Jeff Jacobs: CIAC football schedule loaded with great matchups this week thanks to Alliance

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There have been few early season weeks — probably none — with a more delicious set of state high school football games than this one.

Week 3. 2022.

This is the week the Connecticut High School Football Alliance puts a permanent stamp on the scheduling of the sport in our state.

“We’ve been doing this for five years,” said SCC commissioner Al Carbone, one of the Alliance founding fathers. “And I’ve never seen a week more significant.”

It also is the week when a resounding message must be sent to those few remaining conferences that haven’t joined the Alliance: Join for next season or continue tainting, even ruining, the CIAC formula for qualifying for the state playoffs.

What makes this week special?

The first reason is the planning that went into matching opponents of equal strength for an entertaining interconference schedule where 42 of the 68 total CIAC games are played within the Alliance.

The second reason is we don’t have anything close to a firm grip on who the top team in the state is. Heck, we don’t have anything close to a firm grip on what the Top 10 teams in the GameTimeCT poll should look like. This week will give us a better handle on who is who and what is what.

There are a half-dozen gold star games.

On Friday night:

No. 9 Fairfield Prep (SCC) at No. 2 New Canaan (FCIAC).

No. 3 Shelton (SCC) at Windsor (CCC).

No. 5 Maloney (CCC) at Darien (FCIAC) in a game between the 2021 Class L and Class LL champions.

Bloomfield (CCC) at No. 4 Killingly (ECC).

On Saturday:

No. 6 Southington (CCC) at No. 1 Greenwich (FCIAC).

Masuk (SWC) at No. 7 St. Joseph (FCIAC).

And there’s another handful of games that aren’t far behind.

As Sean Patrick Bowley and Pete Paguaga pointed out on the Meat Grinder podcast, the hype has never been higher in Week 3.

Hand coach Erik Becker said this is the best Shelton team since Dan Orlovsky was quarterback.

Masuk coach Steve Christy called the matchup with St. Joseph “the biggest game of our lives.”

One coach told The Day of New London that Killingly is the best team he has seen in the ECC in 20 years.

“Whoever has been this excited for a Week 3?” Carbone said.

Sports writing is nothing if not the cult of hyperbole. So hype on.

This isn’t 2019 when St. Joseph and Hand tracked each other start to finish. This isn’t 2021 when most of us sensed correctly that Darien was best. Five teams got No. 1 votes in the latest GameTimeCT poll. No lie, I count a dozen teams that could finish No. 1.

The GameTimeCT poll had five teams getting first place votes: Greenwich, New Canaan, Shelton, Killingly and Maloney. The Day coaches poll had a sixth, St. Joseph.

One coach insisted to me the best team is Ansonia and that coaches involved in scrimmaging the Chargers preseason know this. Ansonia is 10th in the GameTimeCT poll, No. 10 in the coaches poll and not even in the Top 25 of the MaxPreps computer rankings.

We didn’t mention No. 8 Trumbull, which MaxPreps has No. 3. And look at Fairfield Prep. The Jesuits started at No. 3 in the GameTimeCT poll and dropped to No. 9. Their one loss is to Belen Prep of Florida, 15-14, and the only thing we know about Belen Prep — thanks to our Mike Fornabaio — is Fidel Castro was an alumnus and later expelled the school from Cuba.

GameTimeCT starts with a preseason poll. Just like the college polls, it’s done much more for entertainment than anything else. The one problem is when voters initially rank teams and they don’t lose — regardless of the opponent or how tight the game is — the voters are hesitant to change.

There is plenty of sentiment that Shelton is No. 1. Entering the season Greenwich got 17 of 22 first place votes and, when Darien lost to St. Joe’s, all 22 after Week One. Greenwich had to rally from a 21-point hole to beat Ridgefield, 49-42, last week. Shelton crushed Ridgefield, 55-14, in one of the 35 Alliance games in Week 1.

Comparative scores certainly aren’t the only metric, but it is interesting that the coaches poll, which starts in Week 3, had Greenwich with seven first-place votes and Shelton with five. The GameTimeCT poll gap, meanwhile, remained much wider with Greenwich with 15 of 22 first place votes. Shelton had five.

With the expansion to six CIAC playoff classes and 48 teams this year, it becomes harder and harder to determine who really is the best. With Thanksgiving games going nowhere, it is impossible to put more teams in four playoff classes. Greenwich, for instance, is Class LL, Shelton is now in Class L and they won’t play.

With the NVL playing solely within its league, the Pequot almost entirely doing so and the CTC with only two teams playing in the Alliance in 2022, it also becomes more fractured in determining what teams should even make the playoffs. Yes, power points help. No, not nearly enough. Those teams play in their own Petrie dish.

The Alliance, which includes 100 teams from six leagues in 90 games this year, certainly helps with playoff measuring sticks. There are other reasons for the Alliance.

“There are teams looking for their first win this week, too,” Carbone said. “We know Bridgeport Central, say, isn’t going to play Southington. Who are the teams we can best match up, so teams can look at the other side of the field at a team in the same kind of situation?

“We’re also making sure everyone can get 10 football games. Some teams may need up to three games. Some may need one.”

Jonathan Law (SCC), for instance, needed to fill an opening so a Week 8 Alliance game was set up with Stratford (SWC).

So how does the Alliance scheduling happen?

The commissioner of each participating league as well as their football chairperson meet in a room in mid-February at the CIAC offices. The CIAC, Carbone said, has always been supportive of the Alliance.

“Every league schedules differently,” he said. “At the SCC, we wait until the end of the season because of our tiers. Week 3 was easier to schedule than Week 1 because more teams were available — CCC teams in particular.”

They look at five years of records. They consider how many seniors teams will lose and returning starters. The first meeting, Carbone said, lasted almost six hours and they returned a second time to finish up.

“I like the Alliance a lot,” Killingly coach Chad Neal said. “I think it’s exciting, exciting for our kids. You’re playing teams you don’t normally play that you don’t choose. There’s an unknown. It’s good for our kids to be tested. I’m sure it’s good for Bloomfield.”

Killingly is in Class MM because of a flawed structure for moving up schools of choice that puts vo-ag schools in the same boat as Catholic schools. Perennial power Bloomfield also has a vo-ag program, but because it draws fewer than 25 from outside its borders it is exempt and remains in Class S. Killingly, according to Neal starts a couple of vo-ag kids. Bloomfield, according to coach Ty Outlaw, starts one.

This is an entirely fair fight. Killingly power and size vs. Bloomfield speed and athleticism. Soren Rief. Darrien Foster. A must-see among a number of must-sees in Week 3, 2022.

Killingly, which won the state Class M tittle last year, had one more boy than Ansonia in last year’s enrollment figures so it started out Class SS and was moved up two classes. Ansonia is the biggest school in Class S and won’t be challenged until Thanksgiving against Naugatuck.

Ansonia should have played a team like New Fairfield, Sheehan, Bloomfield or Killingly. Period.

“Our hope is to get the NVL and Pequot to join,” Carbone said.

He is being diplomatic.

At this point, the NVL and Pequot are doing real damage to the integrity of the playoff system if they don’t join the Alliance.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123