Sixty-six teams made it through the first four weeks without a loss.
It’s a fascinatingly low number for this early in the season. It will be whittled by a minimum of 20 – and likely quite a few more – before we are done. Forty of the 66 face at least one fellow undefeated team in the final five weeks of the season.
In the last season with a postseason bracket (2019), 29 teams made it through all nine regular season games without a loss.
Undefeated teams top the bracket in each of those respective classes with typically three to five teams in each classification reaching the 9-0 benchmark. We’re on a pace to have significantly less than that. Less undefeated teams has a sweeping effect on bracket construction and opens the door for 7-2 – and in some cases 6-3 squads – to have a realistic shot of an opening-round home game.
A quick look at where teams find themselves after four games gives us a fair approximation of where things are headed.
It’s just as unlikely that a 4-0 team would drop its last five games and miss the playoffs as it is that an 0-4 team would run the table and get back to the five-win grouping. This is stated as a likelihood but not a guarantee, as each year a team or two manages to stack enough wins to get in from the zero-win group after four games. A 4-0 team finishing at 4-5 also happens from time to time, but so infrequently that it shouldn’t be counted on.
Currently, 183 teams are above the .500 mark, meaning 3-1 or better.
As for the 4-0 teams, there’s a fair share of teams that you’d fully expect to be here at that point. But the list of usual suspects is much shorter, and the list of upstarts include teams that not only are surprising to see at 4-0 but in the playoff conversation at all.
Schools like York, Reed-Custer, St. Ignatius and Collinsville are now on a path that almost certainly has them not only in the 256-team playoff field, but pushing toward higher seeds.
So while the playoff brackets might consist very heavily of the same teams, they are likely to find themselves on lower seed lines.
That brings us back to how the back end of the field will likely be constructed. Historically, 4-5 teams have made the playoffs, but only as winners of automatic conference championship bids. No 4-5 teams have made the field as at-large squads.
Just three teams missed the playoffs with five wins on tiebreaker points in the 2019 playoffs, and now with less teams in the running for playoff bids, it only stands to reason that the field will include 4-5 at-large teams for the first time.
But the question is how many?
And that’s where we get back to the discussion of the undefeated teams. Less undefeated teams means there will be more wins distributed to the group of teams that finish with 4, 5, 6 and 7 and 8 wins. And parity means there will be considerably more teams carrying multiple losses into the final weeks of the season. Games involving teams that enter the final week of the season with records ranging between 3-5 and 5-3 are heading toward a loggerhead. Four-win teams with a treasure trove of playoff points (50-plus) should be in the best position they’ve ever been.
So if you’re expecting something normal during the final five weeks of the season, adjust that thought right now, get ready for a bumpy ride.