams in it will get a second automatic bid. This means the team that finishes second in the conference standings will also get in automatically.
    • Conferences with 9 or more teams in it will get three automatic bids.
  • In the 4A classification, this means a minimum of 24 of the 48 spots will be taken by automatic bids. It's possible that number is larger thanks to split conferences. For the sake of example, let's say South View and Pine Forest (both 4A teams) finish first and second in the Patriot Athletic 3A/4A Conference. If that happens, South View will be seeded as a conference champion and Pine Forest will be seeded as a No. 2 automatic bid. There are four split conferences in the 4A classification, so it is theoretically possible that 28 spots are taken by automatic bids.
  • The remaining spots are filled based on the MaxPreps ranking. Overall record does not matter. That also means endowment games are now used in the seeding process. The NCHSAA will go down the line of rankings and fill the remaining spots until 48 teams are in the playoffs.
  • After the 48 qualifying teams are identified, the NCHSAA will split them into 4A and 4AA based on their Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers. These numbers are not released until late October or early November each year, so therefore we will be projecting all fall with last year's ADM numbers. The largest 24 schools will go the 4AA playoffs, while the smallest 24 schools will go the 4A class. None of that is predetermined before the playoff qualifiers are determined.
  • Once the subdivision are made, the NCHSAA will then break the 24 schools in each subdivision into East and West regions using the longitude of the school. The 12 schools furthest west will go the West region, while the 12 schools furthest east will go the East region. Again, this is not predetermined.
  • Each region is then seeded. All conference champions are seeded first based on their MaxPreps rankings, then all conference runner-ups, then all third-place finishers. After that, all at-large teams will be seeded based on their MaxPreps rankings.
  • Each No. 1-4 seed in all regions will receive a bye in the first round.

Got that? Good. Let's move on.

Let me preface this with another caveat. We have not even entered conference play, so this is all very premature. The "projections" I've looked at so far are mostly so I can look for trends, possible issues, and to make sure I understand the procedure so that I am ready when it does come time to do real projections. Instead of looking at where teams fall right now, pay attention to the trends of the MaxPreps rankings from week to week. I'll try to update throughout the season.

So, here's what we're looking at if we pick conference champions based on current MaxPreps rankings (this will also help us see how accurate these rankings are at the end of the year).

Automatic Bids (in order of conference finish):

Cap 7: Sanderson (26.2), Millbrook (22.4)
Central Piedmont: West Forsyth (45.3), East Forsyth (35.9)
*Eastern Carolina: South Central (9.8)
I-Meck: Mallard Creek (41.6), Vance (31.5)
Metro 5: Page (36.4), Northwest Guilford (20.8)
*Mideastern: Hoggard (29.2)
Northern Athletic: Wake Forest (51.2), Heritage (43.6)
*Northwestern: McDowell (-8.6)
*Patriot Athletic: South View (8.4)
Sandhills Athletic: Scotland County (30.6), Pinecrest (27.1)
South Meck 7: West Mecklenburg (31.9), Harding University (24.9)
South Wake Athletic: Middle Creek (28.8), Holly Springs (1.7)
Southwestern: Myers Park (27), Butler (22.1)
Triangle 6: Green Hope (6.1), Athens Drive (0.8)
*Denotes a split conference with only one auto bid

The numbers you see after the name of a school are their MaxPreps ratings points (how the rankings are sorted) after week two of the season. You'll notice there is a great discrepancy in some of them.

Now, let's look at the at-large bids as they stand today.

At-Large Bids (in order of MaxPreps ranking):

Providence (24.7)
Glenn (24.5)
Davie (23.5)
Seventy-First (22.6)
Richmond County (18.7)
Porter Ridge (18.3)
Leesville Road (18)
Hickory RIdge (16.2)
Ragsdale (15.6)
Mooresville (15.1)
Cardinal Gibbons (14)
Indepednence (12.9)
Hough (12.5)
South Mecklenburg (10.6)
East Mecklenburg (10.2)
Ardrey Kell (9.6)
Purnell Swett (9.1)
Laney (8.3)
R.J. Reynolds (8.1)
High Point Central (7.4)
North Mecklenburg (5.9)
Lake Norman (3.9)
Lumberton (2.6)
Southeast Raleigh (1.6)

If you compare the at-large bids to some of the automatic bids, you'll notice teams near the top have better ratings than a handful of the teams who get in automatically. In fact, Southeast Raleigh, the last team in at the moment, has a better rating than two of the teams (Athens Drive and McDowell) who get automatic bids.

Now let's look at the teams who did not make the playoffs this week, based on their MaxPreps ratings. And a quick note, Southeast Raleigh gets the nod over Garner in the MaxPreps rankings by one spot, even though their ratings are the same. I'm guessing that's due to Southeast Raleigh having a better record (1-1 vs. 0-2). That would suggest Thursday's game between Garner & Southeast Raleigh is quite important.

Currently Out of Playoffs (in order of MaxPreps ranking):

Garner (1.6)
Fuquay-Varina (1.5)
Reagan (1.4)
Wakefield (-0.9)
Berry Academy (-0.9)
Grimsley (-1.1)
Enloe (-1.6)
Olympic (-1.6)
Overhills (-1.9)
Riverside-Durham (-2.5)
New Bern (-2.6)
West Charlotte (-2.6)
Pine Forest (-5.2)
Knightdale (-6.9)
Panther Creek (-7.2)
Rocky River (-7.9)
Cary (-7.9)
Corinth Holders (-8.6)
Apex Friendship (-9.6)
Jordan (-9.6)
Hoke County (-9.8)
Hopewell (-10.2)
Jack Britt (-10.4)
Broughton (-12.7)
Ashley (-14.5)
Rolesville (-14.6)
Apex (-18.6)
South Cladwell (-20.3)
Garinger (-23.4)

None of the teams above are "out" of the playoffs all together. Obviously there are ten more weeks of regular season play left in North Carolina. But comparing the ratings is important to understand the system. We should also point out that some teams that are currently out of the playoffs are just shy of an automatic bid from their respective conferences. For example, Garner (1.6) and Fuquay-Varina (1.5) are both in the South Wake Athletic Conference and were barely edged out for the automatic bid by Holly Springs (1.7).

The most important part of this right now is to compare the change in ratings from week to week based on the results. I think you'll see some surprises.

(To see the table on a mobile device you must use mobile web, it will not display in the HighSchoolOT app)

please wait

33 teams saw their MaxPreps rantings go up last week, including some who lost. So while winning is obviously important, it is possible to see your ranting go up even if you don't win. That's likely where the strength of schedule comes into play, although we do not know how much weight that carries in the formula MaxPreps uses.

On the other side, some teams who won actually saw their rating decrease.

Here's the wildest example I saw, perhaps you can find others. Wake Forest dominated Richmond County on the road on Friday night. Wake Forest won 38-13, but Wake Forest lost 4.8 ratings points while Richmond County gained 3.2 points. Did Wake Forest win by so much that it actually hurt their strength of schedule, thereby decreasing their points? I don't know the answer to that, and since we don't know the formula, there is no way to really know.

Winners & Losers (Week 2)

This will give you an idea of which teams won big and which teams hit the bottom last week. Let's look at which teams gained the most and lost the most points in the MaxPreps ratings after Week 2.

(Week 1 Rating, Week 2 Rating, Change)
Davie (35.9, 23.5, -12.4)
Olympic (10.5, -1.6, -12.1)
Lake Norman (13.8, 3.9, -9.9)
East Forsyth (45.6, 35.9, -9.7)
Ardrey Kell (19.3, 9.6, -9.7)
Garner (8.8, 1.6, -7.2)
Holly Springs (8.9, 1.7, -7.2)
Pine Forest (1.7, -5.2, -6.9)
Hopewell (-3.4, -10.2, -6.8)
Hough (19.1, 12.5, -6.6)

(Week 1 Rating, Week 2 Rating, Change)
South Central (-0.6, 9.8, +10.4)
North Mecklenburg (-3.6, 5.9, +9.5)
Mallard Creek (33.7, 41.6, +7.9)
High Point Central (0, 7.4, +7.4)
Apex Friendship (-16.5, -9.6, +6.9)
Corinth Holders (-15.4, -8.6, +6.8)
Myers Park (20.6, 27, +6.4)
Vance (25.8, 31.5, +5.7)
Athens Drive (-4.3, 0.8, +5.1)
Providence (20.5, 24.7, +4.2)

It's worth noting that no teams have the same rating this week as they had last week. So every team in the 4A classification saw some change from week one to week two.

This is going to be an ongoing project over the course fo the season. We'll track the changes all season long and provide you with updates. If you have questions, ask them on the Football Forum topic for this week and I'll do my best to answer them.

Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT


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