November 11, 2011

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Desoto (Texas) High head coach Claude Mathis was willing to break the coach's code and look ahead - didn't mind suggesting that he actually did prefer one team over another.

"I would be very excited about getting to play Skyline," he said.

His team - following a 54-10 victory over College Station (Texas) A&M Consolidated Friday night - was just one result away from doing that.

And when Dallas (Texas) Skyline got past McKinney (Texas) Boyd, the second-round matchup was set.

The game, which will pair two of the RivalsHigh 100's Top 50 teams, likely will pack whichever enormous stadium is selected to play host. There will be a large crowd, rankings hype, and a week of build-up.

The game will represent everything that is great with Texas football. Unfortunately, it also will represent everything that is wrong with the state's playoff system.

Mathis' quotes did not come after Friday's victory, but last month - midway into the season.

Even then, schools could figure out how the playoffs were going to sort out, and how relatively easy their early round games could be.

Texas divided its Class tournaments into two divisions years ago to get more teams into the postseason. And it has succeeded in that goal.

The trouble is, some games can be watered down, especially early on, that they hardly have a playoff feel. And the split is so random, it can robs teams of legitimately claim to be the state's best.

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Texas divides itself into 32 districts. Each district takes the top four teams to the playoffs. Each district takes its four teams and splits them in half.

Here's where the problems begin.

Each district's top four teams are seeded not based on record but enrollment, with the two biggest going to Division I and the two smallest to Division II.

But since the split is made at the district level, there's no guarantee that all large schools will be in Division I. In fact, there are both big and small schools in each Division, sometimes Division II has had a higher enrollment school winning a state title than Division I. And since some schools can jump between Divisions on consecutive seasons - depending on which other teams in their districts qualify - there is little continuity from one season to the next.

Essentially the state creates two separate tournaments in each classification with no guarantee that the two best teams in that classification will ever get a chance to face each other.

And if they do, there's no guarantee the game will be played in the final two rounds. Often, the best matchups come early.

That's a shame for football fans. It's worse for the schools.

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The real damage in all this is to the reputation of many quality football teams which get placed into Division II - when media outlets push the erroneous perception that bigger is better.

Simply put: many top teams in Division II are every bit as good or better than the Division I teams.

Schools such as Katy (Texas) High, Cibolo (Texas) Steele, LaPorte (Texas) High are in Regions 3 and 4 but are pushed to Division II because of their enrollments. Each would be an expectant participant in the final eight teams of Division I.

Katy, in fact, is currently ranked No. 5 in the RivalsHigh 100 and would be among the favorites to win either bracket.

However, instead of ending its season with a potential Top 25 opponent - whether Trinity, Allen, or Skyline would advance that far - the best by rankings opponent that Katy could face is to down Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus or Longview (Texas) High.

The problem also works in reverse, the Division I playoffs are hurt by the bracketing too.

There is not a single nationally ranked team in Region 3 or 4 of the Division I bracket in Class 5A, making games such as DeSoto-Skyline all the more important. This second-round game is more like a quarterfinal.

And everyone knows its importance.

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DeSoto-Skyline isn't the only big second-round game. If Allen (Texas) High meets Euless (Texas) Trinity in a second rounds game it too would be worthy of a later date.

The Skyline game, however, is the only one Mathis has been thinking about.

He's had the game circled for weeks. Actually, years.

"You need to understand that I will never forget how they acted towards us the first time they beat us," he said. "I called a timeout and called the kids off to look at how they were acting. I will never forget it."

The celebration continued even after the game.

"Skyline sent dead wreaths from funeral home and sympathy cards to us at the school when they beat us," Mathis said.

It is that passion that helps fuel the fire in Texas.

It is what makes the sport so widely popular and nationally relevant.

It's just a shame that some of the best games are being played now in a system that doesn't seem to be able to match the right teams at the right time.

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