A look at the national rankings midway through the season

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Let’s face it, high school football rankings are mostly one of two things — fun or frustrating.  I believe they are fun, but there are some out there…mostly the fans…that find them frustrating, especially when their team isn’t ranked where they think they should be.

From my perspective, we began our High School Football America Top 25 poll in 2012 when we moved our base of operations to Los Angeles.  Our first year, we did what everyone else does for the most part, which is put together an opinion poll based upon our beliefs and conversations with coaches and reporters from around the country.  Quite honestly, it was fun, except when the emails and tweets began rolling in.  If you let them affect you, you’d spend the entire day thinking that you were a moron.

That’s when I got to thinking, could High School Football America invent a better mouse trap?  So, at the end of the 2012 season, I began developing an algorithm that was designed to take opinion out of the mix.

Now an algorithm isn’t new — MaxPreps.com has been using the Freeman Computer Rankings for year, while our partners at USA TODAY High School Sports use the Massey Computer Rankings.

Here’s how USA TODAY High School Sports describes Ken Massey’s ratings — they are designed to reward teams for their performance, and objectively quantify those performances. Strength of schedule is built into the model. The model also corrects for home field advantage. Teams lose less for a loss on the road and gain more for a win on the road. Margin of victory also is factored in. Because some of the data is based on past performances, the computer will be more accurate as the season progresses. Generally, once a team plays three games, the computer can better slot how it stacks up against teams nationally.

When I began developing our algorithm, I used all of the usual criteria described above, but we put a few extra things into the mix that we feel gives us a secret sauce that allows us to find teams during the preseason that deserve Top 25 recognition before the rest.  Last year, our algorithm spotted South Panola from Mississippi and Southlake Carroll from Texas in the preseason before they found their way into all of the other national ranking service polls.

Related: 2014 High School Football America Preseason Top 25

We did it again this year with La Salle from Ohio, Euless Trinity from Texas and Mater Dei from Southern California.  All three of these teams weren’t in any other preseason Top 25 except ours, but now all three are ranked in every poll, except for Mater Dei, which isn’t ranked in the USA TODAY Super 25.

Related: 2015 High School Football America Preseason Top 25

Some may think I’m writing this to brag, but that’s not the case, I respect all of my ranking colleagues.  For me, I just thought it would be great to take a look at where we started and where we stand at the halfway point of the season.  Let’s face it, to quote Steve Spiewak of MaxPreps, “it’s more art than science.”

I should point-out before our breakdown, that our preseason ranking is a combination of our algorithm with a slight amount of opinion baked-in.  The best example of this is — Allen, our three-time defending national champion, actually came-out #1 in the preseason algorithm, but the graduation of quarterback Kyler Murray, who was undefeated as a varsity quarterback, had me drop the Eagles to #2 in the preseason poll.  Once the season begins, High School Football America uses only its algorithm to determine our Top 25.

So here we are on October 9th and we’re proud of the fact that 18 of the teams in our preseason Top 25 are still in the same area code.  That doesn’t mean that we didn’t swing-and-miss on  teams like preseason #5 DeSoto (Texas), now 2-4.

So, how did the other opinion-rankers fare from preseason until Octoberfest?

NationalHSFootball.com is a close second with 16 teams left from their preseason Top 25, followed by USA TODAY and PrepNation.com with 15 left and MaxPreps with 14 left.

Below is a list of teams from each poll that began the preseason in the Top 25 and are now on the outside looking in.

High School Football America Top 25 (7)

#4 Miami Central (Florida)

#5 DeSoto (Texas)

#7 Mallard Creek (North Carolina)

#15 Archer (Georgia)

#16 Good Counsel (Maryland)

#22 Pittsburgh Central Catholic (Pennsylvania)

#25 Bingham (Utah)

NationalHSFootball.com (9)

#5 Miami Central (Florida)

#7 DeSoto (Texas)

#8 Mallard Creek (North Carolina)

#11 Archer (Georgia)

#17 Oxford (Mississippi)

#18 Paramus Catholic (New Jersey)

#21 Cibolo Steele (Texas)

#24 Manvel (Texas)

#25 Flanagan (Florida)

USA TODAY Super 25 (10)

#3 Miami Central (Florida)

#8 DeSoto (Texas)

#10 Colerain (Ohio)

#12 Archer (Georgia)

#14 Cocoa (Florida)

#15 Paramus Catholic (New Jersey)

#20 Chandler (Arizona)

#22 Manvel (Texas)

#24 Bishop Amat (California)

#25 Flanagan (Florida)

PrepNation.com (10)

#4 DeSoto (Texas)

#6 Miami Central (Florida)

#12 Mallard Creek (North Carolina)

#13 Colerain (Ohio)

#17 Paramus Catholic (New Jersey)

#18 Bingham (Utah)

#19 Archer (Georgia)

#22 Manvel (Texas)

#24 Oxford (Mississippi)

#25 Archbishop Rummel (Louisiana)

MaxPreps Xcellent 25 (11)

#2 Miami Central (Florida)

#4 Archer (Georgia)

#5 DeSoto (Texas)

#8 Mallard Creek (North Carolina)

#9 Flanagan (Florida)

#13 Bingham (Utah)

#17 Chandler (Arizona)

#20 Manvel (Texas)

#22 Archbishop Rummel (Louisiana)

#23 Oxford (Mississippi)

#24 Bishop Amat (California)

One thing that we have done over the last three years of using our algorithm is we haven’t released our first in-season poll until after the Labor Day games, which allows the algorithm to do its work.  If you look at our poll since Labor Day, you’ll find that only Archer from Georgia and Pittsburgh Central Catholic from Pennsylvania are no longer in our national rankings.

As far as our colleagues since Labor Day, MaxPreps.com, NationalHSFootball.com and PrepNation.com have dropped six teams from their Top 25’s, while USA TODAY has dropped seven teams from its Super 25.

The biggest team that our algorithm disagrees with is Ocean Lakes from Virginia.  All four of the other polls have the Dolphins in the Top 25.  Currently Ocean Lakes is ranked #40 in our The Other 25 — teams #26 through #50.

We also don’t have Grayson from Georgia ranked like MaxPreps, NationalHSFootball and PrepNation.  USA TODAY also doesn’t have the Rams ranked in the Top 25.  Right now, Grayson is #37 in our The Other 25.

Another team ranked by three polls, but not ours is Jenks from Oklahoma.  MaxPreps agrees with us and doesn’t have the Trojans ranked in the Top 25.  Our algorithm has Jenks at #45.

Related: The Other 25, Week 5

School HSFA USA Today MaxPreps HSFB 100 NPP Pts
1. Bishop Gorman (NY) 2 1 1 2 2 122
2. St. John Bosco (CA) 5 2 5 1 1 116
3. Corona Centennial (CA) 3 7 2 5 4 109
4. (tie) St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) 6 3 4 6 3 108
4. (tie) DeMatha (MD) 4 6 3 4 6 108
6. Allen (TX) 1 4 6 9 7 103
7. Colquitt County (GA) 8 5 7 3 5 102
8. IMG Academy (FL) 12 9 10 8 11 80
9. Euless Trinity (TX) 7 13 15 11 10 74
10. American Heritage (Plantation,FL) 21 11 9 7 9 73
11. Katy (TX) 10 12 11 18 15 64
12. Cedar Hill (TX) 15 15 17 13 8 65
13. De La Salle (CA) 11 14 18 12 13 62
14. Spartanburg (SC) 23 16 12 10 14 55
15. Ocean Lakes (VA) NR 10 8 20 12 54
16. Clay-Chalkville (AL) 22 8 16 NR 16 42
17. Mainland (FL) 18 22 13 15 21 41
18. Mater Dei (CA) 13 NR 22 14 17 38
19. La Salle (OH) 9 21 21 NR 19 34
20. South Panola (MS) 14 24 14 25 22 32
21. Male (KY) 20 20 20 17 NR 27
22. St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, NJ) 16 18 24 22 24 26
23. Grayson (GA) NR NR 19 16 18 25
24. Jenks (OK) NR 17 NR 19 23 19
25. St. Edward (OH) 17 25 25 23 NR 14

Related: Media Compilation Poll

Now, what about how we fare with Freeman and Massey?  Both have Bishop Gorman (Nevada) at #1, while we have Allen at the top.  Freeman has Allen #6, while Massey has the Eagles at #8.

We’ve been on the Center Grove (Indiana) bandwagon since our first in-season poll on September 7th.  Both Freeman and Massey have them in the Top 25, but no other opinion poll includes the Trojans.

Head-t0-head, High School Football America’s algorithm matches Freeman with each poll having the same 18 teams in the Top 25.   We match 16 teams in the Massey rankings.

So, after all this, have we solved anything?

NO, but hey, it was a fun exercise as we head into the second half of the season to see which team will win our “mythical” national championship in 2015.




About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.