EACH WEEK people ask questions about the Union Leader Power Poll. Questions like:
• Why is (insert team) ranked so high?
• Why is (insert team) ranked so low?
• Why isn’t (insert team) ranked at all?
This week we’ll address some of the Power Poll questions State of Sports has received via text, email or word of mouth. Remember, there are five media members who vote in the poll, so in many cases we’re speaking for only one voter. Let’s start by taking a look at this week’s poll.
1. Winnacunnet (4-0)
2. Londonderry (4-0)
3. Exeter (2-1)
4. Pinkerton (3-1)
5. Bishop Guertin (3-1)
6. Timberlane (4-0)
7. Goffstown (1-1)
8. Lebanon (4-0)
9. Salem (1-2)
10. Dover (3-1)
The questions …
Q: Why is Timberlane ranked higher than Lebanon when Lebanon didn’t lose a game last year and has almost its entire team back?
A: Timberlane and Lebanon are the only non-Division I teams in the Top 10. While Lebanon did finish unbeaten last year, its season was cut short by COVID and the Raiders didn’t get to play their semifinal matchup against Plymouth. That also meant Lebanon was denied any opportunity to play Souhegan, which beat Plymouth in last year’s Division II championship game. That left some question as to how Lebanon would have fared against the Division II heavyweights. Lebanon’s strength of schedule hasn’t been overwhelming this year, either. Voters may be waiting for Lebanon to post a signature victory before they’re comfortable moving the Raiders ahead of a Timberlane team with a senior class that competed against Division I competition as sophomores. Timberlane’s 28-13 victory at Plymouth last weekend is the most impressive win by either team this season.
Q: Salem’s a Top 10 team with two losses? Really?
A: According to the voters, yes. In fairness to the Blue Devils, each of their two losses came against teams currently ranked in the Top 5 (No. 4 Pinkerton and No. 5 Bishop Guertin). The voters also felt Salem had enough talent to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll. A third loss anytime soon would likely knock the Blue Devils out of the Top 10.
Q: Pelham has won 12 games in a row. Why no love for the Pythons?
A: The talent gap between Division III and Division I (or the top teams in Division II) is significant, so it will be tough for any Division III team to build a resume worthy of the Top 10. The Power Poll is supposed to represent the best teams in the state regardless of division, so in theory any team in the poll should be able to defeat any team not in the poll. Not sure Pelham would come out on top against anyone currently ranked or many of the Division I teams just outside the Top 10 (Bedford, Nashua North, etc.).
Q: Is it possible for a Division II team to finish No. 1?
A: Yes. It happened in 2009 (Bishop Guertin) and nearly happened again in 2012, when Exeter won the Division I championship and edged out Winnacunnet, the Division II champion, despite losing to the Warriors during the regular season. That’s a touchy subject in Hampton.
It’s more difficult for Division II teams to ascend to the top spot these days because the schedule no longer allows for Division I schools to play crossover games against Division II opponents.
The toughest part of forming a Top 10 is often trying to determine how high to place non-Division I teams. Is Timberlane better than Goffstown? Should Lebanon be ranked higher than Dover?
Q: After beating Pinkerton, does Londonderry have an argument that it should be No. 1?
A: Not really. Winnacunnet was the No. 1 team entering the weekend and beat No. 2 Exeter, so there was no reason to drop the Warriors. Londonderry’s victory in Derry moved the Lancers from No. 4 into the No. 2 spot. The more interesting debate is which team should be No. 3, Exeter or Pinkerton?
If Londonderry is the best team in the state, the Lancers will likely have the chance to prove it, since the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Power Poll have met in each of the last 10 Division I championship games.
Of course many more questions need to be answered before we start worrying about which team will end the season No. 1.