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Ranking the rankings

Having Orchard Park football reach No. 10 in the USA Today's East regional rankings (check out OP literally putting themselves on the map) got me thinking about polls and rankings and ratings and such.

The last time a Western New York team was ranked by USA Today was when St. Francis did it in 2004.

The Red Raiders were ranked sixth in the East when it beat Cleveland's St. Ignatius, propelling them to 22nd in the newspaper's top 25 and fifth in the East. St. Francis lost at home the next week and that was that for the rankings.

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By USA Today selecting Orchard Park as the only team from our state in its regional rankings (OP is 10th of a top 10), the paper is saying that OP is the best football team in the state, regardless of class or league.

A few teams that might have something to say about that are St. Anthony's and William Floyd of Long Island, Aquinas of Rochester and perhaps Monroe-Woodbury of downstate Section IX, which could be a potential opponent of OP's in the Class AA state championship game.

In the state rankings, posted each week by the New York State Sportswriters Association, OP is first in AA, followed by Floyd, St. Anthony's and Monroe-Woodbury. Aquinas is No. 1 in Class A.

I'd say Orchard Park and St. Anthony's have the best claim on being the two best teams in the state. St. Anthony's passed fellow Strong Islander Floyd in the Newsday poll (more on that later). Both are very deep, strong, athletic teams with great traditions. St. Anthony's has a loss this season, 7-6 on the road in its opener to St. Joseph's Prep of Philadelphia, itself a program ranked nationally entering the season.

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When it comes to national rankings, USA Today's are not alone. Ranking national high schools has to be impossible -- we get enough grief here about our local poll, which can be maddening to put together.

But with that said, in my nine years covering high school sports, I've found that more often than not, other national polls seem to make more sense to me than USA Today's football and basketball rankings.

The one I've trusted in the past is now known as the ESPNRise Fab 50. The Fab 50 used to be compiled by Student Sports, which was bought up by ESPN, which then created its own brand in ESPNRise. Doug Huff, who came over with Student Sports and has been doing exhaustive national rankings for many years, has an interesting post about the origin of high school rankings.

Amen to the last line of his last post: "National high school rankings might not be new, and they might be subjective and subject to debate. But they do add public interest to high school sports and serve as a barometer for team performance."

Along the lines of public interest -- I (and others) might find fault with USA Today's rankings, but a larger point is that at least they do them.

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Here are the other rankings and how they see New York state:

* The ESPNRise Fab 50 is not only released in a list, there is an expanded version of the poll which includes writeups on all 50 teams. St. Ignatius, which beat both St. Francis and Canisius this season, is 21st in the country.

In the ESPNRise regional rankings, St. Anthony's is the only team from New York ranked, and it is placed 18th among 20 teams in the East. The East is one of the poll's five regions and includes Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

* Rivals High at Yahoo! has a national poll of 100 teams, in which St. Ignatius is 19th.

In Rivals' Atlantic East rankings, Aquinas is the only New York team ranked, and it is 19th of 20 teams. The Atlantic East is one of five regions, and it stretches south through Virginia and South Carolina.

In comparing the three, USA Today is giving New York State in general -- and Orchard Park in particular -- a lot more credit than the other polls. USA Today has made OP one of 40 teams it has selected from around the country.

But while USA Today only names 40 teams, ESPNRise and Rivals each name over 100.

In the ESPNRise polls, Good Counsel of Olney, Md., is ranked 42nd nationally but is eighth of 20 teams in the East. That would lead one to believe that St. Anthony's (18th in the East) would probably fall near the bottom of the top 100.

When you compare Rivals' national and regional lists, Aquinas (19th) would fall outside its top 100 (Wayne Hills of New Jersey is 100th in the national poll and is 16th in the Atlantic East).

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Here's an interesting story from Newsday's Greg Sarra about the St. Anthony's program and how it has separated itself from Long Island public schools, specifically how it moved past William Floyd in Newsday's poll a few weeks ago.

St. Anthony's and William Floyd don't play despite it potentially being a great nonleague matchup, one that is wanted by fans and media. Sound familiar? Meanwhile, Aquinas can't schedule Section V teams in the regular season (which is why they've played five Buffalo-area teams this season).

Looks like public-private acrimony dragging down the overall quality of high school football isn't exclusive to Western New York. Like Sarra asks in his story, and like high school football fans usually say around here, "Wouldn't it be nice if they played?"

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Back to the state rankings for a second. I see some of the WNY teams' placement in the polls a little differently, not that there's anything wrong with that.

In Class A, I consider Grand Island to be stronger than Iroquois, but the order is Sweet Home (sixth), Iroquois (11th) and Grand Island (13th).

In Class C, Southwestern is one spot ahead of Cleveland Hill, while I think Cleveland Hill deserves to be at least a handful of spots ahead of Southwestern.

Class D has just two Section VI teams ranked: Maple Grove is second and Clymer is eighth; Clymer's record is getting them attention but their Class D league is considered significantly behind the larger Class DD league.

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Don't forget to vote in the polls about this weekend's games.

---Keith McShea

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