Kansas Pregame publisher John Baetz breaks down the final PPI and offers his own final rankings
The 2021 football season is now a wrap and eight Kansas State High School Activities Association state champions are cleaning off space in their trophy cases, with six of them simply sliding last year’s championship trophy over to make space for yet another.
Only Blue Valley Northwest and Meade provided significant surprises in Saturday’s championship games, with the Huskies winning the first title in program history in a dominant upset of Derby, and the Buffs winning their first title in 8-Man after great success in the 11-Man ranks that included a championship as recently as 2012.
Now, our first edition of the Prep Power Index is complete - check out the final PPI here - and, in our opinion, the final ratings are pretty accurate, minus a couple notable flaws:
• In 6A, the PPI likes Gardner-Edgerton at 11 thanks to a playoff win over a six-win Dodge City team, a narrow loss in the quarterfinals to a nine-win Manhattan team, along with close losses to good Lawrence Free State and Shawnee Mission Northwest teams. Given the apparent strength of the Eastern Kansas League, it seems that an 8-2 Blue Valley team should certainly be ranked ahead of the Trailblazers and Washburn Rural and Junction City teams that followed close behind Blue Valley would also likely be favored in a match-up with G-E. The make-up of the Eastern Kansas League, with a pair of 4A teams with losing regular season records, is the biggest reason for Blue Valley’s low rating, and as mentioned in earlier PPI releases the formula is not equipped to recognize the overall strength of a kind of super league like the EKL. Even so, the final top five in the 6A PPI is likely pretty close to accurate, though given Blue Valley Northwest’s dominance in the state title game, several teams could probably stake a claim to the next two or three spots in the poll.
• The 5A PPI puts Maize just behind Kapaun and Northwest, and while those three teams, and Bishop Carroll, could very well split in a multi-game series, Maize’s PPI is pulled down by the Week 4 loss to 3-6 Ark City. The Eagles clearly finished the season as the second best team in the classification, though the remainder of the top 10 appears pretty accurate.
• Class 4A’s PPI appears pretty darn accurate, though Chanute appeared capable of beating Eudora, KC-Piper and possibly even McPherson at the end of the season, and were very close to beating Bishop Miege in the second round of the state playoffs, even so, the stronger league schedules of those three teams certainly gives them an advantage over the Blue Comets. The formula’s inability to recognize the relative weakness of Atchison’s league is another flaw that was well-documented this season, and likely inflated the Phoenix’s rating a bit, though AHS had an excellent season and Jesse Greenly will return next fall as one of the top running backs in the state.
• The final top two in 3A is accurate. After Andale dismantled Frontenac in the state final it’s clear Southeast of Saline was the second best team in the classification. Frontenac and Holton should be reversed based on the Raiders head-to-head win in the semifinals, but with just .1 separating them in final PPI it could not have been any closer. Cheney could also stake their claim to the third spot in the ratings given their six-point loss to Southeast of Saline behind a Cardinal backfield led by one of the state’s great QBs in Harrison Voth - not to mention a pair of all-state receivers. After taking what seemed like a commanding 14-3 lead in the first quarter of their quarterfinal match-up the Trojans controlled the final three stanzas outscoring the Cardinals 31-14 and emphasizing their higher rating.
• The final 2A PPI appears accurate, though Silver Lake could probably stake a claim to the second place spot in the ratings and Wellsville would likely be favored in a match-up with Kingman. Beloit would certainly like to have another shot at Rossville with their team a bit healthier. No team in the playoffs was hurt more at the skill positions heading into a state title game than the Trojans.
• The top three in the 1A PPI is very accurate, but from there Centralia, Smith Center and Conway Springs are probably more balanced than their final PPI rating indicates and frankly, any team in the seven spots below the Top 3 could beat each other on any given night.
• While Blue Valley Northwest was clearly the biggest surprise on Saturday, Meade also forced most football fans to take pause. Once a state small school 11-Man power, in just the second year of 8-Man the Buffs made an unbeaten run to the state title. The biggest surprise was not that Meade won, but a combination of the Buffs early success against defending 8-Man I champion Little River and the game finishing with a scoreless second half. Meade took a 16-0 lead with a little over three minutes gone in the game and Little River pulled to within 22-14 with 21 seconds left in the half before the two teams would go scoreless the rest of the way. Again, 8-Man I’s PPI looks pretty accurate, especially the Top 3. Madison probably deserves a nod as the fourth best team in Kansas with Hill City right behind them.
• Wheatland-Grinnell definitely improved from their Week 1 loss to Axtell, but were still no match for an Axtell team that showed off their offensive prowess weekly throughout the season. Hanover may be rated a bit too low thanks to a string of three-straight midseason losses and the overall strength of the Twin Valley League, but other than that, the 8-Man II PPI appears pretty accurate.
So, given these considerations, here’s what my final Top 5 is in each classification and some notes about why they differ from the final PPI:
1. Blue Valley Northwest
4. Lawrence Free State
5. Tie: Blue Valley West, Blue Valley*
Northwest coach Clint Rider took the program from rags-to-riches in just five seasons, posting just four wins in his first three years, including a winless 2018. Behind the play of FBS quarterback prospect Mikey Pauley - a University of Nebraska baseball signee - and a talented and experienced senior class, the Huskies stormed out to a 28-0 halftime lead and held off the Panthers in the second half to secure the program’s first state title. Standout junior running back Grant Stubblefield also made the Husky offense go.
*Blue Valley West beat Blue Valley in the second round of the playoffs, but the team split on the year, and this ranking reflects my belief that the two teams were as equal as any two teams can get by the time the year was complete.
1. Mill Valley
5. Wichita Northwest
6. Bishop Carroll*
Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee again proved that he is one of the state’s best, replacing a number of key players lost to graduation, dropping just one game in the regular season and surviving what is becoming an annual playoff matchup with Aquinas before downing Maize in the title game. It was the third straight title for Mill Valley and the fifth since 2015.
*I had to take my 5A rankings out to a sixth spot because Bishop Carroll is so close in the trio of GWAL powers - Kapaun, Northwest, Carroll - that they deserve a mention, but I do believe the Grizzlies would’ve learned from their earlier season loss to the Golden Eagles and found a way to beat them had their paths crossed in the playoffs. Also, Hays, with a healthy Jaren Kanak, who was likely the best overall player in Kansas this year, is just a step behind Maize and Northwest and probably comes in seventh in our poll.
1. St. James Academy
2. Andover Central
4. Bishop Miege
Spent most of the season discounting the Thunder, believing they would struggle to replace the lost production of LaJames White, and, early in the season, they did, but, like a broken record they came through a tough EKL schedule and rolled through the east side of the bracket behind a great defense and outstanding receiving corps and edged Andover Central 28-21 to win a second consecutive title.
I’ll put the Mason Ellis led Mulvane Wildcats in the fifth spot here after they rebounded from a pair of consecutive losses to Collegiate and Andale to open the season before going on an eight game win streak that included a pair of wins over highly regarding McPherson, the last one coming in the second round of the state playoffs.
2. Southeast of Saline
Andale is in the midst of a historic run of success and their dominance in the title game was impressive and left no doubt they were the best in the classification, and very well could have finished as the best in the 4A classification had they played in that division. Southeast of Saline, with elite speed from Michael Murray and Chase Poague, a huge offensive line, the outstanding decision making of Luke Gebhardt at QB and all-state linebacker Matthew Rodriguez gave the Andale powerhouse their best game of the season in the semifinals, but couldn’t find a way to stop the train. Wichita Collegiate is the forgotten team that stands just outside of the Top 5 and very well could be the third best team in the classification this season.
2. Silver Lake
Beloit was absolutely battered heading into the title game with Rossville with multiple skills players out with injuries. In spite of that, the Trojans left it all on the field in trying to stop the Dawgs, but Rossville’s offensive versatility was just too much and Torrey Horak wraps his career as one of the state's all-time best. The hire of head coach Derrick Hammes continues to pay dividends for the Dawgs as they won their second straight title and their fifth since 2014. Northeast Kansas 2A football was again cumulatively better than the west and Silver Lake and Wellsville earn our second and third rankings in this poll, though a healthy Beloit would very likely finish as a true second best team in the state behind the Dawgs. Nemaha Central is just outside of this Top 5 and, much like Beloit, the Thunder would love to see how the season would've ended with a healthy backfield.
4. Smith Center
Olpe deserves tremendous credit for putting this incredible two-year run together given they field an 11-Man team with such small numbers. The wire-to-wire favorite, Olpe now has a chance to repeat as basketball champions as well. In spite of their preseason number one football ranking and streak of success, I was surprised at their dominance of Inman in the title game. The Tuetons were athletic and played a swarming style of defense, but the Eagles were just too much. Sedgwick was a clear number three in spite of the close win over Smith Center as their ability to close out the quarterfinal game with the Red showed off Lance Hoffsommer’s clutch big game ability. Spots four through 10 are almost a toss up with any team capable of beating any other on any given Friday.
2. Little River
5. Hill City
Meade raced out to a lead and held off Little River to earn the 8-Man I title. This Top 5 is likely the most balanced from one through five, though we see Madison as a tick better than Hill City, which is different than the final PPI. Little River’s Braxton Lafferty, Canton-Galva’s Garrett Maltbie, Madison’s Bryson Turner and Hill City’s Aiden Amrein will return as four of the state’s best players next fall.
3. Thunder Ridge
One coach told me that Axtell junior quarterback Isaac Detweiler was the best decision maker he’d ever seen and together with his team of fellow non-seniors, including a few key freshmen, the Eagles rolled through 8-Man II. Axtell will be the heavy favorites to repeat next fall, though Thunder Ridge also returns several key pieces from this year’s team and should again be a factor. Wheatland-Grinnell deserves credit for making significant improvement over the last three seasons and from Week 1 to last week’s title game, but the Thunderhawks may be hard-pressed to repeat this year’s run to a title game next fall following the graduation of seniors Isaac Mendez, Trey Vincent, Ryan Heier and others.
Regardless of rankings, congratulations to all the team’s and players that worked so hard this season. Now, it’s time for us at Kansas Pregame to start thinking about next year.