Monday, October 20, 2014

Sunflower League Power Rankings, News & Notes

SM West's Jordan McKinney added his second,
third, and fourth interceptions of the season on
Friday against SMNW. Photo David Compton.
Eli's News and Notes

**Following Olathe East's Junior Williams' three interception game in the Regional Round of the 2011 playoffs, the league went through 35 weeks of play (including playoff rounds) without having a player intercept three or more passes in a game.

Go figure, in the past two weeks, we've seen it happen three times. Last week, Olathe South's Jonathon Sands claimed Player of the Week honors after snagging three picks against Lawrence. And then on Friday Leavenworth's Isaiah Ross and SM West's Jordan McKinney came away with three interceptions apiece in their games. Sands even added two more on Friday, giving him a league-leading seven interceptions on the season.

**The Sunflower League has gone 12-3 (.800) against non-conference opponents this fall, which is an impressive mark, especially considering nine of those wins have been against non-KCK schools.

**Olathe Northwest's loss at Lawrence on Friday was a gut-wrenching outcome for a program that really appears to be on the rise. They're not out of things yet, but it's going to take a strong showing the next two weeks. One statistic I wanted to point out is how dominant the Ravens have been in the special teams game. Their special teams units have combined to block eight (!) punts and kicks through seven weeks of play. That's basically unheard of, and suggests Olathe Northwest has some wonderful schemes on their punt and kick block teams. Additionally, the Ravens have made five field goals, and with Devin Antcil at kicker, they have a good shot at points anytime they get inside the opponent's 30-yard line.

**Below is the point breakdown for each district in which a league team resides. Remember, in most cases, the general rule of thumb is two wins and you're in. Although on occasion we get a situation where three teams finish at 2-1, and then it comes down to points.

6A District 1
SM East (1-0) +21
SM North (1-0)+21
Harmon (0-1) -21
Wyandotte (0-1) -21

6A District 2
SM West (1-0) +21
SM South (1-0) +12
BV North (0-1) -12
SM Northwest (0-1) -21

6A District 3
Blue Valley (1-0) +21
Olathe South (1-0) +21
BV Northwest (0-1) -21
Gardner-Edgerton (0-1) -21

6A District 4
Olathe North (1-0) +21
Lawrence (1-0) +3
Olathe Northwest (0-1) -3
Olathe East (0-1) -21

6A District 5
Lawrence Free State (1-0) +21
Topeka (1-0) +11
Manhattan (0-1) -11
Topeka Washburn-Rural (0-1) -21

5A District 1
Leavenworth (1-0) +21
Lansing (1-0) +15
Washington (0-1) -15
Schlagle (0-1) -21

**There are a few key metrics that seem to accompany the stat line of of every state title winning team from the Sunflower League, year-after-year. Here are three I pulled away from studying the data.

A. 1,500-yard rusher 
Every Sunflower League team that's won a state title since 1996 has had a player on their roster who rushed for 1,500 yards or more. Below I took each player's average rushing yards per game, then took it times a 13-game season (the amount of games a team would play if they made it to a state title). Here are the only four league players who finish above or near 1,500 rushing yards, at their current per game average extrapolated over a 13-game season.

1. JD Woods, Lawrence (167.5 ypg, 2,175 rushing yards)
2. Venus Triplett, Olathe North (131.7 ypg, 1,712 rushing yards)
3. Bryce Torneden, Free State (119.3 ypg, 1,550 rushing yards)
4. Wyatt Edmisten, SM East (107.3, 1,394 rushing yards)

*Of note: in 2011, Sunflower League MVP Jordan Ward, of Olathe South, finished the regular season with only 847 (94.1 ypg) rushing yards after missing five games with an ankle injury. He ended up churning out 893 (223.3) rushing yards in the Falcons four playoff games, helping the program to its first state title. Sometimes players save their best stuff for the playoffs.

B. Takeaways 
The general rule of thumb is if you can average more than two turnovers per game, you're golden. The following seven teams meet that criteria.

1. Olathe South (18 takeaways, 2.57 per game)
2. SM West (17 takeaways, 2.42 per game)
3. Free State (16 takeaways, 2.28 per game)
3t. Lawrence (15 takeaways, 2.14 per game)
3t. Olathe North (15 takeaways, 2.14 per game)
3t. Olathe Northwest (15 takeaways, 2.14 per game)
3t. SM East (15 takeaways, 2.14 per game)

C. Six regular season wins
We've seen Cinderellas come out of the EKL. Blue Valley entered the playoffs at 3-6 in 2010, then rattled off upset victories in consecutive weeks before losing to Olathe North in Sub-State on a last second field goal. Blue Valley North sat at 4-5 at the end of the regular season in 2003, but won their Regional and Sectional games, including upsetting 10-0 Olathe East, before losing to Olathe North in Sub-State. But neither won a state title. Bottom line: there isn't a state title representative on record from East 6A who didn't have six or more wins at the end of the regular season. Right now, the league teams who either have six wins or can reach six wins by season's end are as follows:

1t. Olathe North (7-0)
1t. SM East (7-0)
3. Olathe South (6-1)
4. Lawrence (6-3)*
5. Olathe Northwest (6-3)*
6. Free State (6-3)*

*Hypothetical six wins if the team finished the regular season with two consecutive victories.

Trending Up

SM North: The Indians ending their 25-game losing streak was certainly cause for celebration. The streak began in October of 2011, and spanned 36 months, four different seasons and three head coaches. There were some bad losses mixed in there -- a 58-0 loss to SM West in 2012 and the surrendering of 60+ points in back-to-back weeks in 2013 come to mind -- but as of the start of districts, SM North is 1-0, and will very likely be 2-0 once they square off with Harmon this Friday.

Olathe South: Assuming they take care of business in week nine against an 0-7 Gardner-Edgerton team, the Falcons will finish at either 8-1 or 7-2, depending on the outcome of their matchup with Blue Valley this week. Either of those records would be quite impressive, considering the regular season schedule they've played, which may be the most challenging of any team in the league this year. It will have included quite possibly six opponents who had winning records, which is not something you see every day from one of the better teams in the league.

Lawrence: With wins in three of their last four games, the Chesty Lions are finally starting to resemble the team many thought they could be in the preseason. In the category of athleticism, Lawrence might only trail Olathe North in the league. But we've seen plenty of athletic teams do little when it counted. What the Chesties were able to do against Olathe Northwest on Friday -- overcoming a third quarter deficit, against a good team, then pitching a shutout in the fourth quarter -- was not something this group wouldn't have been able to do last season, or even five weeks ago.

Trending Down

Olathe Northwest: No Sunflower League program has had as many "close, but no cigar" moments as Olathe Northwest. And Friday's three-point loss to Lawrence was the epitome of what we've seen from the Ravens through the years -- a great opportunity, which just slipped through Olathe Northwest's fingertips. Maybe they win their next two. Maybe they beat Olathe East this week (for the first time ever) and then Olathe East takes down Lawrence in week nine, and the Ravens slip into the playoffs through the backdoor. I think we're all waiting for Olathe Northwest's breakthrough moment, but the jury's still out on whether it's going to happen this season.

SM Northwest: The Cougars just came across lifeless against SM West. They weren't able to free up their talented playmakers like Duron Lowe and Sam Sullivan, they turned the ball over six times, and they allowed five touchdowns and 36 points to a team with statistically the worst offense in the league (to be fair, the Vikings scored once on defense and once on special teams). At the end of the day, the Cougars still have a shot at making the playoffs for the second year in a row, but it's going to take great effort these next two weeks.

Playoff hopes: Districts are a cruel time of the year, especially for seniors. By this time next Friday, we could potentially see three league teams eliminated from playoff contention (that number's actually not as high as what we normally have entering week eight). With the way the Kansas high school district system is set up, all you can hope for is that the best two teams from each district make it. Here's to hoping every team in the league can stay healthy from here on out.

Week Eight Power Rankings

1. SM East (7-0): An undefeated regular season is looking like a formality for the Lancers (and to be fair, it has since about week two or three). SM East's key objectives the next two weeks will be closing out with two wins and staying healthy. And, oh, maybe collecting the 71 points they need to set the all-time league mark for points scored in the regular season.

2. Olathe North (7-0): The Olathe North defense has gelled, clamped down, and gone into full on DEFCON mode. They've surrendered just five touchdowns the past four weeks, and they continue to lead the league in total defense. Meanwhile, the offense is connecting on big play after big play. LHS presents some challenges this week, but the Eagles will be the favorite to leave with the W.

3. Olathe South (6-1): The Falcons checked the box on a huge victory against BV Northwest on Friday. This week's game, at Blue Valley, presents the club's toughest opponent since they matched up with Olathe North in week three. If Olathe South can beat the Tigers on the road you'd have to consider the Falcons as much of a state title favorite as Olathe North and SM East.

4. Lawrence (4-3): The Chesty Lions love to run the football, and they will have no greater test than Olathe North's front seven. The good news for LHS is that their win against Olathe Northwest this past week sets them up well to make the playoffs, so long as they either pull an upset against Olathe North, and/or take care of business against the wounded duck Olathe East in week nine.

5. Olathe Northwest (4-3): The loss to LHS might have been a knockout blow to the Ravens' playoff hopes. They still control their own destiny, but it will require two more wins, or one win and some extremely good luck in week nine. It's a tall order with Olathe North still on the docket, but the Olathe East game looks very winnable, and crazier things have happened.

6. Lawrence Free State (4-3): The *stuff* gets real this week for the Firebirds. They'll be traveling an hour and half west to take on a Manhattan team that stands at 6-1, who's literally playing for its playoff life after losing in week one of districts. Then, as if that wasn't tough enough, the Firebirds will visit the state capitol in week nine to face a Topeka team which may be the favorite in West Class 6A.

7. Leavenworth (3-4): Maybe the Pioneers should have been playing 5A competition the whole time? After defeating Schlagle on Friday, Leavenworth moved to 2-0 against their 5A opponents, while only going 1-4 against 6A competition in league play. Their next two weeks will be solid challenges, but I wouldn't be shocked if they find a way to close the regular season 3-0 in districts, and 5-4 overall.

8. SM West (3-4): For the first time all year it looks like the Vikings are actually moving in the right direction. They've won two straight games, will be favored to win their next two, and could close out the season at 5-4. This fall may not go down in SM West lore, but the team's young core of talent has meshed and they look so much better than they did seven weeks ago.

9. Olathe East (3-4): Nobody is playing as poorly as the Hawks at this point in the season. In the past three weeks they've gone 0-3 and been outscored 94-17. Talk about a midseason meltdown. It's hard to imagine anyone outside the program predicting this kind of performance a month ago.  If the Hawks don't beat Olathe Northwest this Friday their season will effectively be over, if it isn't already.

10. SM South (2-5): The Raiders took care of business on Thursday, and positioned themselves in a situation where they need to win just one of their remaining two games to clinch a playoff berth. But this isn't the first time the program has been in this situation, only to come up short. If the Raiders can close out the season well, and make the playoffs, the season would be a successful one considering the injuries they've had.

11. SM Northwest (2-5): With the loss to SM West on Friday, this week's game against BV North has become a must-win if the Cougars want to keep their playoff hopes alive. The good news is BV North is just 1-20 in their last 21 games. By all means SM Northwest should come away victorious -- but another lackadaisical effort and they could be packing up on the 2014 season a week early.

12. SM North (1-6): It took a long time -- 25 games to be exact -- before the Indians were able to collect a victory, but they finally did, and it's got to be a great feeling for interim head coach Ben Bartlett, his staff and players, and the other members of the SM North football program. The Indians will almost undoubtedly starting a winning streak when they face Harmon this week.

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