December 09, 2022
Analysis | Friday Night Drive


Steve Soucie: How a 4-win team makes the IHSA playoffs this season

Plus, you might only need 31 playoff points if you get 5 wins

256, 260, 259.......

Those are the numbers of my projected teams to reach the five win threshold required to qualify for the playoffs.

With 256 spots up for grabs in the playoff field in late October, those numbers are an extremely interesting indicator to how the chase for those final spots might shape up.

Usually we head into Week 9 there's somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 schools still in play to get one of those berths, these early numbers indicate that number could be much lower.

Why does that matter? This early I'm giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, and the number of teams projected to get to five will likely stay pretty much where it is now, or dip even further, which continues to open the door to the possibility of a 4-5 at-large team (or several) being admitted to the field as an at-large team. For the record the 4-5 teams that would be admitted to the playoffs in that scenario are the ones with the most playoff points.

In the past four years, the number of 5-win teams that has been denied a playoff berth is as follows: 18 in 2018, 17 in 2017 and 10 in both 2015 and 2016.

My projections each week have had that number at less than five. If that holds the number of playoff points needed to get in the field is going to be extremely low, I'd guess 30 or 31 at this point. That number has never dipped below 35 (in 2015) and it would be a far cry from the all-time high of 40 (2011).

Some of the reason for this number crunch is there are simply fewer programs vying for playoff berths. At the beginning of the season, the number of playoff eligible schools was 513, it is now 512 after Chicago Marshall dropped its program before the season began. Just six years ago, that number stood at 543.

So by the simple accounting of if you can just stay over .500, you'll make the playoffs, the raw numbers says that is right.

There are currently 258 schools in the state of Illinois that are above the .500 mark and two more (Chicago Simeon and Chicago Military-Bronzeville) because of open dates that are exactly at .500 at 1-1. So with 260 teams at that point right now, its pretty easy to see the security that might be provided by simply finishing above .500 with even a small semblance of schedule strength.

Once we have a boatload of teams drop to the .500 mark this weekend by falling to 2-2 it will be interesting to see how many we still have above that marker. My guess is that it dips to around 200.

The wildest variant in all of this, and typically the wildest variant, is the Chicago Public League. I currently have 24 schools qualifying for the playoffs from the CPL, that number could be wildly high, wildly low, or right on the money. There's just too many variables right now to know for sure.

I have one school, Chicago Carver, securely in the field based on their 3-0 start against suspect competition. But I've got no clear way to really gauge how good the Challengers might be as they played in one of the lower rungs of the CPS last season and was advanced up the ladder because of their success there.

It's one of the many wrinkles of trying to figure out the CPL.

• While there are still 100 undefeated teams left in the state, the list will certainly be dwindled by eight as that is the number of undefeated showdowns in the state this season.

It's going to go down by a whole heck of a lot more in upcoming weeks.

Eight conferences (Apollo, Central Illinois, Illinois Central Eight, Lincoln Trail, Mid-Suburban East, Northern Illinois 10, South Central, Southwest Suburban) still have three teams that are undefeated. Obviously that can't continue, and there are at least 16 more teams that will be paired from the list.

Then we come to the Southwest Prairie West, who currently has five undefeated teams out of the six teams in its membership. The league has a collective record of 16-2 through three weeks of crossovers with the East, with only West Aurora being saddled with a pair of losses to date.

Obviously at least four of these teams are going to take at least one loss in the upcoming weeks, but a look inside of this provides a more distressing problem for the teams in this division. A pretty good football team could conceivably win this week to go 4-0, lose all its games in this stacked conference and not make the playoffs.

My initial thought is no one in this division is going to win all of its game and no one is going to lose them all, but that's going to be a tough pill to swallow if I'm wrong.

• A quick look at the playoff point situation around the state indicates a few things. One, as we previously discussed, it likely isn't going to take much to punch your ticket as an at-large team. But that doesn't mean extremely low point totalled teams should breathe a sigh of relief.

A couple of teams have dire playoff point situations in Chicago Mather (4 through three weeks), West Hancock (4), Chicago Marine (7), DuQuoin (7) and Benton (7) and anyone below 10 at this stage should probably still be on red alert.

On the flip side, only two teams are above 20 in the entire state. Winless Aurora Central Catholic is feeling the hurt of a schedule that has already amassed 22 playoff points, while if St. Rita finds its way to at least five wins it will likely sitting pretty in regards to playoff points with already 21 of them in the bank.

Steve Soucie

Steve Soucie

Steve Soucie has been the Sports Editor at the Joliet Herald News since August of 2018. Prior to that, Soucie worked at the Kankakee Daily Journal and for Pro Football Weekly.