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Upon further review: Creating a playoff field can be tricky

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Eric Schmoldt
Saturday, October 14, 2017

The process for making the WIAA football playoffs is pretty simple.

At least until it's not.

Win at least half of your conference games and you're playoff eligible. In most seasons, your team is almost certainly going to be in the field.

In fact, in recent years, it's been more likely that a team gets in with a conference record below .500 than it is for a team to finish at least .500 and not get in. With seven divisions, the WIAA needs 224 teams to fill out all its brackets.

This year, there were only 212 teams that qualified. So Friday night, the WIAA began working through its tiebreaking protocols to get 10 more teams—that finished 4-5 or 3-4 in league play—into the fold.

The 4-5 teams get in first based on winning percentage. And it was pretty clear before Friday night's games started that there was going to be plenty of room for those 4-5 teams, so Janesville Craig had little to worry about.

I'm guessing that only served to lessen the sting a little bit for the Cougars, who led host Verona into the fourth quarter only to lose 7-3 and finish with a 4-5 mark.

One week earlier, Craig seemed in command, at times, against Madison West. The Cougars led that game in the fourth quarter (twice, in fact) but lost 26-19.

The two final losses were heartbreaking. But it could have been much worse, if the team would have missed out on a postseason chance because of it.

Madison West finished the season 7-2, and Verona was 6-3. The margin of error between Craig finishing 4-5 or closing the season with five straight wins and a 6-3 mark was pretty marginal, looking back on it.

So if someone tells you this week that teams that don't finish at least .500 in their conference don't deserve to make the playoffs, some of those numbers might be a good start in arguing the other way.

Janesville Craig can also point to a defense that went through an absolute renaissance. In the 18 games after making the 2014 playoffs, Cougars opponents averaged nearly 36 points per game.

In 2017, the Craig defense is allowing less than 20 points per game.

That number will certainly be tested Friday against second-seeded and last year's Division 1 runner-up Franklin. The Sabers finished second behind top-seeded Racine Horlick in the Southeast Conference and are averaging 39.1 points per game.

But in the last five games, the Cougars allowed 60 total points (12 ppg). You just never know.

So you can say the Cougars got in on a technicality if you want. But I'd say if any 4-5 team ever deserved a shot in the playoffs, this is one.

CLINTON LOOKS PRIMED FOR ANOTHER RUN

I'll echo what my colleague, John Barry, wrote for Thursday's paper, that our area team with the best chance of making a deep playoff run is Clinton.

I'm not really going out on a limb there, I know.

The Cougars went unbeaten through the Rock Valley Conference. The toughest opponent in their eight-team pod appears to be Lake Country Lutheran, which is also 9-0 and went 6-0 in the Midwest Classic Conference.

Barring upsets, Clinton and Lake Country Lutheran would meet in a Division 5 state quarterfinal. The Cougars open the playoffs Friday against Brookfield Academy and would face either New Glarus/Monticello or Prairie du Chien in a Level 2 game.

Perhaps Clinton will encounter some closer games again. It won its second- and third-round playoff games by a total of 10 points last year before falling in the state semifinals.

But I believe a run at least back to those same state semis is in the cards.

ANOTHER CONFERENCE TO CONTAIN?

Last year, Lake Geneva Badger won three playoff games, taking out three Big Eight opponents on the way to the WIAA Division 1 state semis.

This year, it appears the Badgers will need to tame the Southeast Conference to duplicate the feat.

As mentioned above, Horlick went unbeaten in the regular season, and conference mates Franklin, Oak Creek and Kenosha Bradford all join them in the same playoff pod.

Badger hosts Kenosha Bradford on Friday and would play the Craig-Franklin winner at Level 2.

GROUP OF DEATH

Beloit Turner is in the playoffs for just the second time in the last 25 years.

Getting a first playoff victory since 1991 is going to be tough, with unbeatens Lodi and Racine St. Catherine's, and one-loss teams Lake Mills and Platteville all in the same group.

You know a pod is tough when a team goes 7-2 and can't even get a home game.

If Turner pulls a first-round upset of Platteville, the Trojans would likely face top-seeded Lodi the following week.

SPEAKING OF STREAKS

A couple other numbers to chew on as we close out the regular season.

Craig will be an underdog, but the Cougars are searching for their first playoff victory since 1999. The city of Janesville could see its streak of years without a postseason victory stretch to 13.

And a couple long streaks of postseason berths came to a halt Friday. Brodhead/Juda's streak of 25 straight seasons in the playoffs ended when the Cardinals finished 2-7. Waupaca had a longer streak going, 26 straight years, but it went 3-6 overall and 3-5 in the Bay Conference to miss out on the postseason for the first time since 1991.

Menomonie (28 straight years) has the longest active streak in the state, followed by Stratford (26) and Lancaster (25).


Last updated: 10:34 pm Saturday, October 14, 2017


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