This Friday evening, the Tigers will conclude their preseason when they take on perennial state power Lakewood St. Edward. It will be a difficult task to be sure. But they hope to parlay that experience into a victory over another power in Mentor, which invades Paul Brown Tiger Stadium the following Friday. For without a league title in which to contend, it’s all about making the state playoffs, which must come before any talk about post-season success.
The magic number is “7.” That’s the number of wins a typical Massillon team would need to qualify for the playoffs. But there’s more to it than just winning games. The win total must also include a significant number of teams that are also winners in order to accumulate sufficient computer points.
The playoffs have been around since 1972. Here’s a look back at the win totals of past Tiger teams regarding the number of teams that would have finished in the top eight of the region, taking into account that the present setup was not in place until 1999.
- 10 wins: 5 of 5 qualified for the playoffs
- 9 wins: 7 of 8
- 8 wins: 12 of 12
- 7 wins: 8 of 10
- 6 wins: 3 of 7
- 5 wins: 0 of 1
- 4 wins: 0 of 4
So with at least seven wins, the Tigers qualified for the playoffs 91% of the time. Even with six wins there was a fighting chance. Of course, seven wins isn’t a guarantee, since a weak schedule can work against you, as it did in both 1978 (9-0-1) and 2011 (7-3). But an overly strong schedule can also work against. In some years, the schedule was just too difficult to overcome as the following discussion will point out.
We’ll start by rating the strength-of-schedule for each year using the following point system:
- Rating 0 – The team is flat out not very good at football; ex. Toledo Bowsher
- Rating 1 – Public or smaller parochial school that did not win at least seven games and did not qualify for the playoffs
- Rating 2 – Public or smaller parochial school that did win at least seven games or qualified for the playoffs
- Rating 3 – Large parochial school
The overall strength-of-schedule is then determined by summing all of the ratings for the ten-game regular season. For example, in 2015 the strength-of-schedule was 18, given that 9 teams made the playoffs (rating = 2) and one team was rated zero.
In case you were wondering, here is Massillon’s winning percentage against each of these groups since 1972:
- Rating 0: 32-0-0 (100%)
- Rating 1: 215-15-1 (93%)
- Rating 2: 84-80-3 (51%)
- Rating 3: 2-18-0 (10%)
If you pull out the Massillon teams that won at least seven games, here are the percentages:
- Rating 0: 21-0-0 (100%
- Rating 1: 178-8-1 (95%)
- Rating 2: 69-40-2 (63%)
- Rating 3: 2-9-0 (18%)
Therefore, it could be concluded that the difference between the Massillon teams that qualified for the playoffs and those that didn’t was better performance against the Rated 2 opponents. The qualifiers won 63% of these games, whereas the non-qualifiers won just 27%. Pretty obvious, of course. But strength-of-schedule still factors in when you consider both number of better opponents on the schedule and Massillon’s traditional winning percentage against those teams. The list below shows the number of teams that qualified for the playoffs for each total strength-of-schedule rating:
- Strength-of-schedule 11 to 12: 7 of 10 qualified for the playoffs
- Strength-of-schedule 13 to 14: 21 of 22
- Strength-of-schedule 15: 4 of 9
- Strength-of-schedule 16 to 18: 2 of 7
The data shows that the optimum strength-of-schedule rating is 13 to 14. But it also shows the problems of both weak and overly strong schedules. With a weak schedule, the computer points are lacking in spite of having a lot of wins. Conversely, with a strong schedule, the wins are sometimes lacking, resulting in insufficient computer points.
Historically, since the introduction of the playoffs, Massillon’s strength-of-schedule has trended upward from 13.5 to the current 14.5, right around the optimum. Last year’s rating was 14. For the previous year, Coach Nate Moore’s first, it was 18.
Keep in mind that for the majority of public school programs across the state, these statistics do not hold up. When these teams are good, they’re good. And when they’re bad, they’re bad. Strength-of-schedule doesn’t seem to matter much. That’s because their programs are not as solid and predictable as Massillon’s. The Tigers tend to put out a good product every year, so it’s the strength-of-schedule that can have a larger influence on the outcome.
That brings us to this year. How strong is the schedule and is it conducive based on the statistics for the Tigers to make the playoffs?- Let’s start by looking at each opponent.
- Mentor – Qualified for the D1 playoffs in 8 of the last 10 years. Returns a 3-year starter at quarterback for a team that emphasizes the pass. Rating = 2.
- Canton GlenOak – Qualified for the D1 playoffs in 8 of the last 10 years. Rating = 2.
- Warren Harding – Would have qualified for the D2 playoffs in 5 of the last 10 years. Rating = 1.5.
- Youngstown Ursuline – Struggled last year. Expected to struggle again. Rating = 1.
- Bedford – Now a D2 team, would have qualified for the D2 playoffs in 3 of the last 4 years. Returns a good nucleus of skilled athletes. Rating = 2.
- Austintown Fitch – Qualified for the D1 playoffs in 5 of the last 6 years. Rating = 1.5.
- Canisius, NY – Large parochial school from New York. Parochial state champs last year. Rating = 3.
- Akron Firestone – Finished 4-6 in 2016. Expected to be better this year. Rating = 1.
- Akron St. Vincent – Qualified for the playoffs in 9 of the last 10 years. Rating = 2.
- Canton McKinley – Qualified for the D1 playoffs in 8 of the last 10 years. Rating = 2.
Based on the above, the strength-of-schedule for the 2017 season is predicted to be 18. This would make it the most difficult schedule the Tigers have faced since the introduction of the playoffs, matching that of the 1989 and 2014 seasons. Seven or eight of the opponents would be expected to qualify for the playoffs and that includes Canisius. But it is not an impossible task as demonstrated by second-year coach Lee Owens, who also faced a strength-of-schedule rating of 18. He fashioned his 1989 team into an 8-2 record and advanced to the D1 regional finals before losing to eventual state champ Cleveland St. Ignatius. And Coach Moore’s first team was one play away from qualifying.
Based on both the strength-of-schedule and the expectations of the other teams in the region, with this schedule six wins might just be enough to be playing in Week 11. But let’s not settle for that. Let’s just win them all!