Monday, October 6, 2014

Sunflower League Power Rankings, News & Notes

SM East guard Devin Price (56) led running back Wyatt Edmisten through a crowd of Free State defenders
on Friday night. The Lancers won the game, 42-14. SM East has won five straight games while Free State has
dropped their last two. Photo Lawrence Journal World
Eli's News & Notes

**SM Northwest's victory against Olathe East was a historic one, in some regards. The loss was Olathe East's first to an opponent without a winning record since October 7th, 1999. That's right, the Hawks had gone 15 years, and 160 games, without losing to an opponent with a record below .500. To put that into perspective, the bulk of Olathe East's freshman class wasn't born the last time it happened. SM Northwest's victory also marked it's first against Olathe East in the last eight matchups between the two programs.

**The way the scheduling worked out this year, the Sunflower League champion is being determined on the basis of each team's record in weeks two through six. Heading into the final game of the crowning period, Olathe North and SM East are both 4-0, while Olathe South is a game out at 3-1. If both Olathe North and SM East win they will share the league title as co-champions. Here's a breakdown of the league champions (and co-champions) the past 10 seasons:

2004: Olathe North
2005: Olathe East, SM West
2006: Free State, SM West
2007: SM Northwest
2008: Olathe East, SM West
2009: Olathe North
2010: Olathe East, Olathe North, SM East, SM West
2011: Olathe South
2012: SM West
2013: Free State, SM East

**While the Venus Triplett era is far from over at Olathe North, the Eagles have gone to the well and we caught a glimpse of their next star running back on Friday, and his name is Vinnie Shabazz. After a solid first half which included a touchdown run, Triplett left the game in the third quarter with an apparent leg injury. Shabazz came in and recorded 168 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 18 carries. Shabazz has looked impressive this fall in spot duty behind Triplett, but his performance Friday solidified the notion he can and probably will be the next stellar Eagle running back.

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SM East: As long as the Lancers don't overlook any of their remaining opponents, they should comfortably close out the regular season at 9-0, and guarantee a chance for the No. 1 overall seed in Kansas 6A East. The biggest knock against SM East is their poor strength of schedule, and that is a valid argument. But you you can't argue the way they've dispatched their opponents, or the fact they've gone 16-2 since the start of 2013.

SM Northwest: A healthy Duron Lowe means everything to the Cougars. Lowe, who's recorded touchdown runs of 92, 80, 78 and 70 yards (and averages 14 yards per carry) is the league's biggest home run threat. Fellow running back Sam Sullivan has also been a workhorse for the Cougars, with three touchdowns on 51 carries. There's no promises the club will do anything with their momentum from the win against Olathe East, but it's the kind of thing which could propel them going forward.

Playmakers: If you've got 'em, you've gotta use 'em. Big touchdown plays from Lowe (78 and 70 yards), Triplett (70 yards) and SM East's Alec Dean (45 yards) set the tone early for their team's victories. And those are just a handful of the league's players who seem to consistently come up with home run type plays. The league's most successful programs find a way to get their playmakers the ball in a variety of ways. After all, some will argue big plays (and turnovers) are the two most important factors in determining which team wins a football game, and often that idea holds true.

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Lawrence Free State: Just think, two weeks ago the Firebirds were a poor fourth quarter away from being 3-0. Now, they lost two games in a row by a combined 42 points, and it looks like they've lost some of their identity, what with injuries, special teams gaffes, etc. The real elephant in the room is the tough district schedule they have looming ahead, which includes Manhattan (5-0) and Topeka (5-0), two of the best teams in Kansas 6A West.

Olathe East: The Hawks have been on the struggle bus for three weeks, and they're lucky they managed to go 2-1 in that stretch. They beat SM South by eight points, trailed winless SM North at the half before winning by 17, and then suffered a 20-point defeat at the hands of SM Northwest this past week. Quite frankly, they just haven't looked impressive since taking down Garden City in week one. Maybe that changes as we close in on districts.

The league's bottom 3/4th: The league's top three teams (Olathe North, Olathe South and SM East) are a combined 14-1 (and the one loss came from within). The league's other nine teams are a combined 17-28. We've seen this kind of upper fourth dominance once before, in 2006. That season, through week five, Free State, Olathe East and SM West were a combined 14-1 (the loss also coming from within), and the league's other nine teams were 18-27. Just remember, the league is cyclical. If you see something happen once, it's more than likely going to happen again.

Week Six Power Rankings

1. SM East (5-0): The Lancers are just overpowering everyone they play. They've scored 31 touchdowns, given up just seven, and defeated their opponents by a combined scored of 213-49. And this is likely to continue, as their remaining four opponents are a combined 3-17.

2. Olathe North (5-0): The best sign from the past fews weeks for the Eagles has been their ability to score in bunches offensively, and through special teams. Their defense is probably second to none, so as long as Olathe North can produce points at a good clip, they're going to keep winning every game.

3. Olathe South (4-1): The league's darkhorse played without star running back Collin Fischer on Friday, and managed quite well jumping out to a 28-7 first half lead. So long as the Falcons can continue to execute on offense, and force turnovers, it's hard seeing them not making a playoff run.

4. Olathe East (3-2): The Hawks' loss came without two of their key starters, Jalen Branson and Derek Miller, so it's hard tell whether Friday was an anomaly or a sign of things to come. One thing we do know -- the Hawks have looked pretty average despite their three wins to date.

5. Olathe Northwest (3-2): The Ravens took care of business again in week five, quietly disposing of SM North and going above .500 past the midway point in the season for the first time since 2011. They can make up even more ground in the next couple weeks if they play to their potential.

6. Lawrence (3-2): It's crazy to consider LHS was the epitome of the spread offense just two seasons ago, and now they're back to an almost run-only offensive attack. It was true on Friday, when they ran the ball 59 times for 306 yards and three touchdowns, and attempted zero passes.

7. Lawrence Free State (2-3): Free State's young roster has actually performed very well -- it's been the injuries to some of those young guys which has created depth issues. The Firebirds need to get things figured out soon, because their district won't be doing them any favors.

8. Leavenworth (2-3): Despite losing by 16 points to Olathe North, the Pioneers competed hard and it appears they've really improved their confidence as this season has gone along. They face another dominant opponent in SM East this week, but don't expect Leavenworth to roll over early, if at all.

9. SM Northwest (2-3): The Cougars are feeling good after their week five victory, and they have a chance to keep the momentum going this week against Olathe Northwest. A win would be absolutely gigantic for the Cougars' psyche heading into a district with opponents a combined 2-13.

10. SM South (1-4): There's not much to say for the Raiders. Their quarterback play has been poor, they haven't played good enough defense to prevent much, and they've lost four straight. This week's opponent, Free State, is not playing well, and offers a chance for the Raiders to get things going.

11. SM West (1-4): It's hard to overlook the Vikings woes, and the stat that really jumps out is their slow starts -- they've been outscored 41-0 in the first quarters of their games. With four contests remaining, which all appear winnable, the Vikings need to reverse their poor early performances.

12. SM North (0-5): The Indians will be playing with house money this week against Olathe North. If the Indians lose, so what? They're expected to lose, and they have a mostly easy district waiting. Expect the Indians to pull out all the stops in this final tune-up before district play.

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