There are three weeks to go in the regular season to determine the two teams that will be playing in Trumbull on Nov. 19 for the FCIAC championship. This has been a strange fall: there has been a paucity of really big must-see games — though there are some more coming — yet there has been greater parity than at any time in recent memory.
Consider: name the one school that seems unbeatable at this point? Usually there are one or two. Darien and Staples are the lone unbeaten schools in conference play. Does either seem dominant at this point?
The top of the league has slipped a bit, while the upper middle has been solid. Thus, right now there are five teams with either no losses or just one. The reverse is also true: there are just five schools with either no wins or just one.
The more compelling races are for berths in the state playoffs. The FCIAC final lost some luster ever since the Thanksgiving Day games became the tail wagging the dog, and with a revitalized CIAC Tournament it has even less marquee value.
As we enter the homestretch, here are some thoughts, observations and predictions:
♦ Darien fans can load up their gas tanks for the ride to Trumbull. Barring an upset of seismic proportions, the Blue Wave are going to be 9-0 and playing in the final for the second time in three years. A lot has been made of Darien’s weak schedule, something it has little control over. But there are quality wins over St. Joseph and last week against Red Lion Christian of Delaware. With the final three games coming against Bassick, Westhill and slumping Norwalk, the Blue Wave will be in great shape. They have one of the state’s best defenses and a suspect offense. They also have many skeptics they can silence in the postseason.
♦ As we suspected, the Nov. 13 game between Staples and Trumbull will likely decide — or at least greatly impact — the other final spot. Both the Wreckers (6-0) and Trumbull (5-1), currently second and third, respectively, in the point total standings, control their own destiny. The Eagles have the toughest road, with a game against one-loss Ridgefield before facing Staples. A setback there would cast it in the role of spoiler. Staples has an easy game against Ludlowe and then faces a pesky Wilton team before Trumbull. Staples is a strong bet of getting the chance to defend its championship and playing in its fifth final in eight years.
♦ The scenario the general football fan would probably most like to see. Ridgefield beats Trumbull, which then beats Staples. Stamford wins out, and so does New Canaan, which will get bonus points for defeating Greenwich. Which means someone in the FCIAC office will be playing with an abacus to figure this all out. There would be a great outcry, which would hopefully lead to….
♦ The FCIAC needs to work out a playoff system based on divisions, not points. There is no perfect way of doing this, especially with 19 schools, and you would have to align conferences so that Thanksgiving opponents are in different divisions. But with such a disparity in the difficulty of schedules, you need an equalizer, and that has to be head-to-head play over a weighted point system, which just doesn’t work. Assuming Darien and Staples remain unbeaten, imagine the outcry if, say, New Canaan had gone unbeaten, and one of the three schools had not qualified for the final.
♦ Speaking of New Canaan… The Rams’ postseason hopes are in a very precarious state. They picked up few bonus points because of a ridiculously easy first five games, and currently sit in the 12th spot in the Class L rankings. They most likely will have to win out against Wilton, Greenwich and Bridgeport Central — by no means a certain feat — to have a chance to compete for a fifth straight CIAC title. One thing that has hurt New Canaan is penalties. That was a problem even in a 5-0 start. There were eight in Saturday’s loss to St. Joseph, including three on successive plays during the Cadets’ opening drive for a touchdown.
♦ Bryan Hocter is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year. Little was known about Hocter when he was hired last spring to replace Kevin Jones as head coach. And people who saw the Black Knights in the preseason said they were awful (just another example of why I don’t put as much stock in scrimmages as others do). But right now they are riding a four-game winning streak heading into Friday night’s game against Central. Stamford then has three winnable games to close out the schedule. If the Black Knights finish 8-2, they may rename their home field Hocter Stadium.