Here we are again, nearing the end of February and the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.
The usual suspects are in the frame coupled with a few surprise packages. FightForTheYard will TRY to create a clearer understanding of what is likely to happen.
The Lions are once again top dogs in the MAC and their win over the Aces proved that. Birmingham Secretary Jose Van Oosten believes the team will finish strong and win the conference.
“The MAC is always competitive and, as we have seen in the last couple weeks, 2012 seems to be the year of the upsets; but we are confident that we have the ability to win our last two matches and finish as division champions. We always start each season off with the aim of going undefeated and winning the bowl game and that has not changed this year”.
Van Oosten also has his opinions on who will join the Lions in the post season;
“Northampton is having a fantastic rookie season, which will most likely end up in some post-season action. We have always had a healthy rivalry with Loughborough and, for the sake of competition in BUAFL; we hope they continue into the Championship play-offs. No offense to Northampton, but Loughborough has a stellar program and it would be a shame for them to have to compete in the Plate competition”.
Boasting a perfect record and handsome points total all would seem rosy in Birmingham as they head towards the post season but after last year’s defeat to the Destroyers in the Championship Final, where they were favourites, returning players will know the job isn’t done and they can’t take their form for granted as they face trips to both Warwick and Derby in the coming weeks.
Lions Vice-President Drew Newiss believes they will face some stiff competition in the playoffs, “This year BUAFL has been extremely competitive. There are many teams that have the quality to go all the way, but I would single out Loughborough and Hertfordshire”
“Loughborough gave us a very good game last weekend. The fact that we won in the recent FAUK bowl will only mean they’re going to be raring to beat us next time round. Hertfordshire are also having a great season, last year our game went down to the wire. They’re a hard-hitting, well drilled team, littered with quality, and we expect them to do well”.
The Stags have steamrolled the Thames Valley Conference to go 7-o for the season with only one game, and it’s a big one, left against their rivals, Portsmouth Destroyers.
Big victories against the Buccaneers, Knights, Burners, Redhawks, Immortals, Stingers and a forfeit by the Phantoms leave Southampton on the brink of a perfect season. While scoring 239 points on offence, including three games where the opposition conceded 45 points or more, is impressive, the defence has conceded 74 points which is considerably higher than many of the top teams in the country.
If the Stags are to be serious contenders come playoff time, they will need to shore up a shaky looking defence.
The Cobras currently sit in a strong position in the SWAC and with a potentially decisive game approaching against the Bullets, they would be left devastated should they drop out of contention at the expense of the Exeter Demons who hold the tie breaker over them. Then again, the Demons have to win out which is unlikely.
Wins against the Titans, Bees, Blitz and Barracuda have left the Welshman smiling and it is up to them to get the job done in their 25th Anniversary season.
The Sharks are going to need all their bite if they are to escape the brawl that is currently happening at the top of the Northern Conference. Hull are 5-1 along with the Bears but crucially hold a head to head advantage over the rookie outfit.
Wins over the Eagles, Hawks, Carnegie, Bears and Bombers with only defeat at the hands of the superior Sheffield Hallam has given this much improved programme a real chance of some post season action.
To extend their season they will need to overcome two difficult teams in the form of the Centurions and Celtics, not an easy task.
The Nemesis have become something of an enigma for all of those involved in the Midland Athletic Conference. Being a rookie team, almost everyone outside of Northampton and I suspect many inside, expected them to struggle with the harsh realities of BUAFL football but by utilising the double-wing offensive system, Nemesis have disposed of all in front of them.
Rookie receiver and President Daniel D’Urso believes there is a great spirit in the camp, ” There’s no real secret behind our 5-0 start, some may be surprised by this team but it’s been all about hard work from everyone involved, we have a great group of players and coaches here in Northampton”
Their schedule has come under scrutiny for allowing them a passage towards the playoffs without playing any of the top teams in the conference.
Wins over the Royals, Pythons, Falcons, Longhorns and Wolves have left the Nemesis in a favourable position with two winnable games against the Colonials and Stingers coming up and a stiff test in the Nottingham Outlaws.
D’Urso and his team have not been fazed by some of the criticism aimed at them, “I think those who are criticising both our schedule and our style of play wouldn’t be too bothered if we hadn’t achieved that 5-0 record so far”.
“‘In all honesty when it comes to game day, you can only play the team in front of you and that’s what we’ve done all season. We’ve played well enough to win all of our games so far and that is what matters to us. Some say we have a soft schedule because we don’t play teams such as Birmingham or Loughborough but we don’t control our fixtures”.
I would expect them to make the post-season in the Challenge Trophy at the very least and quite possibly finish with a 7-1 winning record but D’Urso believes the team can go all the way.
“We sit in a good position in the conference, it’s a brilliant achievement for a rookie team .This squad has the potential to compete in the playoffs and go all the way”.
The Clansmen have been rampant in their hunt of a playoff place, outscoring and embarrassing the smaller teams in the Border Conference. Scores of 90-0, 58-0 and 55-0 may have led them into a false sense of security before their loss at the hands of Glasgow, where they failed to make an impact on the scoreboard at all.
If you ignore the 20 unanswered points against the Tigers then the Stirling defence has done, wait for it, a sterling job in conceding another 14 points in five games which is impressive.
Coming up is a match with the Mustangs that will decide the outcome of the conference, definitely one to look out for.
The Destroyers are the reigning National Champions but recent results would suggest that there’ll be no repeat of last year’s heroics. Losses to the Knights and Redhawks have left the team 4-2 and on the brink of missing the playoffs something Head Coach Russ Hewitt is keen to avoid.
“This season has been a new challenge and something of a learning curve. Winning the championship last season gave us great confidence and we started the season strong but the Christmas break has done us no favours and we didn’t return they way we should have, ultimately that cost us our 15 game winning streak”.
The recent losses have left Coach Hewitt feeling frustrated; “I’ve watched the game film back and it is frustrating to see we outplayed our opponents but at the end of the day only the scoreboard matters”.
With a massive game approaching against the Stags, Hewitt and the Destroyers are trying everything they can to be prepared for what is to come.
“Thankfully the season is not over yet, we get another shot at our rivals, and if we take care of that game, we might have a shot at the playoffs but before all of that it’s back to the practice field.
He continued; the coaches are looking at what they’re teaching and trying to improve it but it’s also important that the players understand the teaching and that is all the coaches can do”.
With the Destroyers season hinging on the outcome of the Stags game, you can expect a good old South coast ding-dong.
The Bears have been over shadowed in their rookie season by the more talked about Northampton Nemesis. In one respect they will feel aggrieved by the lack of attention but it is that starvation of publicity that has enabled them to slip under the radar and concentrate on their football.
Wins against the Tyrants, Eagles, Celtics, Hawks and Bombers and a solitary loss against playoff rivals Hull Sharks, leaves the Bears in a great position but they face a nervous wait on other results due to the close nature at the top of the Northern Conference.
The Aces will be reeling from their first half performance against Birmingham last weekend which ultimately cost them an important win and quite possibly a playoff berth.
Currently 5-1 in the MAC, the Aces are pretty much guaranteed a place in the Plate but that would have been considered a failure at the start of the season by Sherratt and his coaching staff.
The Aces will be going all out in their final games against the Longhorns and Renegades to give them the best chance of joining the Lions in the playoffs. It would be disastrous for a programme like this to miss out on a shot at national glory.
The Hurricanes have been the dominant force in the South Eastern Conference for a good while now and the 2011-12 campaign has been no different.
Wins against the Regents, Pirates, Chargers, Spartans, Blades and Tsunami has given them licence to possibly field a few rookies in their remaining fixtures against the Falcons and Mariners as the 6-0 record they have acquired virtually guarantees them a playoff place.
Unlike the MAC, the SEC isn’t filled with many playoff calibre programmes so it can sometimes be hard to measure how well the Hurricanes are actually doing, but you can only beat what is in front of you and they are certainly doing that.
The Falcons have carried last year’s impressive form through to the current campaign as they look to make the post-season for the second consecutive year.
The 7-1 record achieved last year could be replicated this time around but they will have to win all their remaining games including the top of the table clash against the Hurricanes who disposed of the Falcons in a 30-0 shut-out. Should Kent lose another game then they will be nervously looking over their shoulder at the team hot on their heels, the Essex Blades.
The Mustangs enter this weekend’s contest with the Clansmen knowing that it is winner takes all and the loser settles for the Plate.
Currently sitting third with a 5-1 record, Northumbria have notched up 184 points leaking 70, which isn’t exactly playoff pedigree when you compare that to teams in similar positions, minus the Stags. It is vital that they keep the momentum that four successive wins has given them if they are to progress any further, a lapse in concentration could see them licking their wounds after a great start to the season.
The Blades have been involved in a few close encounters this season and with a scoring record of 94 points scored and 95 points conceded its apparent why. With a one point victory over the Mariners and three points the difference against the Pirates; Essex has certainly ridden their luck.
A blowout at the hands of Hertfordshire and only one other victory against a team with a winning record this year, would suggest they will be easy pickings in the post-season, should they make it.
The Panthers are 4-1 after shutting out three of their five opponents with the only blip on their record coming against playoff rivals Portsmouth Destroyers.
The main reason for OBU’s sudden rise in fortunes this year can be largely down to the improved defence which has conceded a valiant 26 points compared to nearly 150 points at the same stage last season. The offence can also lay claim to improving as a unit with an extra 50 points to their name.
The Bullets have continued to control the South Western Atlantic Conference as they have done for many years culminating in numerous playoffs appearances but after the recent loss to the Demons, Head Coach Mathew Dyke is determined to be in the shake up once again.
“We have been playing well especially on defence this year, and then last Sunday hit us like a ton of bricks, that said the expectation is for the club to experience play-off football for the seventh time in a row. Standing in our way is an old rivalry with the Cardiff Cobras who are a very good side and have always done well against us”.
Coach Dyke believes that his troops can make an impact in the post-season; “We will have some very good teams to play against but the Bullets have the ability and work ethic to go all the way. However we are a young team, starting many rookies and my aim as head coach is to make sure we compete in every game we play and learn from each mistake but right now it is hard to look beyond Cardiff”.
A win over the Cobras will guarantee UWE top spot in the SWAC with a 7-1 record and a good seeding in the playoffs.
Raider nation must be all smiles right now as another perfect regular season looks ominous with only the Glasgow Tigers standing between them and an 8-0 campaign.
An emphatic 334 points have been scored, with only 31 conceded in seven games which is remarkable and the Raiders must be confident of a long and prosperous post-season. Could they go all the way?
Sheffield Hallam Warriors
Coming off the back of a titanic battle with inter-city rivals Sheffield Sabres, the Warriors are sitting pretty at the top of the Northern Conference with aspirations to do well in the playoffs.
Early season wins against the Celtics, Bombers and Hawks were, how should I put this? Easy? Yes, Hallam amassed 254 unanswered points in the space of twelve quarters of football. Wow indeed.
It is form like that which has led Hallam linebacker Anthony Marsden to believe they can go one better than last year.
“I think we have a good chance of going all the way this year, we made the semi finals against Portsmouth last year and only lost by a single score. We don’t fear anyone as we believe if we perform to the best of our teams ability, we can handle whoever stands in front of us. However if I wanted to avoid one team then it would be Birmingham as they pose a big challeng”.
The Warriors have continued to rack up the points leaving them the highest scoring team in the country with 390 points and two games still to play. Good luck to the defences of York and Leeds Carnegie, something tells me you’ll need it.
So thats about it, I think, I’ve got a headache, well done if you made it to the end. Come Sunday afternoon this will probably be irrelevant and I’ll have to write a new one . . . Oh boy!
Thanks to everyone who was willing to be interviewed and for their input and continued support. FightForTheYard.