One of my most difficult preseason tasks is trying to put together the Friday Night Drive Preseason Top 25.
I’m a data guy. So having no true data to go on makes this process complicated to say the least. In the end, I considered 52 teams for a spot in the initial Top 25.
After a chaotic Week 1, I’ll admit I still missed a few.
Let’s take a look at some of the big storylines of Week 1:
Showdown at ISU
Saturday night’s battle between East St. Louis and Mount Carmel, played at Illinois State University in Normal, the new home of the IHSA State Finals on Thanksgiving weekend, certainly had the feel of a postseason showdown.
Mount Carmel showed off a different looking offense than what we saw from the 2022 Class 7A state champions, eventually grinding East St. Louis into submission in a 36-33 victory, but not before a late rally that gave the Flyers hope.
Both remain the favorites to return back to ISU for the finals. From the looks of Saturday night’s event, the venue should very much provide a fun and quality atmosphere.
I hadn’t been in the recently-renovated facility in over 20 years, and for Saturday night’s game they elected to allow fans on just one side of the stadium. But the 13,000-plus seat stadium was almost entirely full on that side creating a spirited environment for all involved.
CCL/ESCC does its thing
A lot was made of the members of the CCL/ESCC needing to fare well in nonconference games because what is waiting for them once they all enter league play.
For the most part, the league lived up to its reputation. It went 17-7 collectively in the opening week of the season, not too shabby especially considering the caliber of opponent most teams saw.
There was no mathematical way the league could have done better than 22-2 as four league teams (St. Patrick, St. Ignatius, De La Salle and St. Viator) played one another. The other five losses didn’t exactly come at the hands of slouches either.
Another few conferences that had strong opening weekends were the SouthWest Suburban Red and the Mid-Illini.
The SWSC Red is often overshadowed by its other league division, the Blue. But all five Red members (Lincoln-Way Central, Lincoln-Way West, Andrew, Bradley-Bourbonnais and Stagg) earned wins in Week 1 and did so in resounding fashion. No foe was closer than 28 points.
The Mid-Illini only went 5-3 in Week 1, but the wins for Washington, Metamora, Pekin and Morton all came over notable programs. That’s an area where the Mid-Illini hasn’t excelled in the past few years.
Who didn’t thrive in Week 1? The Southwest Prairie East had just one team claim a victory in Week 1 in Joliet West, while the West Suburban Gold also had just one victor in Addison Trail.
There was a long list of eyebrow-raising wins for teams in Week 1.
The top one on the list is probably reserved for Barrington’s 40-33 victory over Warren. One might not have batted an eye at this result a few years ago, especially during a string of years from 2013-2018 where the Broncos didn’t record more than one regular-season loss.
Barrington, however, had broken off that path over the past few seasons, missing the playoffs in 2022, and finishing just 5-5 in 2021.
The win over Warren certainly shows that Barrington is back. It also might have been a necessary win, considering nonconference games over Prospect and Glenbrook South lurk over the next two weeks.
Kankakee entered the season as something of a wild card. With a new coach, Miles Osei, arriving from Elk Grove, could the Kays keep the momentum despite losing some elite talent such as Jyaire Hill (Michigan)?
The answer is a resounding yes after Kankakee’s defense proved to be stifling in a 33-26 victory over Nazareth. The Roadrunners eventually had to resort to simply trying to move the ball on the ground with their quarterback because no other avenues were available against the speedy Kays.
Oswego appears determined to show that last season’s 3-6 record was an aberration.
The Panthers not only earned a very impressive nonconference win over Neuqua Valley, it pitched a shutout while doing it.
Wilmington and Seneca used to play annually, as they were both members of the Interstate 8 Conference (now the Illinois Central Eight Conference). Wilmington had dominated the series, having not lost to Seneca since a 25-7 defeat in 2001. Seneca left that league in 2018, thus ending the series until the rivalry was renewed with a nonconference matchup this year.
The game’s loss, which is now a nonconference game, also snapped a string of Wilmington’s dominance in nonconference games. The Wildcats hadn’t lost one of those since a 48-10 loss to Spring Valley Hall, also in 2001.