Normally this state picks column focuses on a big-school topic, and you’ll eventually get my take on the tweaks needed for Class A, but two legislative proposals for eight-man football (one of which also affects six-man) merit attention — and adoption.
Remember that there are now more eight- and six-man teams (140 total) than 11-man teams (136).
The first idea is to increase the maximum enrollment for playoff eligibility from the current 47 boys in grades 9-10-11 in eight-man and 27 in six-man. As written, the proposal would increase the maximums to 56 and 36.
Among Nebraska’s neighbors, no one has an eight-man cutoff as low as 47. Kansas is closest with 49. Iowa is 60, Colorado and Missouri 75. South Dakota and Wyoming offer nine-man instead of eight-man.
It’s getting harder to get — and keep — students interested in football. Most schools that choose to shift from 11-man to eight-man or from eight to six are trying to keep the sport alive for their communities on Friday nights, not to reach Lincoln on Thanksgiving week. You play 11-man football to make at least three more sets of parents happy their sons are introduced as starters.
The cutoffs should increase to at least 50 and 30. And it’s doubtful that any change could be made for the next schedule cycle since the legislation wouldn’t get to the Nebraska School Activities Association board for consideration until April. But there’s precedent for the board setting the numbers on its own. (Hint, hint.)
The other proposal that merits adoption is to do away with the east-west split of the eight-man playoffs. How?
Each eight-man class would still take 32 teams to the postseason, with “substate” (I prefer “play-in”) brackets based on an east-west split and seeded by the point system. The 16 winners would be reseeded and placed on a statewide bracket like all other classes. And like all other classes, the best two teams presumably reach the state finals rather seeing each other in the semifinals.
On to the picks and guesses:
The anticipation is that a Bellevue West-Millard West semifinal will produce the state champion. What can derail that notion? Perhaps the winner of a Millard South-Lincoln Southeast semifinal.
To me, those four teams have the best lines. While Bellevue West might be at the tail end of that list, it certainly has the most potent offense. The pick is for the Thunderbirds to win their second state title in four years.
First round: Millard West over Lincoln Pius X, Kearney over Elkhorn South, Omaha Burke over Millard North, Bellevue West over Lincoln East, Millard South over Papillion-La Vista South, Grand Island over Lincoln Southwest, Omaha Westside over Omaha Creighton Prep, Lincoln Southeast over Omaha North.
Quarterfinals: Millard West over Kearney, Bellevue West over Burke, Millard South over Grand Island, Southeast over Westside.
Semifinals: Bellevue West over Millard West, Millard South over Southeast.
Final: Bellevue West over Millard South.
Sleeper: Grand Island.
Rematches are inevitable in a class with 22 eligible teams, and there could be must-sees in the semifinals — Scottsbluff-Grand Island Northwest and Omaha Skutt-Waverly — and Scottsbluff-Skutt would be the first Class B final to bring back the teams from the previous year.
Look for Skutt to repeat and extend its winning streak to 26 games.
First round: Scottsbluff over Alliance, Norris over Elkhorn Mount Michael, Omaha Roncalli over Plattsmouth, Grand Island Northwest over Lexington, Waverly over Omaha Gross, Hastings over McCook, Bennington over Seward, Omaha Skutt over Blair.
Quarterfinals: Scottsbluff over Norris, Northwest over Roncalli, Waverly over Hastings, Skutt over Bennington.
Semifinals: Scottsbluff over Northwest, Skutt over Waverly.
Final: Skutt over Scottsbluff.
These semifinals could mirror the ratings — No. 1 Wahoo vs. No. 4 Ashland-Greenwood and No. 2 Pierce vs. No. 3 Adams Central.
Wahoo has not been to a state final and never was a ratings champion before the playoff era. The Warriors should end their title drought.
First round: Adams Central over Valentine, Aurora over Ogallala, Gothenburg over Ord, Pierce over Chase County, Ashland-Greenwood over Cozad, Kearney Catholic over Wayne, Columbus Scotus over Wahoo Neumann, Wahoo over Boys Town.
Quarterfinals: Adams Central over Aurora, Pierce over Gothenburg, Ashland-Greenwood over Kearney Catholic, Wahoo over Scotus.
Semifinals: Pierce over Adams Central, Wahoo over Ashland-Greenwood.
Final: Wahoo over Pierce.
Second-ranked Oakland-Craig has an interesting route to its first state title since 1995 — the Knights are 0-2 in Memorial Stadium finals. Hartington Cedar Catholic was without running back Jacob Keiser in a 50-13 Week 2 loss to the Knights, who then could face defending champion Centennial, top-ranked St. Paul and finally Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur.
A quarterfinal between St. Paul and preseason No. 1 David City Aquinas could have great influence on how this class unfolds. But Oakland-Craig should get it done.
First round: Sutton over Yutan, Battle Creek over Fremont Bergan, BRLD over Wilber-Clatonia, North Bend over North Platte St. Patrick’s, St. Paul over Centura, David City Aquinas over Shelby-Rising City, Centennial over Doniphan-Trumbull, Oakland-Craig over Hartington Cedar Catholic.
Quarterfinals: Sutton over Battle Creek, BRLD over North Bend, St. Paul over Aquinas, Oakland-Craig over Centennial.
Semifinals: BRLD over Sutton, Oakland-Craig over St. Paul.
Final: Oakland-Craig over BRLD.
Howells-Dodge and Cambridge are gridiron royalty, but none of the three towns has won a state title since 2010, when Howells did it before its merger with Dodge. And the two teams never have met. But that could change in this year’s state final, with Howells-Dodge the pick.
East first round: Howells-Dodge over Homer, Norfolk Lutheran over Nebraska City Lourdes, Wisner-Pilger over Creighton, Osceola/High Plains over Elkhorn Valley, Elmwood-Murdock over East Butler, Southern over Tri County, Laurel-Concord-Coleridge over Cross County, BDS over West Point GACC.
West first round: Cambridge over Nebraska Christian, Neligh-Oakdale over West Holt, Burwell over Hitchcock County, Elm Creek over Palmer, Arcadia/Loup City over Alma, Sutherland over North Central, Dundy County-Stratton over Hemingford, Fullerton over Morrill.
Second round: Howells-Dodge over Norfolk Lutheran, Osceola/High Plains over Wisner-Pilger, Elmwood-Murdock over Southern, BDS over Laurel-CC, Cambridge over Neligh-Oakdale, Elm Creek over Burwell, Arcadia/Loup City over Sutherland, Fullerton over Dundy County-Stratton.
Quarterfinals: Howells-Dodge over Osceola/High Plains, BDS over Elmwood-Murdock, Cambridge over Elm Creek, Fullerton over Arcadia/Loup City.
Semifinals: Howells-Dodge over BDS, Cambridge over Fullerton.
Final: Howells-Dodge over Cambridge.
Sleeper: Dundy County-Stratton.
The East looks stronger again this year. For Humphrey St. Francis to go wire-to-wire as the favorite, the Flyers probably will have to take down defending champion Johnson-Brock in the quarterfinals and familiar foe Falls City Sacred Heart in the semifinals before getting to Lincoln and a possible first title since 2015.
East first round: Humphrey St. Francis over Elgin/Pope John, Allen over Lawrence-Nelson, Plainview over Randolph, Johnson-Brock over Wynot, Falls City Sacred Heart over Diller-Odell, Riverside over Clarkson/Leigh, Hartington-Newcastle over Mead, Bloomfield over Pender.
West first round: Garden County over Blue Hill, Overton over CWCE, Central Valley over Medicine Valley, Elwood over Maxwell, Sandhills/Thedford over Mullen, Axtell over Twin Loup, Pleasanton over Brady, Kenesaw over Anselmo-Merna.
Second round: St. Francis over Allen, Johnson-Brock over Plainview, Sacred Heart over Riverside, Bloomfield over Hartington-Newcastle, Garden County over Overton, Central Valley over Elwood, Sandhills/Thedford over Axtell, Kenesaw over Pleasanton.
Quarterfinals: St. Francis over Johnson-Brock, Sacred Heart over Bloomfield, Central Valley over Garden County, Sandhills/Thedford over Kenesaw.
Semifinals: St. Francis over Sacred Heart, Central Valley over Sandhills/Thedford.
Final: St. Francis over Central Valley.
Sleeper: Garden County.
Expect the four undefeated teams to be in the semifinals, with Harvard prevailing for its first state title of any kind since 1963.
First round: Cody-Kilgore over Sumner-Eddyville-Miller, Arthur County over Grand Island Heartland Lutheran, Eustis-Farnam over Red Cloud, McCool Junction over Crawford, Creek Valley over Wilcox-Hildreth, Maywood-Hayes Center over Sandhills Valley, Sioux County over Sterling, Harvard over Spalding Academy.
Quarterfinals: Cody-Kilgore over Arthur County, McCool Junction over Eustis-Farnam, Creek Valley over Maywood-Hayes Center, Harvard over Sioux County.
Semifinals: McCool Junction over Cody-Kilgore, Harvard over Creek Valley.
Final: Harvard over McCool Junction.
Sleeper: Sioux County.