As a pollster for the Buffalo News, I'm asked to send in my weekly ballots ranking the top ten large and small schools. The polls are based on games played through Sunday of each week. Here's a look at how I see them and some of the rationale used to get there.
1. Niagara Falls (AA) - After watching Falls and Canisius twice each, including seeing both lose in the same day, I was no closer to knowing who was better than in September. I really think the two teams are in toss-up territory...if they played ten times, I think it's a 5-5 split. Ultimately, I went back to last year, when Falls won by 19 at Canisius and also considered that the Wolverines were the team that beat Jamestown and Aquinas last year, before falling by three to state finalist Jamestown in the rematch. Both Falls and Canisius graduated two key seniors, and in my mind, Canisius lost more from last season, while Falls gained more this season.
Time will tell - although they won't play each other this year, they will have some common opponents to look at...Timon, Ken West, and Bishop Kearney. Other possiblilties include Cathedral Prep and Aquinas (Canisius plays each, while Falls is likely to wind up seeing both depending on its results in the Burger King Classic and sectionals).
2. Canisius (MMA) - See Above.
3. Bishop Timon/St. Jude (MMA) - No shame in the loss at Niagara Falls. Scheduling those type of games this year (they also host Bishop Kearney in January and travel to Aquinas in February) will only help them.
4. St. Joe's (MMA) - Only loss is to Dallas Jesuit and already boast wins over McKinley, Lockport, and Williamsville East.
5. Jamestown (AA) - They lost enough from last season that I don't think they'll be back in the state title game. But the two-time defending AA champs bring back enough to be a top ten team once again. Besides, when's the last time these guys weren't a top program?
6. McKinley (A1) - In a season with no clear cut favorites in Class A or the Yale Cup, I'll give the Macks the early nod over the other teams in each.
7. Williamsville North (AA) - The Spartans get tucked in behind the team that ended their season last year.
8. Kenmore West (AA) - On paper, the Blue Devils look like a team that could wind up higher on this ballot, but with no games played yet and a quarterfinal exit last year, they start out here.
9. Riverside (A2) - They have talent, but lack depth.
10. Hutch-Tech (A1) - Only result so far is a 12-point win over Cheektowaga, which was a better resume than any other team vying for this last spot.
1. Olean (B1) - In the Huskies 80-51 win over East, 72 of their points came from underclassmen. Most people by now are at least familiar with the names Sam Eckstrom and Nick Schmidt. But wait until you see Max Portlow, who reminds me of Blair Helton, or Wil Bathurst, who didn't even play varsity last year and came off the bench to drop 20 on East.
2. St. Mary's (MMA) - A 5-0 start against teams from WNY, and the closest of those games was a 14-point win against Amherst.
** Programming Note - I can't wait until 6:30 tonight!!! (Olean @ St. Mary's)
3. Depew (B1) - I liked what I saw from these Wildcats in their season opening loss to Class AA Will North enough to put them here.
4. OTC/MEC (C1) - They got rattled big time in the opening eight minutes against Canisius. But to their credit, they played them even the rest of the way and that included outscoring the Crusaders by five in the second quarter.
5. Tonawanda (B1) - The defending ECIC IV champs have opened 3-0.
6. East (B1) - The defending overall Class A champs have opened 0-3. A little perspective is all that's neccasary.
7. Lackawanna (B1) - The Steelers looked every bit as good as last season's B1 champs in their pounding of CG Finney.
8. Maple Grove (C2) - Batavia head coach Buddy Brasky couldn't say enough good things about the Red Dragons, who played his team closer than Olean did.
9. Silver Creek (C2) - In what looks like a loaded CCAA II, I picked these Black Knights for this spot after a 3-0 start. Remember the name Zeddy Williams.
10. Panama (D) - There might be other teams who deserve this spot, but I thought the Class D favorites deserved the early nod after beating last year's overall Class B champ, Cassadaga Valley.
** Ranking the small schools was especially difficult this early. I didn't rank any N-O teams, City Honors hasn't played yet, I-Prep is 0-2 but faced two quality opponents, don't know what to make of MST Seneca beating West Seneca West & Pioneer, Salamanca & Westfield could be better than Silver Creek, and I won't see Archbishop Walsh until they play Lackawanna tonight. This poll could look entirely different in a month after more results roll in.