By Chris Parker
We have reached the final football power rankings of the season. This week we will look at paths for the area’s teams to making a state title game appearance.
I looked up the final state media football rankings from each of the past three seasons. That is six classes across three years for an available 18 titles. The state championship in each class was won by a team ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 13 of 18 times. No. 3 (2016 Class 1 Penney), No. 4 (2016 Class 3 Monett) and No. 7 (2017 Class 3 Maryville) all won titles with rankings outside of the top two. Vianney (2016 C5) and Harrisonville (2016 Class 4) both won titles being unranked.
What I am saying is, it is clearly possible to win a state title even if a team is unranked in the final state poll, but teams ranked No. 1 or No. 2 have showed a significantly higher chance of winning a title.
In addition, over the past three years, 28 of the 36 championship game participants were ranked in the top five of the final state poll, which is 77.7% of the finals participants. Four teams were ranked sixth through 10th and four more were unranked.
A pool of 30 teams per year (those ranked in the top five of the final state media poll) send almost four out of five participants to the title game while the other 290+ programs account for 23% of the state championship game participants over the last few years.
Again, it clearly isn’t impossible for an unranked team to play for a state title or win one, but it has only happened 11% of the time over the past three years.
Before I go any further, THESE ARE NOT A HEAD-TO-HEAD RANKING, BUT A RANKING OF DOMINANCE BY CLASS. I am not saying I think the Class 1 schools on this list could beat all the Class 4-6 teams ranked below them or not ranked.
1. Joplin (C6 – 9-0 – LW: 1)
The Path: Joplin is ranked No. 3 in Class 6 and is one of only three remaining unbeaten teams. The only ranked team in Joplin’s district is No. Marquette (8-1). That would likely be Joplin’s opponent in a district title game. The Eagles would cross with District 2 in the state semifinals. The highest ranked team in that district is No. 9 Blue Springs. Overall, Joplin has a favorable path to reaching a state title game.
2. Webb City (C4 – 8-1 – LW: 2)
The Path: Webb City has a bit of a minefield in its quest for a state title. The Cardinals most likely district championship opponent is either Class 4 No. 4 West Plains or Class 4 No. 8 Bolivar. If Webb City wins its district, the Cardinals are guaranteed a road trip. The likely opponents would be No. 2 Camdenton, No. 6 Lebanon or No. 7 Helias Catholic. Win that and No. 3 (and defending state champion) Ladue would be the most likely opponent. If the Cardinals are to win a state title this year, they almost assuredly will have earned it sharing a side of the bracket with six of the 10 ranked teams and potentially having to beat Nos. 4-2-3 in consecutive weeks just to reach the title game.
3. Lincoln (C1– 9-0 – LW: 3)
The Path: Lincoln has been the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in Class 1 this season. Class 5 Ft. Zumwalt North is the only other program that can claim the same distinction. The Cardinals have a great path back to a state title game. They are the only ranked team in their district and the only team with fewer than three losses. The top two teams in District 4, which will produce a quarterfinal opponent for the winner of Lincoln’s district, are No. 8 Adrian and Windsor. Lincoln beat Adrian 36-0 in Week 3 and Windsor 40-14 in Week 4. The only ranked team on the quadrant of the bracket that will produce Lincoln’s semifinal opponent if they get there is No. 7 Marceline.
4. Mt. Vernon (C3 – 9-0 – LW: 4)
The Path: All of the area’s Class 3 squads face an uphill battle with Blair Oaks moving up to Class 3 this year. Mt. Vernon resides in one of the most unpredictable districts in the area with a deep pool of Big 8 squads. Cassville is the only other ranked team in the district at No. 10. Remember, this is the district that Mt. Vernon won as a No. 5 seed two seasons ago, so the Mountaineers have to be on upset alert. Win Class 3 District 6 and the state’s No. 1 team Blair Oaks will likely wait in the quarterfinals. Blair Oaks is the defending Class 2 state champion and has won 24 consecutive games and is 61-3 since 2015. The top half of the bracket is where Trinity Catholic resides. Mt. Vernon, along with all area Class 3 squads, has its work cut out in the playoffs.
5. Carthage (C5 – 7-2 – LW: 5)
The Path: Carthage is the prohibitive favorite to reach the Class 5 state semifinals from our area. The Tigers have lost just two games all season to Joplin (Class 6 No. 3) and Webb City (Class 4 No. 1). Their district features four COC teams that they beat by a combined margin of 147-68. Branson gave Carthage the toughest game of the group in a 16-7 decision in Week 6. Waynesville is the No. 1 seed in the district Carthage would cross with for a quarterfinal. The Tigers are 6-3 and ranked No. 10 in the state. The likely quarterfinal opponent would be tough with Ft. Zumwalt North residing on the top of the bracket. FZN has been the wire-to-wire No. 1 in Class 5 this year.
6. Pierce City (C1 – 9-0 – LW: 6)
The Path: The Eagles have been building for this season for years and a state title game appearance would be hard earned. PC will most likely have to run it back with No. 8 Miller in the district semifinals. It would be a rematch of a game that went down to the last seconds in Week 8. Win that and a road trip to Class 1 No. 3 Thayer is the very likely outcome. Win that and either No. 5 Hayti (the defending Class 1 state champion) or No. 6 Valle Catholic would be up next in the state quarterfinals. No. 4 Mid-Buchanan and No. 10 Scotland County are the ranked teams on the bottom of the bracket. In all, Nos. 2-3-4-5-6-8-10 are all share one side of the bracket.
7. Ava (C2 – 9-0 – LW: 7)
The Path: Ava is a heavy favorite as an unbeaten team in a district that doesn’t have another team with fewer than four losses. The Bears would likely host No. 8 and unbeaten Fair Grove for a quarterfinal or make a trip to face No. 7 Lamar. Ava has had its season end at the hands of Lamar by a touchdown or less each of the past two seasons. Nos. 1-2-3 in the final state rankings reside on the opposite side of the bracket from our local schools.
8. Camdenton (C4 – 9-0 – LW: 8)
The Path: Camdenton climbed back to No. 1 in the district in Week 9, which was huge. That gave the Lakers not only home field advantage but pushed both Class 4 No. 6 Lebanon and No. 7 Helias Catholic to the other side of the district bracket. One of those teams will likely await Camdenton in a district title game. Win that, and the Lakers are looking at hosting No. 1 Webb City, a road trip rematch to face No. 4 West Plains or a road game at unbeaten Bolivar for a quarterfinal. Defending Class 4 state champion and Class 4 No. 3 Ladue will be the quarterfinal opponent barring upset.
9. Thayer (C1 – 8-1 – LW: 9)
The Path: See Piece City above. Thayer shares a district with Pierce City. The advantage Thayer has is the No. 1 seed, which has the Bobcats avoiding a semifinal showdown with a state-ranked team. They also already have a three-score win over Hayti, so Thayer knows it can more than compete with any team in the state if it survives a very tough district.
10. Lamar (C2 – 7-2 – LW: 10)
The Path: Is this the year? Lamar has not lost to a SWMO Class 2 school since Nov. 10, 2008 when the Tigers fell 22-10 to Warsaw. The Tigers will have to travel for a district title game for the first time in many years if No. 1 and unbeaten Fair Grove takes care of business in the first two weeks of district play. If the Tigers win the district title then it would likely set up a third consecutive quarterfinal game with unbeaten Ava. Lamar may be 7-2 this year, but the Tigers are better than that record. No area Class 2 school plays as consistently tough of a schedule as Lamar.
Knocking on the Door: West Plains (8-1), Fair Grove (C2 – 8-0), Bolivar (C4 – 9-0), Miller (C1 – 8-1), Lebanon (C4 – 7-2)