When the Minnesota high school football playoffs commence Tuesday, every team has a path to the state tournament. Some routes are more difficult than others depending on your squad’s health, class level, and section alignment, but every team in the state is still theoretically alive.
Since 2013, at least two teams seeded No. 4 or below in section play have qualified for the state tournament from 9-Man to Class AAAAA each season. Last year, Browerville/Eagle Valley (Section 6A) and Andover (7AAAAA) – both seeded fourth – won their respective groupings by winning three games in the section playoffs.
Just what does it take for a team seeded fourth or below to make a run through its respective section?
Of the nine teams that made the unlikely run, eight ended the regular season with a Quality Rankings Formula (QRF) of 33rd or higher, based on the calculation from Minnesota-Scores.net. Only Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in 2015 was below that ranking when the playoffs began.
The Lakers 1-7 regular-season record was also an outlier, as seven of the nine squads finished at .500 or better. More than half actually began the postseason with a winning record, including two 9-Man teams, Kittson County Central and Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal, in 2014.
The lack of a dominant No. 1 seed in the nine team’s respective sections was an equally important trend.
Top seeds, all of which were second-round opponents for the darkhorse teams, combined for 12 total losses. Over half of those teams had multiple regular-season setbacks, the most being St. Agnes in 2015, which earned a No. 1 seed in Section 4AA with a 5-3 record. The Aggies were subsequently routed by HL-W-W at home in the section semis.
Only two teams – Blue Earth Area (2015) and NCE/U-H (2014) — were grouped with a top seed ranked in the Top 5 of the final Associated Press poll of the season. It’s not absolute, but the lack of a clear-cut, dominant team at the top of the section is one of the most important components to a fourth or fifth seed making a state tournament run.
Unfamiliarity with the section’s top teams is also a significant factor. Outside of the two 9-Man teams in 2014, the other seven teams did not play a rematch against a regular-season opponent before the section final.